Hawk had another unspectacular season in Green Bay in 2009, registering 89 tackles, one sack, two interceptions and zero forced fumbles. He was replaced in the nickel defense for much of the season by Brandon Chillar, who also received a contract extension.
The move seemed a clear indication the Packers were ready to feature Chillar in a more prominent role in 2010, which brings me back to Hawk.
In October, the Press Gazette’s Pete Dougherty said the Packers would ask Hawk to take a pay cut or release him after the season. On Tuesday, Dougherty reported that the Packers weren’t going to ask Hawk to take a pay cut and instead would opt to pay him $4.6 million in 2010. (Cheesehead TV has a great diatribe about Dougherty’s credibility here.)
Not exactly the kind of money you want to be paying for a guy who averaged 87.5 tackles the past two seasons and has never become the disruptive force envisioned when he was drafted fifth overall.
“They’re not going to ask (for a pay cut),” Hawk’s agent Mike McCartney said. “They think A.J. is a very important part of their football team. I have full confidence that A.J. is going to have a big year next year, and I think they have the same kind of confidence.”
I’ll go ahead and wholeheartedly disagree with the last part of the statement, right now. A.J. Hawk hasn’t had a big year since he left Ohio State. There’s no reason to believe he’s suddenly going to turn into a monster. Hawk is a liability in coverage, often takes poor tackling angles and simply never will be a big-time playmaker.
According to McCartney, the Packers are willing to pay a premium for quality depth. This says two things if it’s true and not just agent speak.
First, if the Packers approached Hawk about a pay cut he wouldn’t accept it, which would force the team to release him. On the open market, Hawk would likely find another team (like maybe the Vikings, where former Packers go to die), but certainly not for anything close to $4.6 million per season.
Second, it says Packers general manager Ted Thompson is unwilling to admit a mistake. Having depth at inside linebacker is great, but at what cost?
Behind Chillar and Nick Barnett, the Packers also have Desmond Bishop, who performed pretty much the exact opposite of Hawk during the preseason and in limited regular season action. Although his relative inexperience led to some missed assignments, Bishop flew to the ball and generally wreaked havoc when given an opportunity.
In addition, shedding Hawk’s hefty salary could enable the Packers to sign a difference-making free agent(s) from another team or pay some of their own free agents.
Paying Hawk $4.6 million for “quality depth” is absurd. We’re talking about a guy likely to be a backup if he returns to Green Bay next season and “quality depth” is something that can be added through the draft at a fraction of the price.
It’s time the Packers cut their losses with Hawk, so we can all move on and bitch about some of your other underachieving high-round draft choices, Ted.