Turning the Page

With the release of A.J. Hawk, we reflect on his record-setting career and turning the page to 2015 and beyond. Where might Hawk land? And who could fill his spot? (Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY)

There are a lot of layers to the Green Bay Packers’ release of A.J. Hawk.

First, a bit of an appreciation. Hawk was deemed “overrated” for so long that he was probably a bit underrated. He departs as the Packers’ career leader in tackles. You don’t do that by accident.

Were too many of them too far down the field? Generally, yes. Since the change to the 3-4 in 2008, Hawk typically ranked toward the bottom of the league’s inside linebackers (3-4 and 4-3 schemes) in ProFootballFocus.com’s run-stop percentage metric, which measures impact tackles. (The lone exception was 2012, when he was near the top of the chart.) Was he a liability in coverage? Of course, especially as NFL offenses changed at warp speed the past few years. Did he make far too few splash plays? Yes. That he went five years between forcing fumbles almost defies belief. Did the Packers swallow Hawk's hefty salary and substandard play for too long? Probably.

But there’s something to be said for being there every week. And there’s also something to be said about being one of the smartest guys on the field. Just look at Green Bay’s offense. What is the strength of the unit? Aaron Rodgers’ ability to outwit the opposing defense at the line of scrimmage. As a defense, how do you combat that? By having a linebacker capable of getting the defense into an appropriate call.

Hawk, of course, was 100 percent class on his way out the door.

“I don’t want any sympathy or whatever,” Hawk said on his “Hawkcast” podcast. ”People try to come at me – it’s one thing I struggle with when people try to come – I love support. It’s really appreciated and I know people mean well, but when someone comes to me like someone died like, ‘Oh, my gosh, what’s happening? I’m so sorry.’ I’m like, ‘Listen, it would have been awesome to stay with the Packers for 15 years but no one died. Let’s all have some perspective here.’ It’s football. I would’ve loved to be there forever, but that’s not the facts and it’s tough to do. Now, I have to look to different opportunities.”

So, what are those different opportunities? Hawk hadn’t even pondered the possibilities.

“I don’t know anything about anybody’s roster,” Hawk said. “A lot of guys that play know what every guy gets paid. They know everyone at their position. I don’t know any of that. I know my buddies that play in the league, honestly. I don’t know what any teams’ needs are, I don’t know who would possibly give me a shot. I really don’t. I haven’t had a chance to talk to my agent (Mike McCartney) much at all. Like I said, I was on (a charity cruise) until about 10 hours ago. I don’t know. I really don’t. I know I’m going to be really healthy pretty shortly, so I don’t think that’s a worry for any team that would want to bring me in and look at me. I definitely want to play.”

Two teams to keep in mind: One is Buffalo, with new coach Rex Ryan bringing his 3-4 scheme to the Bills. Hawk would be an excellent tutor while lining up next to star Kiko Alonso. Another would be Chicago, which is going to a 3-4. You think the Bears would like Hawk’s insight on the defense — and defending Rodgers?

General manager Ted Thompson officially has blown up the inside linebacker position. In the first eight games of 2014, Hawk started eight games, Brad Jones started in Week 1 and Jamari Lattimore started five times. None of those players remain (Lattimore will be an unrestricted free agent). If Sam Barrington is one starter, who on earth is the other?

Presumably a draft pick, but only Benardrick McKinney and Stephone Anthony might be deemed worthy by the Packers, considering Eric Kendricks is 6-foot and Denzel Perryman is just 5-foot-11. That’s awfully short for a team that has shown almost no interest in drafting players whose height is below-average relative to the rest of the league at any position. Will talent meet opportunity for the Packers? Or will they have to reach and, hypothetically, use the 30th pick of the draft on a player they have graded 45th?

Surely it’s coincidence that the key figures in the two special-teams gaffes that cost the Packers a trip to the Super Bowl — Shawn Slocum, Brandon Bostick, Brad Jones and Hawk — are no longer with the team. Right?

Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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