A.J. Hawk is back with the Pack.
As had been rumored, Hawk and the Green Bay Packers agreed to a five-year contract around noon (Central) on Thursday, less than 24 hours after the Packers released him rather than pay him the $10 million he was owed in 2011. The deal was struck about 12 hours before an expiring collective bargaining agreement would have meant the end of negotiations.
The news was broken to Packer Report by Hawk’s agent, Mike McCartney. McCartney would not disclose details, other than the length of the contract. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Tom Silverstein said it’s worth between $6 million and $7 million a year with $10 million guaranteed.
“He’s thrilled to be back with his Super Bowl-winning teammates and a first-class organization,” McCartney wrote.
After Sept. 12, Wednesday’s news of Hawk’s release would have raised few eyebrows. Hawk, the Day 1 starter since being drafted fifth overall in 2006, didn’t play a single snap at Philadelphia as the defense played every snap in nickel or dime, meaning Brandon Chillar was in the game rather than Hawk.
But when Nick Barnett suffered a season-ending wrist injury in Week 4 against Detroit, Hawk’s season — and fate in Green Bay — changed dramatically. Rather than a rumored trade, Hawk became an every-down player and wound up leading the Packers in tackles and being voted a Pro Bowl alternate. Beyond that, without Barnett being the defensive signal-caller, Hawk took over and blossomed into one of the two playoff captains on defense, with Charles Woodson.
The interesting question is what the Packers will wind up doing at inside linebacker. With Hawk (through 2015) and Desmond Bishop (2014) locked up long-term in the last couple of months, the Packers have made an emphatic statement that those two will be their starters at inside linebacker.
So, where does that leave Barnett, who surpassed 1,000 career tackles this season and led the team in stops five times in his eight seasons?
As we wrote on Feb. 15 in predicting the Packers would do almost exactly what they did with Hawk, Barnett would appear to be the odd man out. Barnett is under contract for the next two seasons, with salary and bonuses adding up to $6.05 million in 2011 and $6.55 million in 2012. That’s a lot of money for a backup who might not take kindly to being a situational player and special-teamer.
Could one of them play outside linebacker? Probably not. During training camp last summer, with injuries plaguing that position group, the Packers went with Barnett, Hawk and Bishop on the inside and gave Chillar a shot on the outside. That experiment lasted just a couple weeks before Chillar was back on the inside.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.
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