The NFL is a cold, hard business.
That fact was amplified by the Green Bay Packers’ release of Charles Woodson on Friday.
Reluctantly signing with Green Bay as a free agent in 2006, Woodson resurrected his career with the Packers. And, with Woodson playing a key role, the Packers won a Super Bowl.
The fourth pick of the 1998 draft, Woodson spent his first eight seasons in Oakland. He was selected to the Pro Bowl four times, intercepted 17 passes, forced 14 fumbles, had 5.5 sacks and scored two defensive touchdowns. In seven seasons with the Packers, Woodson was selected to four Pro Bowls, intercepted 38 passes, had 11.5 sacks and scored 10 touchdowns.
Moreover, Woodson went from something of a malcontent — he was called moody in Oakland and clashed early with Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy — to the heart and soul of the Packers. That was clear in 2010, when his “one mind, one goal, one purpose, one heartbeat” became a rallying cry in the run-up to the Super Bowl, with “1” and “Mind, Goal, Purpose, Heart” inscribed on the inside of the championship rings. It was also clear in 2012, when Woodson was selected a playoff captain by his peers despite missing the final nine games of the regular season.
There’s no room, however, for sentimentality. The salary cap simply doesn’t allow for it.
"We are grateful for all that Charles has given to the Green Bay Packers over the past seven years,” Packers general manager Ted Thompson said in a statement released by the team. “He has been an integral part of the Packers’ success and our Super Bowl title in 2010 would not have been possible without his contributions.”
With his one interception this season, Woodson has 55 for his career. That’s tied with Aeneas Williams for 19th in NFL history. Only Baltimore’s Ed Reed (61) has more among active players.
With the production, Woodson is a near-certain Pro Football Hall of Famer. Last offseason, Packer Report asked 15 Hall of Fame voters to weigh in on Woodson. Ten responded; eight gave a definite yes and the others said probably.
“A once-in-a-generation talent as a player, he is also a great leader and ambassador for the organization off the field,” Thompson said. “Charles will always be a member of the Packers family and we look forward to his eventual induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. We wish him and his family all the best.”
On his weekly radio show recently, quarterback Aaron Rodgers said he saw Woodson as a core player on the defense and hoped the Packers would keep
The Packers, however, have pressing issues, namely signing B.J. Raji and Clay Matthews to contract extensions before they reach free agency next offseason. Sam Shields and Evan Dietrich-Smith will get big raises as restricted free agents.
Woodson, on the other hand, will turn 37 on Oct. 6. It’s a young man’s game, especially on the perimeter. That the Packers went 7-2 in Woodson’s absence from a broken collarbone certainly made the decision easier to make. Second-round pick Casey Hayward, who was drafted to be Woodson’s heir, blossomed in Woodson’s role, and the Packers were at least OK at safety with M.D. Jennings and fourth-round pick Jerron McMillian.
Woodson had cap charges of $10 million in each of the next two seasons, with base salaries of $6.5 million and roster bonuses of $3.5 million. With no signing bonus prorations, all of that is wiped off the books. Combined with the $7 million rolled over from 2012 and the $3.75 million for Jeff Saturday’s retirement, the Packers have $20.75 million more to work with than they did at season’s end.
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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.