A.J. Hawk's Packers Legacy and His Impact on Aaron Rodgers
Linebacker A.J. Hawk, who played nine seasons in Green Bay from 2006 to 2014, has officially retired with the Packers.
Hawk was the 5th overall selection in the 2006 NFL Draft, the highest selection made in general manager Ted Thompson’s career with the Packers and the first selection in Mike McCarthy’s tenure with the team.
“We were fortunate to make A.J. my first pick as head coach in 2006, and he spent the next nine years giving everything he had to the Green Bay community and the Packers,” head coach Mike McCarthy said in a press release on Tuesday.
Hawk's selection was a vote of confidence in Aaron Rodgers
Five months before Hawk was the fifth overall pick in Green Bay, Bob McGinn echoed a sentiment that was bubbling up during Aaron Rodgers’ rookie season: Should the Packers draft another quarterback?
“Still, the chance to draft a quarterback of [Matt] Leinart’s or [Vince] Young’s accomplishments, or trade the pick, might be even more attractive to the Packers even though they used the 24th pick of the first round last year on quarterback Aaron Rodgers,” McGinn wrote in a December 4, 2005 column.
“Leinart is a lot better than Aaron Rodgers,” an NFC personnel director told McGinn in that same article. “He can get the ball up the field, where Rodgers has problems getting the ball up the field.”
McGinn even floated out the possibility of trading Rodgers for a second-round pick if the Packers were to draft a quarterback with their high pick in 2006.
When McGinn made his prediction on the eve of the draft, he assigned Maryland tight end Vernon Davis to the team and had Hawk going with the next pick to the 49ers.
McGinn was high on Hawk, saying that “Hawk would start immediately on the weak side or in the middle, barring injury play 100% of the defensive snaps and bring speed, muscle, brains, leadership and big-play capability to a mediocre defense and abominable linebacking corps.”
Ultimately, Thompson and the Packers front office passed on both a quarterback and Davis to select Hawk, the top linebacker in the draft.
Hawk’s 2010 season was the high point of a steady career
Hawk was a healthy scratch for the season opener in 2010 against the Eagles. At the time, many viewed the benching as a sign Green Bay would soon be trading the linebacker.
A few weeks later, the Buffalo Bills were trying to acquire the linebacker in exchange for running back Marshawn Lynch. The trade never materialized.
Despite the rumors, Hawk started the remaining 15 games of the season and the entire postseason. He finished third on the team with 72 tackles and three interceptions, and was elected as an alternate to the Pro Bowl.
Two kinds of Packers fans: Hawk haters or Hawk lovers
The linebacker was a divisive member of the team throughout his tenure, drawing the ire of some fans while at the same time earning unwavering support from others.
After Hawk’s first minicamp in May 2006, Packers coaches were glowing in praise for Hawk.
“He did a very, very good job,” defensive coordinator Bob Sanders said on May 8, 2006. “I was very pleased how he grasped what we do.”
By the beginning of the season, McGinn ranked second-round pick Greg Jennings as a more valuable member of the roster than Hawk.
The lofty expectations placed on the linebacker were never fully met, but Hawk was always available and finished his Packers career with the most tackles in franchise history. That’s the reason fans who support him will point to as their rationale.
He played 142 of 144 games in his nine years with the team – and would have played 143 had the Packers not benched him as a healthy scratch for the 2010 season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles.