A.J. Hawk wasn’t worried. His grandmother might have been, but the Green Bay Packers veteran linebacker let her know that everything was going to work out.
The 29-year-old Hawk wasn’t exactly surprised when the team came to him this past offseason and asked him to accept a pay cut. And having seen other players refuse to do so – and then wind up not only accepting a low-budget contract elsewhere, but have the added headache of starting fresh – Hawk wasn’t about to let his pride get in the way of doing what he believed was right for him.
And that meant taking the pay cut, keeping his job as one of the team’s starting inside linebackers and continuing a career in Green Bay that he believes is just starting to peak.
“(The Packers) were super respectful how they came to me and let me knew that they wanted me to be a part of this team,” Hawk said. “I think it’s more of an ego thing than anything that guys can’t get over. They don’t want to say they’re taking a pay cut because it hurts their ego. I let that go a long time ago.
“I wasn’t worried about that. I don’t care what the outside perception is, if my grandma reads that I took a pay cut and I’m not making as much money, I could put a phone call into her and let her know that, ’It’s going to be OK. We’ll be fine. I have a financial adviser.’”
So in March, after the Packers approached him, Hawk took what amounted to a three-year, $7.25 million pay cut off the five-year, $33.75 million deal he signed in 2011. That deal, which he signed after the Packers temporarily cut him in March 2011 to avoid a $10 million guaranteed base salary for that season, still paid him that $10 million up front in the form of a $8 million signing bonus, a $1.8 million guaranteed roster bonus and a $200,000 workout bonus in addition to his base salary.
But two years later, when the Packers came to him looking to reduce his pay, he agreed. His restructured deal paid him a guaranteed $2.21 million roster bonus, plus a $1.39 million salary for this year; a $3.5 million salary and $800,000 roster bonus next year; and a $3.6 million base salary and $800,000 roster bonus in 2015.
“If you look around … guys that don’t accept (pay cuts), it usually doesn’t go too well for you,” Hawk explained. “I think any guy that plays here will tell you it’s awesome, especially a guy that has gone somewhere else and came back or started somewhere else and came here. They’ll let you know this is kind of the top of the heap. How they treat you, how they run the organization, everything is best. It’s all I know in the NFL, so I wasn’t in a hurry to get anywhere else.”
The fifth overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft, Hawk has always been a solid contributor and always durable, having played in 120 of a possible 122 games (including playoffs) while in Green Bay. Last season, he was credited with 142 tackles and three sacks but didn’t have a turnover play.
With the release of inside linebackers Desmond Bishop and D.J. Smith – both of whom were coming off season-ending injuries in 2012 – during the offseason, the Packers cast their lot with Hawk and Brad Jones, who re-signed with a three-year, $11.75 million deal. With plenty of questions elsewhere, the only talk about the inside linebackers has been about the youngsters behind the two starts.
“I think it’s so early in training camp right now and that would be a discredit to what A.J. and Brad have done,” inside linebackers coach Winston Moss admitted. “The only focus for those guys right now is show up, be reliable, be dependable, be disciplined, be tough, learn your assignments, be a good teammate. Everything else is going to take care of itself.”
Hawk has done more in recent years, though, to take care of himself. He said he has been seeing an acupuncturist weekly for the past year or so, and has also started getting massages and being even more vigilant about his diet. That, he says, has been the secret to staying in the lineup.
“They put a price on durability here. They love guys who can be durable. I’ve proven to be durable for the most part, I guess,” Hawk said. “Like I’ve said before, I just try to stay the course. I never try to get too high or too low. Whatever’s happening, I’ve been through plenty of ups-and-downs personally as a player. I’ve never really put too much stock into when things are going great or if things weren’t going as great as I’ve would’ve like to. I don’t know, I’m just enjoying my timeline here.”
“I could sit here and bore you and tell you about my workouts, nutrition – that’s a monster part of it. It really is. That’s something people don’t see. The general public, my parents, my wife doesn’t see 98 percent of the things we do to stay on the field, I think. I think as I’ve gotten older – I don’t claim to be very smart, but I think I know how to take care of myself better than I did when I was young.
“I’m 29, (but) I feel better than when I was 20 in college. I definitely do physically and mentally. People may think I’m getting older, I think I’m starting to peak a little bit.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.