Packers decide to part ways with Charles WoodsonHis first eight NFL seasons, spent with Oakland, set the table for his eventual entry into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and his seven seasons in Green Bay sealed the deal as he turned into the greatest playmaking cornerback of his generation.
By: By Tom Oates, The Wisconsin State Journal, Superior Telegram
Now that Charles Woodson's exceptional Green Bay Packers career has come to an end, let's go back to the beginning.
Woodson, who won a Heisman Trophy and a national championship at Michigan, remains the finest athlete I've seen in 40 years of covering the Big Ten Conference.
His first eight NFL seasons, spent with Oakland, set the table for his eventual entry into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and his seven seasons in Green Bay sealed the deal as he turned into the greatest playmaking cornerback of his generation.
Woodson was the first -- and only -- big-ticket foray into the free agency market for Packers general manager Ted Thompson and he was worth every penny the team paid him, totaling 38 interceptions, 15 forced fumbles and 10 defensive touchdowns in Green Bay.
If the driving forces behind the Packers' first modern-era NFL title in 1996 were Brett Favre and Reggie White, the players most responsible for the second title in 2010 were Aaron Rodgers and Woodson.
Woodson arrived in Green Bay with a reputation as a loner who liked to operate on his own terms, but he became the team's No. 1 locker room spokesman and a terrific mentor to the young defensive backs.
Despite those well-deserved accolades for one of the greatest Packers ever, one more thing remains to be said about Woodson: The Packers did the right thing when they released him Friday.
Sure, Woodson could have helped the Packers on the field again this season, even though he will turn 37 in October. His agent said the cornerback-turned-safety still wants to play and thinks he can help a Super Bowl contender, which is true.
But the NFL is seldom kind to aging players. Contract-related issues, declining performance and a growing injury history can conspire to make even a great player such as Woodson expendable before his usefulness runs out.
Given Woodson's advancing age, recurring injuries and noteworthy compensation -- almost $10 million for 2013 -- it simply was time for the Packers to cut their ties. Woodson, a thoughtful man who sees the big picture with remarkable clarity, seems to understand that, and Packers fans should, too.
First and foremost, Woodson's contract was about to become a burden for a team that is starting to feel the salary-cap pinch for the first time in years. His cap number for 2013 would have been $9.437 million, which was more than his production warranted after he missed nine games in 2012 following his second broken collarbone in three seasons.
The Packers want to re-sign Clay Matthews and B.J. Raji to long-term deals and at some point will try to lock up Rodgers for the duration, so they need cap money -- lots of it -- to make that happen. Reports indicate the Packers didn't even offer to bring back Woodson at a reduced cost, which is not hard to believe given their cap situation and future roster needs.
Fans have been clamoring since the end of the season for the Packers to upgrade at halfback, offensive tackle, linebacker and safety, but where do they think the team is going to find the cap room to do that? Someone has to go and Woodson was the most logical candidate.
Indeed, there is little room for sentiment in the NFL, something the Packers learned the hard way by bringing back fan favorite Donald Driver for an encore season in 2012. Driver rarely played due to the team's deep wide receiver corps and now will cost the Packers $2.3 million in potential cap money for the upcoming season.
The Packers might have lived with Woodson's contract for another year had he been more productive on the field in 2012. Whether due to advancing age or his move to safety or both, Woodson was not the dynamic, dominant player he once was. In nine games -- seven in the regular season and two in the playoffs -- he had only one interception and one forced fumble.
With rookie Casey Hayward intercepting six passes, the team had already replaced Woodson as the slot cornerback. Plus, the Packers' lack of speed at safety since Nick Collins was forced into early retirement was exposed late in the season and must be addressed. Woodson, though still a savvy leader and willing hitter, wasn't going to help there.
The bottom line is this: Woodson, a vital component in the Packers' winning formula since 2006, simply didn't fit into Green Bay's team picture any more. It had to be a tough decision -- the players worship Woodson and coach Mike McCarthy had grown to lean on him -- but it was nothing personal.
The NFL is an unforgiving and sad as it may seem, it was the right time for the Packers to let Woodson go. His professionalism, big plays and locker-room voice will be missed; his large slice of the salary-cap pie won't be.
In the end, that made the decision to release Woodson a no-brainer.
Contact Tom Oates at firstname.lastname@example.org or 608-252-6172.
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