Linebackers Brandon Chillar, left, AJ Hawk and Clay Matthews talk during Green Bay Packers Training Camp at Ray Nitschke Field August 17, 2010. / File/Press-Gazette
After a training camp practice on Aug. 10, Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy heaped praise on A.J. Hawk, saying he was having the best camp of his NFL career.
A month later, Hawk didn’t play a single snap from scrimmage for the Packers in their season-opening victory at Philadelphia. After starting 62 of 65 games in his Packers’ career, the former first-round draft pick appears to have reached the point where his best opportunity to be a key contributor on defense might be with another team.
There’s still more than a month before the NFL’s Oct. 19 trading deadline and although Hawk’s agent, Mike McCartney, stressed that Hawk remains committed to the team that drafted him fifth overall in 2006, he indicated that Hawk would be willing to change teams if it meant more playing time.
“A.J. is a pro’s pro and wants to do his part to help the team win, and his first priority is to be the best Packer he can,” McCartney said when reached by phone on Wednesday. “But if some team called and wanted him to play on all three downs, I think he’d be excited about that.”
The fifth-year pro has not lost his spot in the Packers’ base 3-4 defense and remains a starter by definition, but he didn’t play from scrimmage against the Eagles because defensive coordinator Dom Capers used only his sub packages with five and six defensive backs.
Despite his strong training camp this summer, Capers opted to play Hawk only in the base for the second straight season with Brandon Chillar replacing Hawk in the sub packages. Hawk’s position coach, Winston Moss, said on Monday that there were some packages in which he penciled in Hawk to play against the Eagles but said, “we never got around to it,” and “we decided to keep the same rhythm going.”
Early in the preseason, it appeared Hawk’s role might expand when the Packers moved Chillar to outside linebacker. Hawk was then in competition with Desmond Bishop for one of the inside linebacker spots in the nickel. He had a strong performance in the Family Night scrimmage on Aug. 7, when he had a sack, a tackle for a loss and was solid in coverage. He followed that up with a solid string of practices that prompted McCarthy’s praise.
“I would think A.J. is probably having his best camp in his time here,” McCarthy said on Aug. 10. “I’ve liked his approach. His conditioning is at the highest level. He’s always been a highly conditioned athlete, and I think he’s taken it to another level this year, and I think he’s been very productive out here. He’s put together some big plays, and I thought he definitely stood out in the scrimmage.”
But after a couple of weeks, the Packers ditched the idea of playing Chillar outside, which meant Hawk and Bishop were no longer competing for a spot in the nickel. Bishop went back to playing on special teams, and Hawk was back to playing only in the base.
The Packers didn’t ask Hawk to take a pay cut despite his $4.623 million salary this season. Hawk has one more year remaining on his contract and with a base salary of $10 million for 2011, it’s unlikely that he will be back with the Packers next season, at least not at that price. Getting another team to take on Hawk’s contract in a trade might be tough, but there are ways for an interested team to restructure the deal.
McCartney said the Packers have not talked to him about trading his client, nor was he aware of any efforts to do so at this point.
However, the Packers might be in the market for a running back, and could use Hawk as trade bait to acquire one after losing starter Ryan Grant for the season because of an ankle injury. Their opponent on Sunday, the Buffalo Bills, might be willing to part ways with former first-round draft pick Marshawn Lynch, and the Bills need help at linebacker because starter Paul Posluszny is out indefinitely with a knee injury.