A look back at A.J. Hawk's career in Green Bay as he announces his plans to retire as a Packer. (April 18, 2017) USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
GREEN BAY - Linebacker A.J. Hawk, drafted No. 5 overall in 2006 and a nine-year starter for the Green Bay Packers, will officially retire with the team he never wanted to leave, the club announced Tuesday.
The Packers waived Hawk after the 2014 season, leading him to play with Cincinnati Bengals in 2015 and one game for the Atlanta Falcons last year. Retiring as a Packer is mostly a ceremonious transaction: The Packers sign him for a day and then he signs his retirement papers.
Among some others who have signed so they could retire as Packers are cornerback Al Harris, kicker Ryan Longwell, guard Marco Rivera and wide receiver Bill Schroeder.
Drafted in ‘06, Hawk played all but two of a possible 144 regular-season games in his nine seasons in Green Bay, starting 136 of them. The Ohio State product ranks No. 1 in franchise history (since 1975) with 1,118 tackles, according to the Packers. He recorded 100-plus tackles in seven of his nine seasons.
Hawk led the Packers in tackles five times during his career (2006, 2008, 2010, 2012-13), which is tied with linebacker Nick Barnett for the top mark in team history.
The Packers made the playoffs seven times in Hawk's nine years in Green Bay, winning the division five times. Hawk started 11 of the 13 postseason contests he played in, recording 70 tackles. He totaled 19 sacks, nine interceptions, 43 passes defensed, three forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries in regular-season games.
"We sat next to each other at meetings for nine years," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said Tuesday. "I’ve got a lot of stories about our time together. But he’s just one of the toughest guys I’ve ever played with. A great leader by example. And just a guy who, I think, embodied what it means to be a Packer. He was great in the community and he was a great locker room guy, great team guy."
Hawk was one of general manager Ted Thompson's favorite players. He chose him ahead of tight end Vernon Davis even though tight end was a bigger need for the Packers at the time and stuck with him even while his production declined. Hawk quarterbacked the defense for much of his career, playing in two different systems under two different defensive coordinators.
“The first thing that needs to be said about A.J. Hawk is that he is a good man,” Thompson said in a statement. “He was a terrific teammate and a true professional during his career, and we were lucky to have him. A.J. will always be a Packer.
“We wish the best to him and the entire Hawk family, and thank them for all that they gave to the team and the city of Green Bay.”
Hawk played 158 games between 2006 -15, which was the most among NFL linebackers during that time. Hawk was released after one year with the Bengals and then was signed by the Falcons in October. He was released three weeks later.
"My first memory of A.J. was coming in this building and just being really excited about not only being a Packer but having watched his college career and then come into the NFL, his immediate success," linebacker Clay Matthews said Tuesday, "I was kind of eager to meet a guy of his stature. One thing I’ll take away from his game was his reliability and dependability. He was always out there, hardly ever missed a play, very rarely missed a game.
"He was always kind of the leader of the defense and really kept everyone together. He knew the calls, got everyone lined up, so I think his dependability, durability has left and imprint in me and hopefully the fans here as well watching him."
Journal Sentinel staff writer Michael Cohen contributed to this story