Woodson on 18th NFL season: 'I ain't done'
The thought crossed Charles Woodson's mind more than once during the 2014 season.
Could this, his 17th NFL season, be his last?
"I think throughout the whole season I was actually kind of thinking about it," said Woodson during a stop in Green Bay Wednesday. "Then you start watching playoff games. It's like, 'I ain't done.' The juices still flowing. It's like, 'Man, I want to give it another shot.'"
So the seven-time all-pro defensive back signed on for another season with the rebuilding Oakland Raiders. He'll turn 39 years old in October and is one of the few active players remaining from the 1998 NFL draft.
For all of the Raiders' struggles – they've won seven games the past two seasons – Woodson enjoyed a small renaissance in 2014. Now fully entrenched at free safety, Woodson posted a career-high 113 tackles with four interceptions last season.
The eight-time Pro Bowler first started making the conversion to safety with the Packers in 2012. He played on the back end in the 3-4 base defense before dropping into the slot on the nickel and dime sub packages for half the season before breaking his collarbone.
Woodson didn't return until the playoffs. After the season, the Packers cut the 6-foot-1, 210-pound defensive back and attempted to get younger at the position. It led to a failed competition between M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian that wasn't resolved until the team drafted Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the first round last May.
Woodson understands where the Packers were coming from. It's a young man's game, but he still feels he has something to offer.
"The funny thing is that I feel like as a safety, I feel like I can still get better," Woodson said. "Going to Oakland, being that I was going to be primarily a safety, that was like my rookie year. So I feel like I'm in my third year as a safety and I feel like I can still get better.
"How much longer I can continue to play and run around like I do? I don't know. As far as safety is concerned, I still feel like I can do better."
It's rare for someone to last as long as Woodson has in the NFL, but recent developments in player safety have even younger players thinking twice. Jake Locker, Jason Worilds and 24-year-old linebacker Chris Borland have all hung it up since free agency began a little more than a week ago.
Borland's decision was the most alarming. He just completed a rookie season in which he registered 108 tackles and looked poised to claim a permanent starting spot in the San Francisco 49ers' defense after Patrick Willis' retirement.
Instead, Borland decided to walk away, citing concern about the long-term effects of repeated head trauma.
"I just think it's not for him," Woodson said. "I understand there is a risk with the emphasis on the head injuries and that type of thing. Surely you can understand it, but for me – from a personal standpoint, the risk is worth it. I can understand any player that feels like they want to walk away. That's certainly their prerogative, but man, everything I've set out to do in this game, I understood the risks that were involved with it, but I wouldn't trade none of it."
So Woodson keeps plugging along. He'll make $3.2 million this year as he hopes to reestablish a winning brand of football with the Raiders, whose last playoff appearance came in a 48-21 loss to Tampa Bay in Super Bowl XXXVII.
General manager Reggie McKenzie walked into a difficult situation when he left the Packers' front office in 2012 to take over the Raiders, who had a disheveled salary cap and just traded away two first round picks for Carson Palmer.
The organization is being patient. With plenty of cap room, Oakland signed center Rodney Hudson, linebackers Malcolm Smith and Curtis Lofton, defensive tackle Dan Williams, and running backs Roy Helu Jr. and Trent Richardson this offseason. The Raiders seem to have a promising foundation in place with quarterback Derek Carr and a blossoming playmaker in linebacker Khalil Mack.
When asked if he feels good about where the Raiders are headed, Woodson acknowledged there's only one direction to go following a trying 3-13 season in which Oakland lost its first 10 games and head coach Dennis Allen was fired.
"I don't have a choice but to feel good. You know what I mean?" said Woodson with a laugh. "But this time of year for me man, I'm always optimistic about where it's going, but I think they have done some great things. I think from where they were a couple years ago. The way they cleaned up the salary cap. Just trying to get players in there, I think much like Green Bay, they're trying to get higher character guys in there. Build that team through the draft and steadily trying to get younger and younger."
Woodson pauses and smiles: "Which to an extent I'm fine with."
-- firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @WesHod