AJ Hawk takes pay cut to stay with Green Bay Packers
GREEN BAY—Pay cuts are a sensitive subject. Every offseason, proud veterans are asked to take less money or are promptly shown the door.
Such a conversation is so often perceived as a slap in the face, insulting.
Yet this offseason, A.J. Hawk never felt that way when the Packers approached him.
“I think it's more of an ego thing than anything that guys can't get over,” the inside linebacker said at his locker Friday. “They don't want to take a pay cut. They don't want to say they're taking a pay cut. 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'm taking a pay cut and not making as much money, I can put a phone call in to her and let her know that 'It's going to be OK. We'll be fine.'”
He can kid because, as the linebacker said, being bullheaded “usually doesn't go too well” for many players.
So at a reduced rate, Hawk is back in Green Bay. Over the final three years of his contract, Hawk will make $10.6 million. The Packers decided to forge ahead with Hawk and Brad Jones at inside linebacker, and Hawk never took issue with the pay cut. Instead, he'll continue to serve as a durable, reliable, if not overly dynamic cog in Dom Capers' 3-4 defense.
In seven seasons, Hawk has missed only missed two games. He's logged 120 total games, with the only hiccup being a calf injury in 2011. Without question, this is one reason the Packers decided to keep Hawk.
The reason for such durability, Hawk notes, is the “90 percent” of work the public, his wife, his parents don't see, he said.
Through the years, Hawk has learned to tone it down in the weight room and evolve his training. He started getting acupuncture off Military Avenue in Green Bay. He learned to embrace massages, something extra he shunned in the past. And long hours of tossing plates around in the weight room were replaced with more up-tempo workouts to simulate an actual game. When he puts his kids to bed around 8 p.m., he'll get work in, too.
Add it all up and Hawk believes he's peaking in year No. 8.
“I think now, at 29, I feel better than I did at 20 in college—physically and mentally,” Hawk said. “People may think I'm getting old. I think I'm starting to peak a little bit.
“I used to sit in the weight room and just do stupid stuff for three, four hours at a time just killing myself and killing my body. It was good. I think it built up a great foundation but now I'm just in and out. I'm super high pace and high tempo to simulate game-type things when I'm in the weight room. (Strength and conditioning coordinator) Mark (Lovat) has been the guy who's gotten me on that, and it has me feeling better than ever.”
At inside linebacker, the Packers' decision was made, in part, to health, to durability. Desmond Bishop (hamstring) and D.J. Smith (knee) were released after suffering season-ending injuries. Hawk, whose never suffered a major injury in the pros, returned after his 120 tackles and three sacks last season.
Hawk took no issue with the pay cut. Right away in contract talks, the Packers made it clear they wanted him to remain a part of their defense.
The two sides ironed out details. And now, Hawk is back.
As the mileage adds up, Hawk says he'll play as long as he can, adding “I'll make them kick me out.”
“I'm sure guys will lie to you and tell you they physically feel great when they don't, but I honestly do,” Hawk said. “I practice every day. My legs feel as good as they have. I've never had any real shoulder, knee, any issues. I'll try to keep it that way. I'll try to stay around here as long as I can.”