The hawk can describe brisk autumn winds—gusts that you can often find billowing over the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field. During the 2006 NFL draft, the Green Bay Packers breathed life into those gusts by selecting linebacker AJ Hawk with the fifth overall selection.
Hawk took control right away, snapping Nick Barnett's streak of leading the team in tackles for so many years prior. He played with discipline and authority, and rarely gave offensive players that extra inch that they fought so hard to gain.
Alas, the years ahead would not be filled with as much praise for Hawk, because he never took the step from average player to NFL superstar that many expected out of the fifth overall pick.
Last year, the Packers had a decision to make. Keep the aging Nick Barnett who had been one of the league's best inside linebackers for numerous years, or keep the young but underwhelming Hawk. Retaining them both under their cap numbers just wasn't a realistic option.
What do the Packers do? They cut Hawk and then a day later re-sign him to an absurd five-year, $34 million contract extension. Barnett was released and ended up signing with the Buffalo Bills.
And now the Packers are in a conundrum. The team has approximately $7 million in cap room and have two very important players they would like to re-sign in center Scott Wells and tight end Jermichael Finley on top of signing their drafted rookies.
The cap numbers for the Packers current roster were recently dug up and released by journalist Tom Silverstein. You can check out these numbers more in depth here, at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. There are a lot of different ways the Packers can create a little cap space.
The retirement or release of Chad Clifton would free up nearly $5 million. Donald Driver is owed over $2 million in bonuses, so a contract restructure could be upcoming. And Charles Woodson is counting towards nearly $12 million in cap space which can be converted to a signing bonus and paid out over years to come rather than paying it all out at once.
It may be in the best interest to trade or outright release inside linebacker Hawk, who made $11 million ast year and will count over $6.5 million towards the cap in 2012 should be a prime target to create some wiggle room for the Packers and general manager Ted Thompson.
Unlike other players with high cap numbers, Hawk's play doesn't warrant nearly $20 million in a two-year span.
Nothing about what he does on the field is anything above mediocre. Tackling, pass-rushing, coverage and run-stuffing—all mediocre at best. Not only is he just average, but he has never shined as a playmaker for the Packers defense. He simply doesn't have the ability to be a game-changer, something you look for out of very high draft picks.
It's safe to say that not only has Hawk been a disappointment for the Packers. He is arguably one of the worst "bang-for-your-buck" players on not only the Packers roster, but in the entire league.
Starting opposite of Hawk is a much superior all-around player in Desmond Bishop. Like Hawk, Bishop signed a contract extension with the Packers last year. The numbers for Bishop's contract? Four years and $19 million. Just a touch over half the worth of the Hawk contract with only one less year.
Even rookie DJ Smith played at a higher level in his few opportunities in 2011. His four-year deal worth slightly over $2 million makes you wonder why the Packers are so dead set on keeping Hawk with the team long-term.
It's not a question of what will happen. Thompson is in love with Hawk, as he is with all of his draft picks, and it would be wishful thinking to expect the Packers to part ways with the underachieving fifth overall draft pick.
It's a question of what should happen.