The Green Bay Packers have decided to part ways (via ESPN) with Charles Woodson, the 2009 NFL defensive player of the year, leaving a big hole in the secondary. Woodson gave the Packers seven solid seasons and, though he will turn 37 years old next October, should have no trouble finding a new team.
Several tough decisions lie ahead for Green Bay concerning the salary cap, but the release of Woodson may show their confidence in their young secondary.
Sam Shields, Tramon Williams and Casey Hayward make up one of the best young trios at cornerback in the league—Woodson's former position. He moved to safety this past season and with his departure Morgan Burnett and M.D. Jennings will have to step up.
Undrafted out of Arkansas State, Jennings started 10 games in 2012 and showed glimpses of a strong future. He had 52 tackles to go along with one interception which he returned 72 yards for a touchdown against Detroit. He is the player that the Packers will need to pick up the slack the most with Woodson gone. Can he cover tight ends up and down the field? Will he be burned by a guy like Percy Harvin lined up as a slot receiver? These are questions Jennings will have to answer with his play.
Jennings had his struggles during the season. A prime example would be the 21-yard run by Frank Gore in the season opener against San Francisco. Jennings looked foolish trying to make the tackle and earned himself a place on the bench in favor of rookie Jerron McMillan (courtesy of Milwaukee Journal Sentinel).
Burnett, who will be going into his fourth season out of Georgia Tech, is quietly blossoming into one of the game's most promising young defensive players. He has started every game the past two seasons, and last year he recorded 123 tackles, two interceptions and two forced fumbles. He has a nose for the ball and will be a force in the Packers secondary for years to come.
It will be extremely difficult to replace everything Woodson brings to a defense. Whether it be his exceptional tackling, his ability to play tight ends or slot receivers in coverage or his veteran leadership. In his time in Green Bay, Woodson had 38 interceptions, returning nine of those for touchdowns. You won't see those kind of numbers very often.
So while watching Woodson go will be tough, the organization felt very confident in their young nucleus of players in the secondary—as well they should. Jennings will be the wild card, but if he can be even half the player Woodson was for Green Bay, the team will be fine.
Finally, when the Packers are able to offer contract extensions to guys like B.J. Raji, James Jones and maybe even A.J. Hawk, fans can look back to this difficult roster decision as one of the main reasons why.