GREEN BAY, Wis. — A.J. Hawk has seen hundreds of players come and go during his seven years with the Green Bay Packers. It’s the part of the job that he hates. But Hawk is never the one clearing out his locker and saying goodbye. He’s always the one watching it happen to a player who has suddenly become a former teammate of his.
Hawk has continued to find ways to stick with the Packers since being drafted fifth overall in 2006. That’s an impressive feat considering general manager Ted Thompson’s annual tradition of clearing the roster of several veteran players.
With his eighth season in Green Bay underway, the 29-year-old inside linebacker isn’t exactly sure how he’s remained a part of the team’s ongoing plans.
“I don’t know,” Hawk said Friday. “I’ve been really lucky, first of all. Obviously to stay healthy, one, I think they put a price on durability here. They love guys who can be durable. I’ve proven to be durable for the most part, I guess.”
Hawk has certainly been durable throughout his career, missing a total of only two games with injuries. Last year, inside linebackers Desmond Bishop and D.J. Smith suffered season-ending injuries. Bishop is now a Viking and Smith is a Charger. Hawk, with his clean bill of health, is still a Packer.
“I could sit here and bore you and tell you about my workouts, nutrition — that’s a monster part of it; it really is,” Hawk said. “That’s something people don’t see. The general public, my parents, my wife doesn’t see 98 percent of the things we do to stay on the field. I think as I’ve gotten older, I don’t claim to be very smart, but I think I know how to take care of myself better than I did when I was young.”
For Hawk, part of taking better care of himself has included more frequent massages, getting weekly acupuncture and spending less time — yes, less time — in the weight room.
“I used to sit in the weight room and just do stupid stuff for three, four hours at a time, which was killing myself, killing my body,” Hawk said. “It was good; I think it built up a great foundation, but I think now I’m in and out. I’m super high pace, high tempo and I try to simulate game-type things when I’m in the weight room.”
Though it will be another month before Hawk has a chance to see whether his new training regimen results in improved in-game performance, he’s confident that it will.
“I’m 29, but I feel better than when I was 20 in college,” Hawk said. “I definitely do, physically and mentally. People may think I’m getting old, but I think I’m starting to peak a little bit.”
Hawk had a smaller role in Green Bay’s defense last season than he had in the previous two years. When the Packers beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV, Hawk was on the field for every play. That was true for him that entire season, as it was in 2011, as well. But, with Brad Jones becoming the every-down inside linebacker, Hawk’s responsibilities are not as great as they used to be.
“I just try to stay the course,” Hawk said. “I never try to get too high or too low. Whatever’s happening, I’ve been through plenty of ups and downs personally, as a player. I’ve never really put too much stock into when things are going great or if things weren’t going as great as I would’ve liked them to.”
Hawk’s good health has kept him in Green Bay, but now, his price tag is also helping. In March, Hawk agreed to a $7 million pay cut over the final three years of his contract, which, as strange as it may sound, didn’t seem to really bother him.
“I think it’s more of an ego thing than anything that guys can’t get over (when asked to take a pay cut),” Hawk said. “They don’t want to say they’re taking a pay cut because 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 took a pay cut and I’m not making as much money, I could put a phone call into her and let her know that it’s going to be OK. We’ll be fine. I have a financial advisor. If you look around, too, guys that don’t accept (pay cuts), it usually doesn’t go too well for you.”
That wasn’t the first time that the Packers put Hawk’s financial advisor to work. In 2011, Hawk was released a day before his $10 million salary would have become guaranteed. Then, too, Hawk agreed to a new deal to remain in Green Bay.
“I’ve had a fair amount of uncertainty in multiple offseasons, I guess you could say,” Hawk said. “I guess I never really gave it much thought on not being back. All I knew in my mind was coming off of last year that I felt really good, felt really good about where I was going and I would do whatever I can to stay here, basically.
“At the end of the day, we all want to win a Super Bowl. Being in Green Bay, I think, gives everybody the best chance to win the Super Bowl.”
Hawk has a Super Bowl ring already, but like every past champion, he’s not satisfied with just one. The Packers appeared to be the best team in the NFL in 2011 with a 15-1 regular season record before a home loss to the New York Giants in the divisional round of the playoffs proved that to not be true. Last season, Green Bay gave up 45 points and 579 yards to the San Francisco 49ers, getting eliminated from the same round of the postseason, once again in convincing fashion.
“We went to the playoffs twice and got blasted,” Hawk said. “We got beat bad. They took the game from us. Specifically as defensive guys, we let our offense down, so that’s something as a defense we need to get some pride back and take it. That’s why I think this whole offseason, if you’ve watched anything, our practices or whatever we’re doing, it’s almost stepped up a notch.”
Hawk participated in the NFL’s broadcast boot camp in June, perhaps in preparation for a post-football job. But Hawk is far from ready to say his own goodbyes.
“I’m going to play as long as I can,” Hawk said. “I’m going to make them kick me out. I love it. I’m having a great time. I’m sure guys will lie to you and tell you that physically they feel great when they don’t, but I honestly do. I practice every day, my legs feel as good as they ever have, I’ve never had any real shoulder or knee issues, so I’m trying to keep it that way.
“I’m trying to stay around here as long as I can.”