GREEN BAY, Wis. — Aaron Rodgers wants to see Charles Woodson back with the Packers next season.
It’s a public stance that makes sense for Rodgers to take. From the leader of the offense to the veteran leader of the defense, Rodgers is supporting a teammate of his from the past seven years.
“I think that’s one of the top priorities,” Rodgers said of Woodson on his weekly radio show, which airs on ESPN Wisconsin. “He is an important part of our football team. I think he adds a lot. He’s still playing at a really high level. He’s obviously very intelligent. Such a good example for preparation. He’s always watching film.
“Having his presence around the locker room really helps set an example for the young guys. That helps me out, as far as being a leader.”
The possibility that Woodson actually does return to Green Bay next season, however, remains somewhat unlikely. With $10 million owed to Woodson in salary and bonuses in 2013, it’s a steep price to pay for a 36-year-old defensive back who missed nine games this season with a broken collarbone.
Woodson could agree to a restructured contract for less money, but one way or another, Rodgers doesn’t want to see the future Hall of Famer go.
“I don’t think you get better by taking from the whole, taking a core guy, and I think he’s a core guy,” Rodgers told ESPN Wisconsin.
Prior to this season, Woodson had been one of the Packers’ best defensive players since signing with Green Bay as a free agent in 2006. He was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2009 and started all 16 games in the Packers’ Super Bowl season a year later. Then, in 2011, even as the Packers’ defense struggled in several areas, Woodson tied for the league lead with seven interceptions.
But Woodson was not the same player this season, even when healthy. The team seemed to recognize that might be the case when Woodson was permanently moved to the safety position after making it to eight Pro Bowls as a cornerback. It was a logical next step for Woodson as he gets closer to retirement – a switch made by many top cornerbacks when they get older.
Woodson finished the season with 1.5 sacks, one interception and one forced fumble. After missing the final nine regular-season games, Woodson’s return in the playoffs didn’t boost the Packers’ defensive performance. He played every defensive snap in both postseason games but failed to generate the type of game-changing play that has defined his 15-year career.
Woodson’s leadership is unquestioned but likely won’t be worth $10 million to the Packers. Even a reduction to $5 million for Woodson in 2013 may be more than his current value is to Green Bay’s overall success.
If Woodson is not with the Packers, M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian both played fairly well in their opportunities at safety this season. And, with Morgan Burnett continuing to emerge as a good safety, the team should be able to survive without Woodson.
Releasing Woodson also would be the much more cost-effective way of building the roster going forward. With Green Bay’s defense in need of upgrades after allowing 45 points in the playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers, plus new contracts approaching for Rodgers, Clay Matthews and B.J. Raji, shedding a big salary like the one due to Woodson would allow for more financial flexibility.
Still, Rodgers’ opinion of Woodson carries weight within the organization. Often, when Rodgers publicly states his preferences they turn into reality. Rodgers wanted the team to re-sign wide receiver James Jones in 2011 and a deal got done. This season, Rodgers advocated to get top receiver Randall Cobb off special teams and, a couple weeks later, coach Mike McCarthy — despite previous statements to the contrary — made the change.
Rodgers is the Packers’ best and most important player. His desire to see Woodson back for another season in Green Bay could impact any negotiations with a player who has been the team’s best free-agent addition since Reggie White in the 1990s. But, if general manager Ted Thompson isn’t swayed by Rodgers’ comments, Woodson may have played his last down with the Packers.