Could A.J. Hawk Fill Oakland Raiders’ Middle Linebacker Vacancy?


Oct 26, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; Green Bay Packers inside linebacker A.J. Hawk (50) against the New Orleans Saints during the second quarter of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

With teams around the league making roster cutdowns as the league year approaches an end, some high visibility players have already been released from their teams. One such player is A.J. Hawk, the fifth overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft, who has been a starting linebacker for the Green Bay Packers for his entire nine year career.

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Raiders General Manager Reggie McKenzie was the Director of Pro Personnel in Green Bay when Hawk was drafted in 2006, and of course remained in the Packers front office until being hired as Raider GM in 2012. McKenzie was an important decision-maker for the Packers in the draft process, and also played an important role in player development with the Packers during Hawk’s career, and the two likely know each other quite well. McKenzie has added former Packers to the Raider roster already in his tenure, and AJ Hawk would fit a major need for the Raiders.

With Nick Roach very likely never going to play for the Raiders again – if he ever even plays football at all – and Miles Burris having shown last year that he’s not a starting caliber NFL middle linebacker, adding a long-time veteran at the position would make sense for the Raiders while they explore their options at the position in the draft or with another, younger free agent once the free agent market opens on March 10th.

Of course Hawk may not be a perfect solution. At the age of 31, he is on the old side as the Raiders are looking to get younger and build a long-term contender. And while he was highly productive last season – 94 total tackles – he also found himself off the field quite a bit when Dom Capers decided to move Clay Matthews over to play the middle backer position. Hawk spent less and less time on the field as the season went on, and during the Packers’ two playoff games recorded a grand total of four tackles. Hawk also underwent surgery earlier in the month to remove bone spurs from his ankle, and over the last two seasons has been visibly slower and stiffer than in the past.

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Hawk also may not be a direct system fit. When Hawk first entered the league, he was a weakside linebacker in a 4-3 set in Bob Sanders’ defense before moving to inside linebacker in Dom Capers’ 3-4. He has played a lot of his career as a Will inside linebacker in the 3-4, as well as the Mike. That said, Jack Del Rio doesn’t need a typical 4-3 Mike backer for his defense: he has used a number of different types at the position in his Denver and Jacksonville defenses in the past.

Hawk can still play well on the interior of an NFL defense. He is a 6’1″, 245 pound thumper who is at his best coming up and stuffing inside runs, but he can have an impact as a blitzer (19 career sacks) and in pass coverage (9 career picks, 33 career passes defended) as well. While he may not have the great speed he once had as a young player, he can still move and attack quickly, though he may be somewhat of a liability in pass coverage now if asked to run with wideouts and backs.

At this point in his career, he could be of more use as an early-down run stuffer who then comes off the field on passing downs. He has a wealth of experience, though: he’s started 147 games (playoffs and regular season) in the NFL, and has a Super Bowl ring, and he could be a valuable mentor to young players like Sio Moore, Khalil Mack, Miles Burris and a potential draft selection.

With almost two weeks before the Raiders can pursue players like Nate Irving or Mason Foster on the open market, and two months to go until the Raiders can try to draft an Eric Kendricks or a Denzel Perryman, it may be a good insurance policy to sign Hawk quickly. Reggie should be able to quickly reach out to his former player and try to work something out, especially something cheap, short term, and without a ton of guarantees, to at least provide a veteran placeholder and some depth at the important Mike linebacker position.