GREEN BAY, Wis. — A.J. Hawk wasn't going to let his ego get in the way of staying where he felt he belonged.
The 29-year-old Hawk has seen other players refuse to take a pay cut and wind up elsewhere, worse off than before. So when the Packers asked, he agreed. Hawk remains one of the team's starting inside linebackers and believes his career is just starting to peak.
"(The Packers) were super respectful how they came to me and let me know that they wanted me to be a part of this team," Hawk said. "I think it's more of an ego thing than anything that guys can't get over. 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 adviser.'"
In March, Hawk took what amounted to a three-year, $7.25 million pay cut off the five-year, $33.75 million deal he signed in 2011. That deal paid him $10 million up front, including an $8 million signing bonus.
Two years later, when the Packers came to him looking to reduce his pay, Hawk agreed to a restructured deal that pays him a guaranteed $2.21 million roster bonus, plus a $1.39 million salary for this year; a $3.5 million salary and $800,000 roster bonus next year; and a $3.6 million base salary and $800,000 roster bonus in 2015.
"If you look around . guys that don't accept (pay cuts), it usually doesn't go too well for you," Hawk explained. "I think any guy that plays here will tell you it's awesome, especially a guy that has gone somewhere else and came back or started somewhere else and came here. They'll let you know this is kind of the top of the heap. How they treat you, how they run the organization, everything is best. It's all I know in the NFL, so I wasn't in a hurry to get anywhere else."
The fifth overall pick in the 2006 draft, Hawk has always been a solid contributor and always durable, having played in 120 of a possible 122 games (including playoffs) while in Green Bay. Last season, he was credited with 142 tackles and three sacks but didn't have a turnover play.
With the release of Desmond Bishop and D.J. Smith, the Packers cast their lot with Hawk and Brad Jones, who re-signed with a three-year, $11.75 million deal. With plenty of questions elsewhere, the only talk about the inside linebackers has been about the youngsters behind the two starters.
Hawk has done more in recent years to take care of himself. He said he has been seeing an acupuncturist weekly for the past year or so, and has also started getting massages and being more vigilant about his diet.
"They put a price on durability here. They love guys who can be durable," Hawk said. "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. I'm 29, (but) I feel better than when I was 20 in college. I definitely do physically and mentally. People may think I'm getting older, I think I'm starting to peak a little bit."