Wherein we take a look at Chuckles' role on the roster and how his contract could affect other personnel decisions this off-season.
A few days ago, Jason Wilde of ESPN Wisconsin talked to Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who expressed his desire to see Charles Woodson return next season to the Packers' defense. Specifically, Rodgers referred to Woodson as a "core guy" who is "still playing at a really high level." The logical thing to think about then is Woodson's contract situation, which leaves the Packers with a $10 million hit against the salary cap each of the next two years.
With Woodson officially making the switch to safety full-time, that makes him the clear starter opposite Morgan Burnett. We all know that M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian would not usurp him for the upcoming season. Woodson's $6.5 million base salary would make Woodson the third-highest paid safety in the NFL in 2012, and he would probably remain in the top 5 for the 2013 season. The questions then become the following: 1: is Woodson likely to be a top-5 safety in 2013 based on performance and 2: does he bring enough to the table to be worth that much money to the Packers?
I'm confident that the answer to question 1 is "probably not". While Woodson is still capable of game-changing plays and picking on quarterbacks who stare down receivers for too long, he no longer has elite physical skills. He has begun to take too many penalties in coverage and while his ball skills likely remain excellent, he wouldn't be repeating his 2011 numbers again (7 interceptions, 17 passes defended) even if he stayed at cornerback. Woodson certainly could be one of the better safeties in the league, but he wouldn't bring the value at this time that his contract suggests.
That begins to answer question two, by saying that his play alone will not likely justify a $6.5 million salary and $10 million cap hit. But Rodgers brought up a valid point, referring to Woodson's leadership qualities and ability to help younger players develop. Look at Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, and the rest of the young stable of Packers corners - it's logical to infer that Woodson has had a great deal to do with the emergence of these players (despite Williams' struggles this season). It's also entirely possible that with a full off-season working with the safeties, Woodson could help Jennings and McMillian develop faster as well and become more complete players who can step in more effectively when Woodson does eventually depart.
The final factor in the Woodson dilemma revolves around the money that could be saved by cutting him or by restructuring his contract. That money could be used to help pay other players like Rodgers, Matthews, and Raji, who are in line for contract extensions, or a player like Greg Jennings, whose contract is up and is unlikely to return unless some serious money is freed up.
Ultimately, I believe that Woodson's presence can be justified for another year on his current contract. Obviously, getting his deal restructured would be a great idea for Green Bay to pursue, and the most ideal situation would be for Chuck to come back at a lower price tag; still, I think the benefits to Woodson's presence outweigh the potential problems, even on his current contract.
For the time being, Woodson's production and role would be harder to replace than Jennings'. Randall Cobb already began assuming Jennings' role on offense while #85 was out much of the season, but neither young safety impressed much in Woodson's absence. This year's draft class has a number of talented wideouts that could be found in the second or third round, and while the safety class has a number of decent prospects, none is a sure bet to be better as a rookie than the Doctor or McMillian are.
Ideally, Woodson will be willing to restructure his contract to help give the Packers some payroll flexibility, but I would advocate keeping him for another year even on his current contract.