Charles Woodson's NFL career is coming to a close, but history suggests he has plenty left in the tank to make an impact with a Super Bowl contender.
Charles Woodson is out of a job in the NFL for the first time in 14 years. On Friday, Ian Rapoport reported that the Green Bay Packers were set to release the veteran, and Woodson confirmed the news on the official Twitter account for his winery. Woodson, coming off a year in which he played just seven games during the regular season due to a broken collarbone, would have cost the Packers $9 million in 2013.
Woodson isn't far removed from some of his best years, however. In 2009, he was named the AP Defensive Player of the Year after recording nine interceptions (three returned for touchdowns), four forced fumbles, two sacks and 74 combined tackles. He recorded 92 tackles, two sacks, five forced fumbles, two interceptions and another touchdown leading up to the Packers' 2011 Super Bowl victory.
Woodson will turn 37 during the 2013 season, but his agent told Rapoport that Woodson "sounds like he has a lot of football left." History supports that claim.
The shelf life for defensive backs tends to be pretty long. Woodson (No. 8), Champ Bailey (No. 7) and Ronde Barber (No. 2) are all among the NFL's top active leaders in career games started. All three are still producing despite their relatively advanced age. Bailey was named to his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl this past season at cornerback. Barber wasn't, but he did start 16 games for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a 13th straight season and recorded his most tackles (70) in six seasons.
Woodson still doesn't have anything on Darrell Green, who retired from the NFL at 42 after 20 seasons with the Washington Redskins. Green is No. 6 all time with 258 career starts before finally retiring in 2003. He was 37 when he was named to his last Pro Bowl, in 1997. Woodson puts himself in great company with his longevity. Precedent suggests that he can continue to play at a high level, though the years are catching up to him. Green didn't sniff the Pro Bowl after the 1997 season. Lawyer Milloy retired at 37, as did Brian Dawkins. Rod Woodson retired at 38. This next season could very well be Charles Woodson's swan song.
Lucky for him, some of the strongest 2014 Super Bowl contenders will be looking to shore up their secondaries this offseason. The New Orleans Saints, New England Patriots, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens and Houston Texans all finished in the bottom half of the league in pass defense last season. All are among the top 10 favorites to win the Lombardi Trophy, according to Vegas.
Of those teams, the Patriots and the Saints are in the most dire need of secondary help. Both finished in the bottom five of passing yards allowed during the regular season. The Pats have been linked with the Ravens' Ed Reed, but it's easy to see Woodson being a target as well, after suiting up at safety for the Packers last season. The Saints, meanwhile, need help across the board on defense. Woodson's versatility could make him particularly useful, not to mention the veteran presence he would bring to the locker room.
There is no denying that Woodson's career is coming to a close. When healthy, he has proven time and again to be one of the league's best at what he does, however. It'd be a bad idea to bet against a man who has reinvented his game several times over the past few seasons. Count on Woodson squeezing everything he can out of his career for as long as an NFL team is willing to give him contract. Then he'll ride off having finished a Hall of Fame career.