A toast to Charles Woodson.

Editor’s note: This is the last of a three-part series dedicated to longtime Green Bay Packers’ players who are likely to depart this offseason. The first post, a toast to Greg Jennings, can be found here, and the second, a toast to Donald Driver, can be read here.

As far as I’m concerned, Greg Jennings and Charles Woodson have two things in common: for one, they’ve both spent 7 years in Green Bay, and they both were instrumental to the Packers’ 2010-11 Super Bowl run. Take away Greg or Charles, and there’s no ring on anyone’s finger.

Let’s backtrack to 2006. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t a big fan of the Woodson signing; it’s not that I wasn’t intrigued by the potential, but more so dismayed by the price. 7 years, $52 million for an injury-prone corner with documented attitude problems that other teams weren’t exactly chomping at the bit to bring in.

Boy, was I wrong. It didn’t start off so well for Woodson in Green Bay; he made no qualms about his hesitations about integrating with Northeast Wisconsin’s predominantly white community, and his relationship with Mike McCarthy began, we’ll say, on the wrong foot. But in his first year, he notched 6 interceptions, and all was well, giving the Packers their first defensive playmaker since Darren Sharper’s departure.

Woodson and Al Harris, still my favorite Packers’ player of the last decade (unnecessary disclaimer alert), quickly formed one of the league’s most dominant corner duos. A few years later, it would be Woodson and youngster Tramon Williams. Then, the quick rise of Sam Shields in 2010 allowed Dom Capers to push Woodson into the slot even more frequently, showcasing his abilities as a pass rusher and, more broadly, complete defensive player.

(Remember his Superman, one-armed goal-line tackle of a Ravens’ ball carrier in 2009 to save a TD? Oh yeah, and the next play Joe Flacco threw an INT across his body in the endzone.)

Like most cheeseheads, I’ll remember Woody for his Defensive Player of the Year campaign in 2009, when he notched a career-high 9 interceptions, returned 3 for TDs and forced 4 fumbles, recovering one.

But my lasting memory will be his performance that year against the Dallas Cowboys, a game in which nobody, myself included, was giving the Packers, 4-4 and coming off a loss to the winless Buccaneers and two losses to the Brett Favre-led Vikings, a chance. So what did Woodson do? Oh, you know, he recorded 8 tackles and a sack, forced two fumbles and intercepted a Tony Romo pass at his own one-yard line. I remember saying after the game that not only did Woodson save the Packers’ season, but also McCarthy’s job.

Over the last five years, Woodson has anchored a defense that’s intercepted opposing quarterbacks like none I’ve ever seen, and then turned those picks into points. A secondary featuring the likes of Harris, Williams, Shields, Nick Collins and Aaron Rouse that, once they got their hands on the football, you knew was going the other way.

Oh, and those questions about Woody’s durability? He missed only 3 games between 2006 and 2011; he did, for full disclosure, miss 9 games this year due to a broken collarbone.

But all good things must come to an end, or so they say. Woodson, 36 and a 15-year veteran, is due $10 million in salary and bonuses in 2013. Even with all the leadership and intangibles Charles brings to the table, it’s hard to believe Ted Thompson will part with that much cash on a DB who turns 37 in October, especially given the emergence of rookie Casey Hayward, to go along with Williams and Shields.

There’s a chance Woodson could restructure, much like A.J. Hawk did a few summers back, and return at a more Packer-friendly rate. But in all likelihood, we’ve seen the last of this guy in green and gold, a guy who evolved as a future Hall of Famer and leader in the most unlikely of places.

Thanks, Charles.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.

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