An average NFL career lasts between four and five years. A great football career lasts between 12 and 15 years. But anything past that takes evolving. That's what Charles Woodson has had to do to keep his NFL career alive.
Just two seasons ago, Woodson was named Defensive player of the year at the cornerback position for the Packers. That was his 14th year in the league in a career that had seen him go to the Pro Bowl 8 times and named All Pro three times.
Last year the Packers needed him to move from cornerback to safety and after that they were ready to move on from him. Woodson, however, is not ready to move on from his NFL career. He wanted to keep playing and to do that, the safety position was his ticket.
"You go from being a shutdown corner to just being a shutdown football player," said Woodson. "That's what I've always been even though my role was to play corner I was always just a football player. Those that have watched me over the years, I've always tackled. I've always done whatever I could out there on the field besides just playing against one guy. Then over the years, it's the experience thing that comes into play, and the game starts to slow down for you the more you play the game. You know what to expect out there on the field."
The Raiders have been known for putting their corners on islands in the man cover corner scheme for decades. It's something Woodson did quite well during his time here and what made him a big free agent signing.
This transition has not always been a successful one for former Raiders. Two recent examples of corners who received big free agent deals after leaving the Raiders were Nnamdi Asomugha and Stanford Routt - both of whom failed greatly in their next stops.
Woodson paved the way for guys like Asomugha and Routt as free agents. The success he had after leaving the Raiders' system led many to believe others could do the same. Asomugha was forced into a system in Philadelphia that didn't fit his skill set and Routt... well, he just wasn't all he was cracked up to be and didn't even last a full season in Kansas City.
But Woodson had to adapt once he left the Raiders. He was not known for being a guy who watched a lot of film. The Raiders scheme was so basic, it didn't demand a lot of film work.
"When I first came out we played man to man," said Woodson. "Really the game was about not letting your guy catch the ball. That's what I had to do. A lot of times you followed the guy around and that was it. If they weren't throwing the ball at him, really what else could you do. Over time being put in other positions, playing nickel, moving around, playing dime, playing some safety, you got to see the game from different angles. That's what kind of really egged me to get better at understanding formations, understanding situations, what teams like to do whether it's in the red zone or backed up to their own 20. It's helped me become a lot better player and make a lot more plays which is of course a lot of fun. I look forward to doing a lot of that this year."
Leaving Oakland the first time was good for Woodson. He could never have had the level of success he has enjoyed if it weren't for being taken out of the narrow scope of the shutdown corner role and asked to take on more responsibilities.
He would not have been able to simply make the jump to safety and prolong his career without the added emphasis on studying film and experience at all the different corner positions.
Equally important, he would not have become the leader he is now. It is a big part of what makes him so valuable to this young team and had the team interested in signing him. The youth on this team and the turnover requires leaders and glue guys to keep their focus. Woodson offers that as well as plenty of talent still left in that 36-year old body.