GREEN BAY — Davon House could have been spending Christmas Day in Houston, helping the Pittsburgh Steelers win their 12th game of the season, locking up a first-round playoff bye and setting the table for a potential Super Bowl run.
Last spring, the veteran cornerback had been on the verge of signing with the Steelers — in fact, he was in Pittsburgh on an official free agent visit — when his agent, Kenny Zuckerman, got an offer from the Green Bay Packers. And while the Steelers were offering a two-year deal, House desperately wanted to return to Green Bay.
So even though the Packers’ offer didn’t contain as much money or security — it ended up being a one-year, $2.8 million deal — House jumped at the chance to go back to the place where he’d spent his first four NFL seasons.
And so, while the Packers have been eliminated from playoff contention — and will end their season with a meaningless game against the Detroit Lions Sunday at Ford Field — House doesn’t regret for a moment his decision to come back.
“It’s been a good ride, man,” House said following the Packers’ 16-0 loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday night at Lambeau Field. “Like I was telling a buddy of mine, ‘If I had a chance, do I accept the Pittsburgh offer or come to Green Bay?’ I said, ‘If I had to do it again, I’m coming back here.’”
House has provided a much-needed veteran presence in a cornerback group that has for the second straight year battled injuries and inconsistent play. But House has had his own injury issues, having missed time with hamstring, quadriceps, shoulder and back injuries. Two weeks ago, House was listed as doubtful to play against Cleveland because of the shoulder injury but toughed it out and played well — until suffering a fractured transverse process in his back during the second half of that game.
He didn’t play in the Packers’ Dec. 17 loss at Carolina, but was back in the lineup on Saturday night against the Vikings. All told, House has played in 11 of the Packers’ 15 games and recorded one interception and eight pass break-ups.
While those numbers aren’t particularly impressive, with other injuries — from Quinten Rollins’ season-ending ruptured Achilles’, to rookie Kevin King’s season-long shoulder injury finally requiring surgery and landing him on injured reserve, to Damarious Randall sitting out Saturday night with a knee injury — and up-and-down play from his less experienced teammates, House has been invaluable.
So too has been the leadership he’s provided, starting with his decision to use Twitter to hitch a late-night ride back to Green Bay from Minneapolis when his connecting flight was canceled and he was in danger of missing one of the team’s organized team activity practices — one which most veterans simply would have missed and not thought twice about.
“I think it’s been really good because of the simple fact of, he’s a veteran, he can tell them about being here with a (Charles) Woodson and older guys that they haven’t really experienced. And he’s been other places and can tell about how special it is to be here at Green Bay and the opportunities that we have here,” cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said. “So it’s been very good to have him in the room.
“When he’s been healthy, I’ve been pleased with what he’s given us. But he has the shoulder, the back, he has a number of different things that he’s fought through.”
House, though, continues to do so. He does have a financial incentive to play as many snaps as possible. As his contract is written, House would receive $250,000 if he plays between 50 and 60 percent of the Packers’ defensive snaps this season; $500,000 if he plays 60 to 70 percent of the snaps; or $750,000 if he plays 70 percent or more of the snaps.
On Saturday night, House played 50 of the Packers’ 65 defensive snaps, meaning he’s played 616 of a possible 964 snaps (63.9 percent). Assuming he can play most of the snaps next Sunday, he should receive $500,000 in bonus money.
House, though, said that while the money is a consideration for him, it’s not his main motivation. Rather, having joined the Packers as a 2011 fourth-round pick and after spending two years with the Jacksonville Jaguars before being released last offseason, House’s hope is his level of play and willingness to play hurt will motivate the Packers to bring him back for another year.
“My shoulder’s hurting, my back’s hurting. I was just happy to be able to get through (Saturday night’s) game,” House said.
“I really wanted to play because this could have been my last game here. I remember the last time it was my last time here (in 2014), I walked off the field with Tramon Williams and I said to myself, ‘I’m going to miss this.’ Now that I’m here, I’m glad I played. I don’t regret anything that I’ve done. Some people said, ‘You should be smart out there.’ It’s hard to put my pride to the side.
“Last year during this time, I was wishing I could be back here. Someone said, ‘Are you playing because of incentives?’ It’s more than just that. I think back about when I came for the OTAs. I didn’t have to come. I didn’t have to come to practice. I could have stayed the night in Minnesota and came up the next day and missed practice. But it’s more than just that for me.”