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Will 2011 Be Donald Driver's Swan Song?

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Will 2011 Be Donald Driver's Swan Song?

Either Donald Driver is the ultimate team player, or he is extremely confident in his ability to beat out his teammates for a spot atop the depth chart. Maybe it’s a bit of both.

Prior to the Packers re-signing wide receiver James Jones, Driver and quarterback Aaron Rodgers publicly pushed for the return of their teammate. According to Jones’ agent, Frank Bauer, the duo played an integral role in Green Bay retaining the fifth-year receiver.

"He and Driver really stepped up,” said Bauer. “That's rare for a quarterback and receiver to do that. That's really neat. James is really excited about coming back. He's very happy."

Jones’ talent on the football field is obvious, but why did Driver push so hard for his return? Was it a selfless act knowing that Jones may very well surpass him on the depth chart, or did Driver realize that maintaining one of the best – if not the best – wide receiving corps in the league was his own best shot at returning to the Super Bowl?

Regardless of his reasons, the result of Driver’s actions will result in less passes thrown in his direction. After suffering a knee/ankle injury in the Super Bowl, which put him in a walking boot for almost three months, the coaching staff will be watching how quickly the usually elastic Driver can bounce back from an injury that would end the career of many other 36-year-olds. Coupled with his declining statistics, Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin has no other choice but to keep an eye on Driver during training camp.

"If he's healthy, he's been a productive player here for a long time," Philbin said. "But I'm sure he understands the nature of the business. He will have to prove how ready he is during practice just like everybody else.”

Even if Driver is able to return to his old self, his current contract could work against him in the future. His five million dollar salary cap number has made the cut thus far, but the same number for next season may see him following in the footsteps of another fan-favorite, Nick Barnett. Barnett was released by the Packers this offseason after proving to be too costly for a backup player.

Bunched within a receiving group overflowing with talent, Driver will once again have to prove his place on this team. With the re-signing of James Jones, the emergence of Jordy Nelson, the return of Jermichael Finley, and Greg Jennings already entrenched atop the depth chart, Driver could find himself as the fifth option at times.

Rookie receiver Randall Cobb has to fit in somewhere as well, but barring injury, his time should not come for at least another year. Just as the NFL lockout allowed Driver time to heal, it should allow him to stay ahead of the second-round draft choice. Rookie receivers rarely make an impact in the NFL, and without a full offseason to learn the playbook and get comfortable in the offense, Cobb will not put roster pressure on Driver this year.

Next year could be a different story, however. If general manager Ted Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy feel confident in Cobb’s abilities going into his second season, I would not be surprised to see Driver become a cap casualty and be released by the team.

Driver’s saving grace may be his leadership. Always the consummate professional and tireless worker, his locker room presence cannot be measured in dollars. On a team with few veteran leaders, Driver’s stature may just earn him his final contract year. But Ted Thompson has never been the sentimental type, and Driver will have to earn every penny on the field of play.

Given his history, it would be foolish to bet against Donald Driver. So when the 13-year veteran says he wants to be a starter for two more seasons, it’s difficult to be a skeptic.

"I know I can play at a high level," said Driver. "I'm going back to have fun. I have two years left on my contract; I want to play those two years out - as a starter."

Driver is undoubtedly a leader on the field and in the locker room. In the business of football, however, and especially under Ted Thompson’s reign in Green Bay, on-field performance is what maintains a spot on the 53-man roster.

While Donald Driver’s ability should keep him on the roster this year, this may be his final hurrah on the only team he has ever known.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (27) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

June's picture

I really want to see a player retire as a Packer under Ted Thompson. Donald Driver is my all time favorite player and I hope this ends well!

bomdad's picture

Retire for realsies, you mean.

PackersRS's picture

Re: Driver's cap numbers.

The only thing that differs Driver from Tauscher is that he plays a position that is used a lot by MM on the field. So, if he's willing to accept his future role as the 4th receiver, and re-structures his contract, he'll retire a Packer. But management is cruel man. The team above all.

davyjones's picture

That cruel management will be bringing it's team to the White House soon. :)

Driver is shockingly motivated it seems...and I think JJ will be equally motivated and really have something to prove. his teammates going to bat for him should instill undying loyalty and desire to "make good". He will play with a chip on his shoulder. DD has something to prove too coming off last year...was it a trend or a fluke? I bet he has 1-2 more really above average seasons in him...even the eagles simply can't cove everyone and DD is a as crafty as they come. He'll get open his share.

PackersRS's picture

Not saying TT and co. are wrong. Not saying DD doesn't have anything left in tank.

Just saying that, if comes the time when DD is not capable of beating #2 CBs, he'll only have a roster spot with those conditions. He'll not be favored because of his time in GB, not heavily at least.

Jordan's picture

PackerRS,
So you're saying that you personally witnessed Driver beating #2 CB's last year? How many times would you say Driver did that with all the game film that you watched?

CSS's picture

How do you get that based on what he posted? What are you angling at by questioning his ability to watch game film to judge his credibility? Did you watch game film to dispute what he either states or implies?

PackersRS's picture

Yes, that is EXACTLY what I'm saying... I'm just going to recommend you see a doctor regarding your inability to interpret texts properly. Sometimes it's not as simple as ignorance, sometimes there's a medical cause to it.

Anyway, best wishes!

PkrNboro's picture

I think another key difference is availability. I thought Ted over-paid for Poppinga, Clifton, and Bush recently.

But, these guys were on the field (at least initially). Ted seems to be willing to fork over cash for contributors.

But for the recent veteran cuts -- Barnett, Harrell, Poppinga, & Tauscher -- these guys weren't on the field.

Not only was it their unavailability, but the consideration that there were multiple injuries that likely precluded their ability to play at a pre-injury level.

If Driver can play, Ted will pay. If not...

Ryeguy812's picture

My Green and Gold tinted glasses like to think that Driver was doing whats best for the team long term, giving them an established insurance policy against his 36 year old body.
In reality tho, DD's productions probably goes up with Jones in the mix since teams at least have to respect Jones coverage-wise which could put a lesser player on DD

PresidentRaygun's picture

I love Donald Driver, even my Bears fan friends begrudgingly respect him. If that Super Bowl injury didn't affect him too much, he'll still be a weapon. Nelson and Jones will take more receptions from him than ever this year, I think, but he can still get it done. Case in point:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QgcfJ8rbuHw

Love that play.

IdiotFan's picture

As amazing as that play is, I think my favorite Driver memory is him lying on the turf in the endzone during the home playoff loss to the Vick-led Falcons, having just caught a TD pass and dislocated his shoulder. We were playing like crap, and BLF couldn't be bothered to even bend over to pick up a snap that got caught in the snow, and here's Driver sacrificing his body to make a play in a game that we clearly weren't going to win. To borrow a phrase from Rod Tidwell, "No heart? No heart?! I'M ALL HEART MOTHER F--ER!!!"

Wayne's picture

This is off subject but I've got tickets for the Cleveland Preseason matchup.

I'm going to put a sign on the back of my #41 Havner jersey:

"We kicked Pittsburg's Butt. Feel free to buy me a beer"

Do you think it'll work?

Bearmeat's picture

I'd buy you one - if a photo was included!

Norman's picture

On the topic of classy receivers who give 100% all the time, are locker room leaders, model citizens and Super Bowl Champions, I see where Randy Moss is retiring today. Any chance Ted sends Clay Matthews, Chad Clifton and Mason Crosby down to whatever trailer park Randy is now living in to convince him to come to Green Bay?

Jmac34's picture

About as much chance as I have of winning the Lottery tonight and I haven't bought a ticket

john driscoll austin texas's picture

no Randy Moss, not now, not ever, he's never , not even close, made a touchdown like Mr.Donald Driver did at 35 against the 49ers last year...2 of the best Packer wideouts ever were great, Olympic caliber trackn field athletes, Donald Driver and James Lofton..im still predicting 45-55 catches, 600-750 yds, 6-8 tds. for double D..shucks, he may play another year or 2 after this season..and write more Quickie books Donald..Randy Moss?? please!! why??

lars's picture

Excellent article. As for sentimentality, the only player I've seen Ted cling to is Justin Harrell.

He's resigned many vets.---Tauscher, Clifton, Driver, Woodson, Wells, who have leadership qualities.

Chris K's picture

Think with 5-6 million available and the ever-present fact that we still have to re-sign the best gaurd in the game in Josh Sitton and maybe Finley too if he can stay healthy is on mangements mind. With the early signs from Randall Cobb being a playmaker and James Jones just reaching his prime, and Greg Jennings our best guy, MAYBE, MAYBE the team cannot re-sign WR-Jordy Nelson and nex year DONALD DRiver will reconstructure for the benefit of the team?..

There's only so much money and with this current 5 to 6 million and another 6 when Chad's done, thats enough to sign future draft picks and re-sign Sitton to what is going to be a BIG contract.

I think IF, and a major if, he recnstructures his contract he could be the number 4 next season and see 30-40 balls...... I look at the Wideouts as hving a true no. 1 & three no. 3 's currently with us wasting talent at the no. 5 spot in Randall Cobb. There's no way if you saw Cobb tonight you cant say WOWOW

Jordan's picture

Max,
How is James Jones supposed to pass Driver on the depth chart when he just went through free agency after 4 years in the NFL and no teams wanted him? Not even a desperate, receiver needy team with lots of salary cap space wanted him.

Think about it.

You've gotta learn to watch film and block out what you hear in the media, from players, or internet chatter. Use your own two eyes.

CSS's picture

Fair enough, but my own two eyes tell me Jones is better than Steve Breaston, also more productive than Plaxico Burress, more durable than Sidney Rice and better route runner than Sims-Walker.

Is it possible that some franchises just can't analyze/understand talent and potential?

MarkinMadison's picture

Agreed. And I don't know why the Vikings took the guy from Atlanta over JJ. A joke.

maxginsberg's picture

Jones is supposed to pass Driver on the depth chart because he's more productive.

Despite less playing time last season, Jones had more yards, more touchdowns, and averaged more yards per catch. And I saw all that with my own two eyes.

Jordan's picture

Max,
Your article was dead on about Driver. I've been saying the same thing about Driver and his decline. I 99 percent agree with your article.
I think it's safe to say that there is a very good chance that Driver will retire at the end of the season. Hopefully he won't hold the team hostage and demand to be paid starters money with limited production in pursuit of his Canton pipedream. Or force the team to release him and create PackerNation chaos.

I misinterpreted what you said about Jones moving up, when you were simply saying Driver will probably be moving down the depth chart. Sorry for giving you the business. I think Nelson and Cobb are the risers on the depth chart.

And I will add, you wrote a courageous article as many Packer fans refuse to admit that Driver is in the decline. Driver had a nice game last year vs Atlanta in playoffs when they were able to match him up against Christopher Owens.

maxginsberg's picture

No problem. Thanks.

Point Packer's picture

My number one concerns is that Donald goes into the Packer Hall of Fame before the Dong Slinger.

MarkinMadison's picture

#1 Wilde was questioning how big of a role DD played in getting JJ back. Sounds like it may have been more Chuck and Greg Jennings than DD.

#2 The first thing that crossed my mind when I heard DD was lobbying for JJ was that DD's days are numbered. I still haven't seen JJ's cap number. And none of us have seen DD play yet. So we'll see how this goes.

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