13

February

Packers: Donald Driver Situation Puts Pressure on Ted Thompson

Donald Driver

Packers WR Donald Driver is willing to take a pay cut to stay in Green Bay.

Speaking a day after his team had lost to the New York Giants in the NFC Divisional Round, Green Bay Packers receiver Donald Driver wasn’t having any of the speculation that he may be retiring after 13 NFL seasons.

And without actually saying it, Driver made it seem clear that continuing his career in another city had become a viable option.

“If the Packers don’t want me, I’ve got to go somewhere else and play,” Driver said. “I don’t have a choice. I’m not ready to hang the cleats up.”

That sound-byte from Driver probably caught Packers GM Ted Thompson a little off guard. A fair number of observers had envisioned 2011 being the 37-year-old’s final season.

The plot added another twist last Friday.

At a breakfast banquet in Milwaukee, Driver said that he’d be willing to take a pay cut to stay with the Packers in 2012, a statement that seemed to contradict his earlier feelings on wanting to play elsewhere if the Packers weren’t willing to keep him.

Driver is scheduled to make $2.6 million in base salary in 2012, plus a $2.2 million roster bonus due in March and another $200,000 workout bonus. Altogether, Driver’s cap number stands at $5 million. One of the main driving points for the potential release of Driver has been his cap number, and there’s likely no scenario in which he plays for the Packers next season at that price. Restructuring that $5 million number would seemingly make it easier to keep him on the roster.
However, Thompson is now in a tough spot. Every coin has two sides, and that premise applies here.

On one side, Driver is a respected team leader who worked his way up from the poverty-striken streets of Houston to the sandy beaches of four NFL Pro Bowls. Losing him would be an unquestioned blow to the Packers’ well-established locker room and the state of Wisconsin, where Driver has committed countless hours to improving the Green Bay community and state as a whole. Driver also proved there is still something left in the tank, catching six touchdowns during the regular season and being arguably the Packers’ most productive receiver in the playoff loss to the Giants.

But there’s another side to this decision. For starters, Driver is 37 years old. Football skills diminish rapidly at that age, and he has already lost several steps. Expecting Driver to match his 37 catches and 445 yards—both equaling Driver’s lowest production numbers since 2001—would be a stretch next season regardless of whose roster he’s on.

There’s also the looming reality that the younger players at Driver’s position in Green Bay—Randall Cobb, Tori Gurley and Diondre Borel—are probably deserving of increased roles in 2012.

Cobb, who as a rookie provided the Packers with a spark in the return game, has been equally electric in the passing game. But playing behind Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Driver at receiver, Cobb only saw 308 offensive snaps last season. Driver played on 562. An offseason of growth in the Packers offense could set up Cobb ready for a breakout year in his sophomore season, but only if the opportunities are available.

Interest in Gurley has been rampantly increasing. The undrafted free agent from South Carolina earned a spot on the practice squad in training camp, wowed veterans during the season with his play on the scout team, then spurned the rival Minnesota Vikings by turning down a spot on their active roster for a pay increase in Green Bay. You’d have to assume that Gurley stayed on the Packers practice squad partly due to the opportunity he could see in 2012 with Driver either retired or playing elsewhere. Who knows if Gurley would turn down the next chance to be on a 53-man roster, which are sure to be numerous if he’s forced back onto the Packers practice squad in 2012.

Fellow practice squad member Diondre Borel has been impressive and could push Gurley for the fifth receiver slot if Driver is gone next season.

There’s also the special teams factor, as Driver staying on as the fourth or fifth receiver doesn’t allow the Packers to get a contribution from the bottom of its receiving depth chart. Most teams expect those players to play on special teams, but Driver obviously hasn’t and wouldn’t be asked to do the same. Gurley and Borel—and in particular Gurley, who blocked several punts during training camp—could play right away on special teams and have an impact.

Driver’s willingness to take a pay cut puts a lot of pressure on Thompson during this process. Money isn’t an issue to Driver and it should now be a non-factor in if Thompson keeps or lets go the veteran receiver. Before, cutting a well-liked and universally respected receiver would have been a tough but understandable choice if it meant saving the Packers money on the cap. But now that Driver is willing to eliminate that hurdle to stay in Green Bay, the decision to part ways just got a lot more difficult.

I wrote recentlythat Thompson has no room for sentimental decision-making in building an NFL roster. I still think that applies here, and the best football move—regardless of public opinion and backlash—will eventually be made by Thompson. His track record in this regard is pretty cut and dry.

And if you don’t think a team will cut a tenured but aging receiver, look for further than the Pittsburgh Steelers. They are planning on cutting soon-to-be 36-year-old receiver Hines Ward, who, like Driver in Green Bay, leads the Steelers franchise in receptions and receiving yards and helped them win a Super Bowl. Ward has also expressed an interest in restructuring his contract to stay in Pittsburgh.

In the end, cutting Driver and letting the young receivers blossom is probably the best football decision. I’m positive that a combination of Cobb and Gurley or Borel can replace and possibly exceed what Driver contributes next season.

Driver has said that his goal is to play until he’s 40. Ted Thompson now has the difficult decision of deciding whether or not he attempts to accomplish that goal in Green Bay or elsewhere.

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Zach Kruse is a 23-year-old sports journalist with a passion for the Green Bay Packers. He currently lives in Wisconsin and is working on his journalism degree, while also covering prep sports for The Dunn Co. News.

You can read more of Zach's Packers articles on AllGreenBayPackers.com.

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16 Responses to “Packers: Donald Driver Situation Puts Pressure on Ted Thompson”

  1. Tarynfor12 Tarynfor 12 says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

    Poorly-rated. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 5

  2. Ron LC says:

    Managing the “Cap” is not strictly a WR for WR situation. They could add a WR and delete a RB and/or TE. TT definetely is facing a difficult situation with DD. If there is no other altenative than to let DD go, then do it with class. Help him go to a team he wants to play with. Houston or Miami maybe.

    I want DD to be in GB next year. However, as a GB fan, I realize that more than any other team in the NFL GB has to look at Profit as much as they have to worry about the “Cap.”

    Regarless, I hope DD will get his wish to play until he’s 40. If there is a player out there who could do it, it is DD.

    Your analysis summarizes TT dilema very well. There will be no easy solution for TT.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  3. cow42 says:

    see ya, dd. that was easy.
    there is no up-side to keeping him.

    -production can be matched by younger/cheeper player/s
    -he doesn’t play special teams
    -opens up a valuable roster spot
    -his performance will only get worse from here

    why on earth would you keep him on the team?

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 2 Thumb down 5

  4. Mojo says:

    Seems like the more hard-core fans can see the lost potential if they lose someone like Gurley. Plus, as you mentioned Zach, DD doesn’t do ST’s.
    Tough tough decision for TT. Probably the toughest since BF. It seems like every franchise, regardless of the sport, has to make these type of decisions regarding often highly paid local favorites. The irony is they often make some of their highest salaries at a time their contributions are at their lowest.

    The ball is clearly in Teds court. Perhaps he can offer the veterans minimum and DD will balk and leave. Or as Ron stated above keep six receivers and say goodbye to one of the TE’s. It’s obvious they really like Gurley and Borel considering what they did with their contracts last-year. As cruel as it sounds, I also agree with Cow’s comments. Too bad the NFL doesn’t allow for a “player emeritus” that you can stash on your roster without having to cut someone else.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  5. Chad Toporski Chad Toporski says:

    I think the parallel with Hines Ward is spot on. Living in Pittsburgh and listening to the radio, it’s funny how so many people were “shocked” at the rumor of his impending release. To me, it’s ever-so-clear. His production has gone down to the point where he’s no longer a top-2 receiver on the team, and despite all the things he’s done for the Steelers, they have young guys in the wings who are ready to take the stage.

    Just like Driver. Though, in DD’s case, I’d say the talent behind him is deeper than the talent behind Ward. That’s what really makes Driver’s pay cut option a wrench in the machine, because it’s about more than money. And fans feel much better about themselves when they can stand behind a “business decision” rather than a “football decision.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  6. Jersey Al Jersey Al says:

    A very well put together article, Zach. Nice work!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  7. Oppy says:

    This article covers all the bases.

    We’d all love to see DD in Green and Gold till the end, and ultimately, it will be DD’s decision. If he wants to play till 40, it won’t be on the Packers, that’s nearly guaranteed. If he wants end his career having only played for one team, he’s going to need to retire, if not this season, then no later than next.

    Too much talent pushing for play time, needing play time to develop.

    Get used to this kind of dilemma, folks.. It’s run-of-the-mill stuff for successful/dynastic teams (like the Pats). Catch and release!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  8. Zack says:

    Great job on framing a very deep subject into a concise article. You pretty much covered every point that I could have made on the subject. Just wanted to give you props on a well written article.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  9. Pete Kliman says:

    He was a great find in the seventh round and I’m going to hate to see him go,but in the NFL you have to develope new talent in order to compete with a salary cap. Especially when we need major help on D. Miami will be a great fit along with Flyn And the warm weather.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  10. David Wysocki says:

    IMO TT doesn’t really have pressure on him with DD. The decision was made last year when they extended James Jones. The signing of Gurley makes it even more obvious. Driver’s community work is great, but this is a football decision. It’s $5MM in savings at a time when we are extremely deep at WR and need to extend our core players. DD can still be a productive player, as maybe a fourth or fifth guy. Maybe a decent three for a bad team. But he’s not a top option in the NFL anymore. If he wants to be that guy again he should probably just retire a Packer because he won’t get offers from any team other than something close to a vet minimum. By the time next year rolls around I’m not even sure Driver will be a better option than Gurley.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  11. T says:

    It would be a shame to get rid of the receiver that can catch the ball

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  12. PackersRS says:

    Excellent article. I’ll just add that considering the locker room influence of Driver when assessing his value isn’t making an emotional decision.

    That being said, Driver’s decline is blalant, particularly when playing man coverage, which is what most teams will do against us. Coupled with the ascension of the young receivers, and it’s not a hard decision for TT. Driver can still play in this league, I have no doubt, but in this situation, he can’t have a roster spot.

    Keeping a 37 year old receiver that can’t beat man coverage and don’t play ST just for the sake of locker room peace would be a bad decision.

    As a Packer fan, my wish would be for Driver to retire. But, regardless of what happens, he’s the all-time receiving leader in a franchise that had James Lofton, Sterling Sharpe, Don Hutson and many others. And he has his ring. His legacy is firmly stabilished.

    And TT will have to face the same issue with Woodson in a year or two…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0