1

June

New Contract In Hand, It’s Time To Honor Donald Driver

Donald Driver

Quickie's trademark grin will be in Titletown for 2012

I propose a toast.

It’s time to raise our glasses and salute not only one of the greatest players in Green Bay Packers history but also one of the most beloved.  A man who is “Packer People” personified from the way carries himself both on and off the field and his various charitable endeavors. A man who came from literally nothing and who beat the odds and made it on the NFL’s biggest stage despite being the Packers’ final selection in the 1999 NFL Draft.  A man who not only made it in the NFL, but rewrote the record books for one of the most storied franchises in league history.

Donald Driver, stand up and take a bow.

Parts of this column may sound like I am writing a farewell column despite the fact Driver hasn’t retired yet and in fact is coming back for his 13th NFL season.  I guess I’m guilty as charged, but I argue that it’s never too early to pay tribute to man of such importance to a franchise and its fan base as Driver.

Driver’s path to the NFL was an odyssey that would have even made Homer’s jaw drop.   One of five children, Driver spent a decent amount of time in his teens living out of a U-Haul truck and sometimes spending holidays without either of his parents.  Even at that age, Driver’s athletic gifts were apparent.  Given the nickname “Quickie” by his mother because of how fast he was when she would chase him around the house, Driver continued to mold his body and stay in shape.

His father was a quarterback at Texas A&M who won an athletic scholarship and could have played in the NFL, but gave it up to support his mother after his father (Donald’s grandfather) passed away.  It was a very large sacrifice to give up his dream to help his family and it’s a lesson Driver never soon forgot.

As he grew up it would seem Driver was determined to live his father’s dream and make it in the NFL.   He scratched and clawed his way to Alcorn State where he became a world class high jumper (he could have made the 2000 Sydney Olympics but lucky for Cheeseheads he didn’t) and was selected in the 7th round of the 1999 NFL draft by the Packers.

29

February

Hines Ward: A Precursor to the Packers’ Decision With Donald Driver

1,000 career receptions, two Super Bowl rings and 14 dedicated years later, receiver Hines Ward was released by the Pittsburgh Steelers on Wednesday.

From Steelers president Art Rooney II: “We had a conversation today with Hines Ward and informed him that we plan to release him of his contract prior to the start of the 2012 NFL calendar year. Hines has been an integral part of our success since we drafted him in 1998 and we will forever be grateful for what he has helped us achieve. He has meant so much to this organization, both on and off the field, and we appreciate his efforts over the past 14 years. Hines’ accomplishments are numerous, and he will always be thought of as one of the all-time great Steelers. We wish him nothing but the best.”

The Steelers saved almost $4 million on their 2012 cap and have young, capable receivers in Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmaunel Sanders who overtook Ward, 36, on the receiving depth chart during the 2011 season.

We may be able to spin this same record in coming weeks with Packers receiver Donald Driver.

Driver, who is 37 years old and holds several Packers receiving records, has one year left on the contract he signed in 2010 worth almost $5 million. While Driver has expressed an interest in re-structuring that contract to continue playing in Green Bay, Ward offered the same service to the Steelers to stay in Pittsburgh. He was still released. Money is more of an issue for the Steelers in this offseason than the Packers, but the dollars don’t tell the whole story.

The meat of the pages here is that the Packers have younger players who need a bigger platform in 2012.

As is the case with the Steelers, who saw Antonio Brown emerge as a very capable No. 2 receiver in 2011, the Packers have two or three players—Randall Cobb, Tori Gurley and Diondre Borel—who need more opportunities and, in the case of Gurley and Borel, a spot on the Packers roster. Giving Driver an honorable release is the only way the Packers can accomplish that.

People aren’t going to like it, and there’s going to be a morbid feeling surrounding the release—just like there is right now in Pittsburgh. But don’t get this game of football twisted: It’s a business first and foremost, and releasing Driver is the better football move.