Packers’ philosophy, loaded roster working against Donald Driver : Packers Insider

Packers’ philosophy, loaded roster working against Donald Driver

May 21, 2012 by  
Filed under News

By Tom Oates, Green Bay Press-Gazette

~Going into the final week of “Dancing With the Stars”, Donald Driver has been installed by oddsmakers as the favorite.

If only the odds of Driver returning to play a 14th season at wide receiver for the Green Bay Packers were that good.

It goes without saying that no one wants to see Driver kicked to the NFL curb at age 37. If there is such a thing as a first-ballot candidate for the Packers Hall of Fame, he’s it.

Donald Driver is a fan favorite, the team's all-time leading receiver, and oh by the way he can still play. Ted Thompson has his toughest player decision here since 2008 with the Gunslinger.

Indeed, Driver is everything you want in a player, starting with his rags-to-riches story. He is the franchise’s all-time leading receiver, is extremely popular among fans for his positive, outgoing personality, is beloved for his many charitable endeavors and is a respected mentor to the team’s young receivers.

Oh, and he can still play. Not like he once could, mind you, but Driver showed in the Packers’ playoff loss that he can still make plays.

The problem is, keeping a player of Driver’s age, declining production and $5 million salary-cap number goes against everything the Packers regime believes in. General Manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy have built an NFL power by drafting and developing players, retaining core veterans in their prime and keeping the roster young. They seldom, if ever, have allowed sentiment to enter into their decisions.

Donald Driver may be the most popular Packer player with the fans ever. If he's forced out like last year's Dancing With the Stars WR, Hines Ward, it will deal a painful blow to Cheese Nation.

But Driver might present Thompson and McCarthy with their greatest dilemma yet. Though given their track record, it seems unlikely that he will be playing in Green Bay this fall.

If the Packers have reached a decision on Driver, it won’t be made public until sometime after his “Dancing With the Stars” experience. With his participation on the nationally televised show, Driver is gaining a legion of fans, which should aid his post-NFL career, and the Packers’ image is benefitting from his likable persona.

The subject of Driver’s future is a sensitive one among Packers fans, with even the slightest ripple turning into a tidal wave of debate.

Thompson and McCarthy were asked about Driver’s future a few weeks ago and each dodged the question, causing many antennae to go up. Driver tweeted a cryptic message last week about being “a Packer for life” and some viewed it as a precursor to his departure. Driver’s absence from the team’s offseason workouts due to his involvement with the TV show has been read as a sign that he’s all but gone.

The truth is, no one knows what Thompson and McCarthy are planning and neither is known for showing his cards prematurely.

Driver was the only receiver who played well in the playoff failure loss to the Giants. If they all played like him, the Packers probably would have repeated as Champs, and he might have retired, going out Elway-style.

There are some legitimate football reasons to keep Driver around, the biggest one being his team-first attitude. Despite playing a position loaded with prima donnas, Driver never pouted when younger players started usurping his snaps and his receptions. He also stated publicly that he’s willing to take a pay cut to stay with the team. It’s possible the Packers could see him as an insurance policy and keep him at a reduced salary in the event injuries thin the wide receiver corps.

Clearly, Driver remains an asset on the field and in the locker room. It is also likely that, if released, he would sign on with another team.

Nevertheless, if you look at how the Packers operate, their current roster works against Driver. Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Randall Cobb, all 28 or younger, are proven NFL wide receivers. And the Packers are impressed with the promise shown by Tori Gurley and Diondre Borel, who were on the practice squad last year, and Shaky Smithson, who spent the season on the injured-reserve list.

The Packers like to see their second-year players make a big jump and that appears to be their game plan for Cobb this season. Jennings, Nelson and Jones are all established, so it figures that the Packers would not want Driver’s presence to hold back Cobb by taking away any of his opportunities.

More than playing time, the Packers might be concerned about roster spots and preparing for the future. They paid Gurley and Borel well above practice-squad money when other teams tried to sign them last season, a strong indication that one or both fits into their long-term plans. If those two continue to develop, there won’t be much room on a roster that at most will carry six wide receivers.

Finally, it’s possible the Packers won’t want to pay Driver — he’s due the $1.5 million bonus at the start of training camp and has a $2.6 million base salary — for salary-cap reasons. They don’t need the cap room now, but they might at some point, especially if they sign core players such as Jennings, Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews and B.J. Raji to long-term contract extensions.

Thompson and McCarthy have deviated from their master plan before, whether it was trading up in the draft or signing free agents. However, those moves were usually made out of necessity. Unfortunately, keeping Driver doesn’t fall into that category.

Everybody Loves Donald.

The truth is, no one knows what Thompson and McCarthy are planning and neither is known for showing his cards prematurely.

There are some legitimate football reasons to keep Driver around, the biggest one being his team-first attitude. Despite playing a position loaded with prima donnas, Driver never pouted when younger players started usurping his snaps and his receptions. He also stated publicly that he’s willing to take a pay cut to stay with the team. It’s possible the Packers could see him as an insurance policy and keep him at a reduced salary in the event injuries thin the wide receiver corps.

Clearly, Driver remains an asset on the field and in the locker room. It is also likely that, if released, he would sign on with another team.

Nevertheless, if you look at how the Packers operate, their current roster works against Driver. Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Randall Cobb, all 28 or younger, are proven NFL wide receivers. And the Packers are impressed with the promise shown by Tori Gurley and Diondre Borel, who were on the practice squad last year, and Shaky Smithson, who spent the season on the injured-reserve list.

The Packers like to see their second-year players make a big jump and that appears to be their game plan for Cobb this season. Jennings, Nelson and Jones are all established, so it figures that the Packers would not want Driver’s presence to hold back Cobb by taking away any of his opportunities.

Driver is willing to take a pay cut to keep his illustrious Packer career going. He wants to play and finish one more Super Bowl win.

More than playing time, the Packers might be concerned about roster spots and preparing for the future. They paid Gurley and Borel well above practice-squad money when other teams tried to sign them last season, a strong indication that one or both fits into their long-term plans. If those two continue to develop, there won’t be much room on a roster that at most will carry six wide receivers.

Finally, it’s possible the Packers won’t want to pay Driver — he’s due the $1.5 million bonus at the start of training camp and has a $2.6 million base salary — for salary-cap reasons. They don’t need the cap room now, but they might at some point, especially if they sign core players such as Jennings, Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews and B.J. Raji to long-term contract extensions.

Thompson and McCarthy have deviated from their master plan before, whether it was trading up in the draft or signing free agents. However, those moves were usually made out of necessity. Unfortunately, keeping Driver doesn’t fall into that category.

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