By Darryl Krejci, Lombardi Ave.
~When it comes to the Green Bay Packers and Charles Woodson, is change good or is it bad?
I get easily confused as I move up in years and it seems that I am not the only one who is confused as to if it is good or bad.
Yesterday the Green Bay Packers released Charles Woodson. By many accounts he was the heart and soul of the defense – a leader in the locker room and on the field.
He was also an aging veteran who had been injured most of last season and was poised to be a big hit against the salary cap.
During his departure, younger and faster players showed they could handle his job, so he became expendable. He became a statistic of the business side of the NFL.
So that leads us to the big question: Is the release of Woodson good or bad? I read many posts that criticized the release. One fan wrote, “ I can’t really believe they did this … they have made some dumb moves but this one tops the rest.” Many other fans questioned the loss of his leadership.
While other fans realized that his salary cap hit, his age and declining speed were all factors in his release , they wished him well and put their faith in the brain trust at 1265 Lombardi Avenue to do what is best for the team.
So is it good or bad? After separating the emotional aspects of losing another well-liked player who represented the team with class and dignity, I think the move was done at the right time and with the best interests of the team and more importantly for the right reasons.
Take a step back and look at the big picture.
Woodson is an aging veteran who was moved from his original position to cover his deficiencies in covering younger and faster players.
While recovering from his second broken collarbone, younger players stepped up and in his absence they were able to raise and maintain a level of play that improved the defense. Now I am not saying that Woodson was the cause of the defense’s poor play over the past few years, what I am pointing out is that the younger players showed that they were ready to fill the void in his absence. Once they proved that, his ticket out of Green Bay was stamped.
There is also the concept that the needs of the team are more important than the desire to keep a player because of the emotional attachment (see Donald Driver). Everyone is familiar with the necessity to sign Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews and BJ Raji to new contracts. These players are the current cornerstones of the team and Thompson and Mark Murphy have to address these needs to sustain the team’s level of play. Woodson’s contract was something that could have hindered future extensions.
Finally, there is the question of the loss of his leadership on and off the field. Yes it will be missed. But in the past, Reggie White, LeRoy Butler, Brett Favre and many other leaders have moved on and the team found their replacements. His loss is not going to create a leadership vacuum. It will, if anything, force younger players who have watched him lead, step and and be that leader. To quote Disney’s “The Lion King” (NFL version), it is the circle of life.
In the end, the release of Woodson was a well-calculated decision based on the needs of the team in conjunction with the fact that younger players had developed enough to fill his spot admirably, thus there would be no dropoff in play in the secondary. The release was best for the team and that is what we, as fans, need to focus upon.
Players come and players go. In time, Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews and other fan favorites will leave the team, just as Woodson has. The Packers will survive. There will be bumps and bruises, and learning curves for new players and new team leaders, but the Green and Gold is bigger than any one player.
So, Mr. Woodson, thank you for your dedicated play, your passion and leadership. Thank you for leading this team to a Super Bowl victory. We all look forward to the day when you enter the Packers Hall of Fame and the NFL Hall of Fame (as a Packer). Though you did not want to be here at first, you embraced us and we embraced you. Change may hurt, but I believe that in this case, the change is good for all those involved.
New opportunities will arise for everyone involved and your time here will be treasured. You wore the Green and Gold with pride and for that we are forever grateful.
By Mike Spofford, Packers.com
~GREEN BAY—With his playing career over, all that’s left of Donald Driver in a Packers uniform are memories, and plenty of them were shared on Wednesday.
Driver’s retirement ceremony in the Lambeau Field Atrium in front of a few thousand fans reflected, in a roundabout way, on everything in his spectacular 14-year career.
General Manager Ted Thompson recalled the 1999 draft meetings, when all the team’s scouts kept saying, “Can you run that back?” as they watched videotape of a receiver from Alcorn State. One of those scouts was undoubtedly Alonzo Highsmith, whom Driver thanked for working him out during the pre-draft process. That receiver a few months later would be “this skinny, skinny, skinny kid,” as Thompson told it, on whom he kept his eye during the first spring minicamp.
Head Coach Mike McCarthy, who was the Packers quarterbacks coach in Driver’s rookie year, remembered a Brett Favre rocket throw that looked headed over the Clarke Hinkle Field fence in a training camp red-zone drill. Out of nowhere came No. 13 – Driver’s uniform number as a seventh-round pick before he got No. 80 – who leaped to snag it, and everyone took notice.
“You could see right away that this young man definitely belonged,” McCarthy said. “That was a tremendous first impression that I’ll never forget.”
Before he got a little choked up talking about Driver and his family, McCarthy went on to celebrate – if not canonize – Driver’s 61-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown against San Francisco on Dec. 5, 2010, at Lambeau Field.
That play, along with Driver’s first career reception and his record-breaking catches, was shown in a video for all to re-live again. He broke at least a half dozen tackles as he finally plowed through four 49ers defenders to get over the goal line.
“If you’re looking for a picture of what Donald Driver means to your football team, what he means as a player, that’s the picture,” McCarthy said. “That’s the one I’ll always remember.”
So will Driver, who has always pointed to that play to prove that age is just a number. It occurred in his 12th season, when he was 35, and it was only fitting he was wearing a throwback jersey at the time.
“What I remember about the play is the defense didn’t care about me, because I was old,” he said. “It kind of worked out in my favor. They jumped Greg Jennings and they left me wide open, and then after that I just said I wasn’t going to be denied.
“I have to say if I have to look at one play in my career that stands alone, that one. That’s the best of my career.”
The play happened two months and one day before Driver would reach what he called his “greatest milestone,” walking out of the tunnel at the Super Bowl and eventually hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.
That moment was as good a capper as any to a story Driver has told many times and reflected upon again Wednesday, of when he was 14 years old, lying in bed and telling his brother he would lift his family out of all its struggles, which included being forced to live out of a U-Haul truck at one time.
“The road that I was going down as a kid, God found a way for me to get out of it,” said Driver, after several emotional moments thanking all the family members, coaches and others who have been a part of his journey. “I’m just blessed to be able to stand up here today and say I’ve reached all the milestones that I can reach.”
The honors kept coming Wednesday, as Governor Scott Walker declared it “Donald Driver Day” and Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt presented Driver with a key to the city.
More significantly, Schmitt also announced that the famous receiver statue that used to reside in front of the old Packers Hall of Fame and is now in front of the downtown Titletown Brewing Co. restaurant will be refurbished, with the receiver wearing a No. 80 Driver jersey. The street leading to the statue and restaurant will also be renamed “Donald Driver Way.”
More honors are sure to come, as the Packers Hall of Fame will no doubt induct Driver as soon as he’s eligible. In the meantime, the “Dancing With The Stars” champion is off to co-host a TV show with Katie Couric and finish production of a book due out in September.
“Success has not changed me,” Driver said. “I’m the same skinny little kid that walked in here in 1999. I’m going to be the same little skinny kid, … well, grown man, … that walks out in 2013.
“I felt this was the opportunity to walk away from the game knowing that I’ve given it all that I can.”
He’s given plenty of memories, too. Original story here