Would the Green Bay Packers Be Better Off Without Donald Driver?
The long-time receiver is 37 now, and he’s not getting any younger.
Driver’s prime years were from 2002 through 2009, when he averaged 76 catches, 1,066 yards and six touchdowns per season. The past two years’ averages: 44 grabs, 505 yards and five touchdowns.
Despite his drop in production, general manager Ted Thompson’s decision to re-sign Driver this offseason wasn’t all that surprising.
Driver has stated he wants to play a couple more years, and it’s hard to imagine him wearing anything but the green and gold. Driver has given his heart and soul to the Packers for his entire 13-year career, so the signing was more of a thank you than anything else.
But Thompson is always one to look toward the future. Instead of relying on huge free-agent signings, he prefers the draft-and-develop strategy. This way, the team always has fresh, young talent ready to step up in case of injuries, trades or free-agent departures.
The Driver signing, however, defies the normal futuristic logic of Thompson. Green Bay already has a loaded wide receiving corps.
First, they possess what could be the best one-two punch in the NFL with Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson, both of whom are in the prime of their careers.
They also have James Jones, who would be a No. 2 receiver on almost any other NFL team, perhaps even a No. 1 on some.
Then there’s Randall Cobb—the tiny but dangerous speedster coming off a rookie year that proved he has potential to become another DeSean Jackson or Steve Smith.
That’s already four sure-fire guys that will eat up the majority of playing time at wide receiver.
Teams usually only keep at maximum six receivers on the final 53-man roster after cuts from training camp are made. Assuming Driver makes the team because of the offseason re-signing, that would only leave one wide receiver spot for the developing strategy Thompson likes to employ.
Youngsters Shaky Smithson, Diondre Borel and Tori Gurley are all great candidates to fill that grooming role.
Borel and Gurley were both offered contracts from other teams while on the Packers practice squad last year, but both decided to stay. All three of them have created at least some hype during OTAs and minicamps this offseason.
By keeping Driver on the team, the Packers would be depriving themselves of another opportunity to develop a great receiver for the future. They could try to leave these youngsters on the practice squad again, but don’t expect them to keep turning down offers if they are continually denied a roster spot.
Driver might be a bit more productive at this point than Borel, Gurley or Smithson, but the difference would not be substantial, especially as a fifth-stringer.
Driver's veteran presence and leadership are the benefits of keeping him around, but it’s not like Green Bay is lacking in those departments.
Driver has been extremely consistent and loyal, and he deserved that Super Bowl XLV victory as much as anyone in the entire Packers organization.
But Thompson has proved in the past loyalty doesn’t necessarily buy you any extra freedom from him.
Remember the offseason of 2008? Brett Favre came crawling back to the Packers, but Thompson would have none of it. He didn’t care that Favre was the face of the franchise; it was a smarter move for the future to move on without him.
It makes me wonder why Thompson has shown a more gracious side to Driver.
If there’s one thing Thompson has taught every Cheesehead since his arrival in 2005, however, it’s to never doubt him.
I’m sure the man has a plan. I just hope Driver’s age doesn’t foil it.
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