As organized team activities began for the Green Bay Packers yesterday, the biggest story was not the start of the 3-4 defensive transition or Aaron Kampman’s refusal to talk to the media. Rather, the absence of Donald Driver shocked the Green Bay nation as Driver looks to reconfigure his contract.
Driver is set to make $3.9 million in 2009. At 34 years old, Driver’s production has not fallen despite his becoming the No. 2 receiver behind Greg Jennings. Last year, Driver passed the 1,000-yard mark and found the end zone five times.
I have been thinking long and hard about the situation. On one hand you have the lovable Driver, who has done more for the Packers organization since he has been here than anyone else.
He has become a fan favorite and does so much for the community that it’s hard to go against him. Ever.
When I first read the story and saw the reaction of most fans, I wanted to stick up for Driver and say that he deserves his pay raise. I actually started a blog listing reasons why he should get whatever money he is asking for, but stopped after I realized that the NFL is a business.
It would be great for Driver to stay a Packer for his whole career, and deep down I believe he wants to be one. However, he has signed multiple contract extensions over the last couple of years that have given him extra coin in his pocket.
I truly believe that you pay a player based on his performance, not the role on his team. Just because Driver is not the No. 1 receiver does not mean he should have to take less money than his numbers justify.
But Driver isn’t getting less money than his numbers have earned.
In terms of total salary last year, Driver was the 23rd highest paid wide receiver in the league at just over $5.2 million. That was more money than Reggie Wayne, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, and Anquan Boldin. While it doesn’t tell the whole story regarding receivers' full contracts, Driver is hardly getting short changed.
While I do not agree with people who say Driver is washed up and that his production has gone down, the fact of the matter is he is getting up there in age at a position where the Packers are getting much younger.
James Jones enters his fourth year as a Packer and showed a lot of promise before an injury-riddled season last year. Big things are expected from him, and he has starter capabilities.
Last year’s second-round pick Jordy Nelson had a fantastic year and looks to be a steal. He played with strength and did a great job running with the ball after the catch. Past that, undrafted free agent Jamarko Simmons is making noise in camps thus far.
Driver is not dispensable, and production at the position would take a huge hit if he were to leave. He may be just a slot receiver who has lost some of his ability to make the big play, but do not doubt his importance.
The question becomes whether or not he is worth the trouble of re-doing his contract once again. He has been treated fairly with contracts in the past, and he is the one that signs them.
As was seen with Marvin Harrison last year, the “new” No. 1 receiver Reggie Wayne needed to be paid and it was going to be too hard to give Harrison a figure he would comply with.
Seeing as Harrison was regressing with age, the Colts let him go and have focused their attention on Wayne as the go-to guy.
Many hope Jennings will have a deal done before the year begins, but Driver is not making it any easier.
The one difference is that Jennings is in camp going about his business. The fourth-year receiver out of Western Michigan is set to make $535,000 next year, which is the league minimum for a three-year veteran.
All this and we have not heard one peep from Jennings, who continues to go out and get better, knowing his pay day will come soon enough.
Longevity may be an issue as well as it is almost inevitable that Driver will drop off one of these next few seasons. Driver is signed for two more seasons, but with up-and-comers Jones and Nelson waiting in the wings, Driver may fear getting the aforementioned Harrison or Torry Holt treatment.
Security is a great thing for any player to have, and Driver may be looking for that.
Whatever the issue is, Driver needs to understand that he will be treated fairly for all he has done, but not now. He has every right to ask for a new contract, but Ted Thompson has every right to say no. Jennings is a priority for the Packers and will be until a deal is done.
For all that Driver has taught Jennings on the field, it might be time that Driver takes a lesson from his student off the field.