As Green Bay Packers wide receiver Donald Driver took home the Mirrorball May 22 he may have not only been hanging up his dancing shoes, but also his Packers jersey.
The 37 year-old receiver has been extraordinary in his career with the Packers as a 7th round pick out of Alcorn State. He holds franchise records for most receiving yards and most receptions. Not only does he hold these records, but he holds the hearts of all of the Packer faithful. How could he not with that pearly white smile that could light up a room? Or the rags to riches story? Driver is everything you could want in an NFL player.
While Driver has everything a fan could ask for, unfortunately for him, he does not have much time. The fact of the matter is the NFL is a business and the Packers are a part of this business. We have seen before the Packers let their older players go to develop their youth and it’s one of the reasons Packers Nation may never see No. 80 back on the field in a regular season game for the green and gold.
The Packers like to develop their youth and with the Driver situation it becomes interesting. He’s 37 years-old as the Packers fifth wide receiver on the depth chart.
Another thing which adds up against Driver is the fact he was on Dancing with the Stars. Does this mean Driver is losing his focus for the game? Preparing for retirement? Yes, we all know it helped the Packers and he has been the face of the organization for years and the show helped make him even more recognizable, but the Packers have let the face of the franchise go before. Everyone knows what No. 4 I’m talking about. While this is not remotely close to the same situation, the outcome could become similar. Not to mention it led to the Pittsburgh Steelers letting go of their Super Bowl MVP wide receiver Hines Ward a year after he appeared on the show.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers was unproven and untested when General Manager Ted Thompson and Head Coach Mike McCarthy took the leap of faith and named him the starting quarterback over No. 4. The Packers have unproven, young wide receivers waiting for their chance on the practice squad. Not just one, but three guys will be battling out for the last wide receiver spot on the Packers roster.
The three wide receivers are Diondre Borel, Tori Gurley, and Shaky Smithson. Both Borel and Gurley are being paid above the league average for players on the practice squad and the Packers are high on both players because each brings something special to the table.
Borel is a wide receiver who would be comparable to Driver or the New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz. He would be great working out of the slot, has strong hands and is an exceptional route runner. While Gurley is somewhat of a tight end sized wide receiver at 6 feet 5 inches and 230 lbs. the man will be a mismatch nightmare in the red zone for defensive backs. Gurley also brings special teams value as he has been known to block his fair share of field goal attempts thanks to his stature. Smithson at this point is the wild-card of the group. He is an excellent returner and led the NCAA in punt return average with a 19.1 yards per attempt his senior year at Utah. The only way he would make the team is if he became so electrifying in the return game that the Packers would be forced to keep him.
While there is the speculation swirling about Drivers potential departure from the Packers, even with the new contract, the fact of the matter is it has not happened yet and there are still a few reasons why he will have a chance to be in a Packers uniform for at least one more season.
First off is the Packers know Driver is a leader and a true professional. A player with Drivers personality is hard to replace. He is a great locker room guy and shows the younger players how to handle the day in and day out life of a professional football player, because that’s what Driver is, a professional. He shows up every day and he works hard and he loves what he does, it’s obvious when you watch the guy play. Driver plays hard and with a smile.
Along with his personality comes the next factor as to why Driver will have a shot at being a Packer again. He was willing to take a pay cut. His $5 million towards the cap hurt him, Driver knew that and has already restructured his contract to have a chance to stay with the Packers.
The next factors are things Driver cannot control. First is injuries. If the Packers suffer injuries to their wide receiving core, it would be tough to cut Driver. He would be a perfect guy to keep around if injuries were to occur because he has experience and good chemistry with Rodgers.
Next, is what Thompson decides to do with the roster. Last year the Packers kept five wide receivers and five tight ends. And they’ve been known to keep odd numbers at certain positions to retain as much talent as possible. This year they may not need to keep five tight ends, which allows them to keep an extra wide receiver. If this is the case Driver could still make the team, but it also could mean they keep Borel and Gurley.
Another possibility is a trade, not Driver, but a different Packers wide receiver such as Borel, Gurley or even James Jones. There are plenty of teams out there looking for wide receivers and with teams suffering injuries during preseason games, it is possible teams will inquire about Packers wide receiver depth.
While Packers Nation waits to see what happens with their beloved star the only thing they can do is hope. The truth is he has been on the team since 1999 and has been a three time Pro Bowl selection while with the Packers. He’s been a staple of the team with that smile and the fact of the matter is he will be a Packers Hall of Famer after he retires it is now about when will he walk away and if he does, will it be after playing his last game on the Packers, or on another team? All Packers Nation can do is wait and hope Driver can dance away on his own terms.
*This article can also be found in The Scene. A newspaper out of Green Bay.*
About the Author
Written by Noah Hanstedt
Born and raised in the small town of Neenah, WI. Grew up watching Green Bay Packers football with my late father. Been writing about sports for 5 years now and hope to continue becoming a stronger writer and an even better man.