Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Green Bay would be better off if Driver had retired

Donald Driver is back for a 13th season in Green Bay.
Get out the boiling tar. Calibrate the rack. Sharpen those screws. Bring out what ever Inquisition-era form of "persuasion" you want, I'm not recanting my potentially heretical position: The Packers would be better off if Donald Driver had retired this offseason.

Let me get something straight: this isn't some personal attack. I don't have a vendetta against #80. Simply put, I love the guy. I love his work ethic, his consistency, his drive and determination, and his plainly pleasant attitude.

No, I'm sure I love Donald just as much as the rest of you. I'm just able to take a step back, turn off my emotions, and realize that Driver's retirement probably would've left the Packers better positioned in the grand scheme of things.

Donald Driver's play is clearly declining. His heroics against the hapless 49ers aside, 2010 was his least productive season since 2001. Once thought to be ageless, the 35 year-old Driver began to show signs of slowing down. Injuries hampered him throughout the season, and he was unavailable for the second half of Super Bowl XLV. The ankle injury he sustained in that contest kept him in a walking boot for two months. Driver is not as spry and indestructible as he used to be.

Furthermore, his play on the field has not matched seasons past. Always a threat after the catch, Driver's YAC average dropped to a paltry 3.7. And despite the flak that James Jones and Jordy Nelson received, it was Driver who led the team in drops and drop percentage.

While his familiarity with the offense and chemistry with Aaron Rodgers cannot be questioned, it's a simple fact that he's no longer the clear-cut second best receiver on the team. Indeed, he's probably only be as good as the fourth best, behind Nelson and Jones. 

Still, forth best on Green Bay's receiving corps is not too shabby, and if preseason action thus far is any indication, Driver still has the ability to serve as a decent possession receiver in the Packers multi-WR sets. But how much would the Packers really have missed Driver if he'd called it quits? Would the passing game drop-off in any significant way? 

I doubt it. The Packers are so loaded at receiver that losing Driver would not be much of a blow. Greg Jennings has established himself as an elite player at the position. Jermichael Finley, back from injury, is an indefensible TE who will always open things up on the outside. The inconsistencies that have marred otherwise impressive play from Nelson and Jones would likely vanish with increased responsibility. And rookie second-rounder Cobb appears to be ready to contribute sooner rather than later.

With Driver back, promising youngsters
like Tori Gurley will most likely be let go.
So, while Driver still has the ability to contribute in a reduced capacity, his absence would not be much of a setback to Green Bay's aerial assault. In fact, they got through the second half of 2010 just fine with him playing on a limited basis. With that in mind, what's the cost of him returning to Packers for another season?

Tori Gurley, Chastin West, or both. The fact that Driver will have a spot on the roster means that one if not both of these talented, up-and-coming youths will not. Their futures in Green Bay will be sacrificed for a 36 year-old wide-receiver, the fourth best on his team, who's on the downswing of his career and has recently been plagued by injuries. It's a rare instance in which the Packers under Ted Thompson will pass on promising young talent in favor of a declining veteran.

Now, to be clear, I am not advocating that Ted Thompson releases Driver now. Such a move this late into the preseason would not only be wrong ethically, it would probably create exactly the type of locker room maelstrom that a Super Bowl champion looking to defend needs to avoid. At this point, Driver will and should remain a part of the team.

But just because it's the right decision doesn't necessarily make it the best. Gurley and West are talented players, and it will be difficult to see either of them go on to play somewhere else.

Donald Driver will go down as one of the greatest Packers ever to lace 'em up. He is the franchise's all-time leader in receptions and second on the list for career receiving yards. Coming off a Super Bowl win, the emotional zenith of his 13 year career, this past offseason was the perfect time for him to retire, to hang up his cleats and walk off into the sunset-- and I wish he would have.


  1. I completely agree with everything you said. This is what I have been saying all along. Donald, you are one of my favorite Packer players but it'd would've been best for everyone, including yourself if you would've just retired. Like you said, Jonathan, what a perfect time to retire coming off that Super Bowl

  2. I have mixed feelings. Yeah, Donald isn't a number 1 or 2 receiver anymore (especially with Green Bay's obscene WR core), but he's a team leader that I think is so valuable that we should keep him as long as he wants to keep playing. If nothing else, he is still useful, and I'm not sure substituting a wily veteran for an unproven WR like West is a good idea. Give the young'ins a few more years to develop.

  3. Petty, the only problem is that we probably won't be able to hang on to these young'ens. Chastin West has turned heads around the league and if we don't find a spot for him on the 53-man roster than we probably will not be able to sneak him onto the practice squad. Someone else will sign him. I haven't seen Gurley do anything yet but I trust Jonbob's enough to know that the same thing will probably happen to him.

  4. Your trust is appreciated, Samurai. We will be ok though. Undrafted free agent receivers are a dime a dozen. If we lose West and Gurley, so be it. TT has a knack for finding WRs in the draft and I'm sure he'll find one next year. West and Gurley will make no impact if kept on the team this year. They just won't see the field at all, and probably won't even be active on the 46 man game day roster.

    We'll be fine with the 5 we have this year, and I'd bet we re-sign Jordy next season. Then we'll figure out what needs to be done with DD based on Cobb's development.