The day after the Green Bay Packers’ season ended following a home playoff loss to the eventual-Super Bowl champion New York Giants, Donald Driver stood at his locker packing away all of his personal belongings for the offseason. Judging by the way he spoke at the time, it sounded like the 13-year veteran and career Packer was clearing out his locker for the final time and had played his final snaps in a Green Bay uniform.
A month later, Driver’s tone seems to have changed.
“The organization knows what I’ve done on and off the field, and they want to keep me around as long as possible,” Driver told WISN-TV at a Boy Scouts Leadership Breakfast on Friday. “If that means sitting down and taking pay cuts to stay around, then you take pay cuts to stay around. I’ve always said it’s not about the money for me anymore.
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“What I’m pushing for is for my legacy to stay around in the state of Wisconsin and around the world forever. So the money’s not a big issue.”
Driver, a three-time Pro Bowl selection who turned 37 this month, is the Packers’ all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards. But Driver’s production and opportunities dropped for the second consecutive season. In 2011, he had 37 catches for 445 yards, Driver’s lowest output since 2001.
At season’s end, Driver insisted he is not ready to retire and plans to play until he’s at least 40.
“I haven’t lost a step on anyone,” Driver said on Jan. 16. “The way things are going this year, I didn’t get myself beat up a lot. I’ll probably play until I’m 45. You never know. Wherever the road goes for me, I’m willing to follow it.”
With the continued steady play of Greg Jennings and the emergence of Jordy Nelson, Driver wasn’t getting the ball as often as he had been previously accustomed to. Add in tight end Jermichael Finley and one of the deepest wide receiving groups in the NFL with James Jones and Randall Cobb, and it seemed to signal that Driver would not be back for a 14th season in Green Bay.
“If I get an opportunity to come back and play, I will,” Driver said last month. “If not, I’ll go somewhere else and play and I’ll see them down the road. The thing is, it’s not up to me. The Packers have to make that decision.”
The decision on whether to bring back Driver is partially based on finances. Driver is scheduled to make $2.6 million for 2012, plus a $2.2 million roster bonus due in March.
General manager Ted Thompson also has to decide what bringing back Driver would do to the team’s stockpile of young talent at the wide receiver position. Two talented practice-squad receivers, Tori Gurley and Diondre Borel, have had offers to sign on with the active rosters of other NFL teams. Gurley turned down the Minnesota Vikings in Week 14, deciding to remain with the Packers in exchange for a pay bump. Borel did the same when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offered him a spot late in the season. If Driver returns to the Packers, Gurley and Borel may not be content to spend another full season on the practice squad.