Tag Archives: Donald Driver

Packers Have a Leadership Void

Packers lost its defensive leader with Woodson's release.

Packers lose its defensive leader with Woodson’s release.

In a move that should have surprised few, Charles Woodson was released after 7 productive years in green-and-gold. TT’s signature free-agent signing in 2006, Woodson revitalized the Packers defense. He amassed 38 INT and 10 TDs donning the G. And he was named the 2009 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

Accolades aside, there is little doubt that Woodson’s play declined this past year. He was noticeably a step slower in coverage, resulting in plenty of PI and holding calls that he used to get away with. He could still support the run well. But he was simply a liability in the secondary. With Hayward’s emergence, Woodson became expendable.

Still, the Packers will miss Woodson because of his leadership. He was, without question, the leader of the defense. He primarily led by example, but he took a vocal leadership role in the later years, most noticeably during the 2010 Super Bowl run. Many players credit his halftime speech – following his injury – as inspiring their play. Heck, his post-NFC Championship speech is engraved in the Super Bowl ring.

Woodson’s release follows on the heel of Driver’s retirement. Like Woodson, Driver’s play regressed this past year – to the point he only earned a roster spot by playing on special teams. Also like Woodson, Driver was a leader of the receiver corps. When it was announced he’d return this past season, the young WR’s – many of whom would eventually fight Driver for playing time and a roster spot – spoke highly of Driver’s presence and leadership role.

Now, the Packers enter the 2013 without two of its veteran leaders. Already a young team, the team just got younger. It is imperative to the Packers success for new leaders to step up and take over the void that is left by Woodson and Driver.

Filling Woodson’s leadership role will be tough because the secondary is full of young players. Tramon would be the most obvious replacement because he is the elder statesmen of the group. But he’s not making the calls for adjustments and getting players into position like Woodson did. For this reason, I expect Morgan Burnett to become more assertive in the secondary.

Burnett’s play was not flashy last season. But, he was one of four non-offensive linemen that played every single snap. An amazing accomplishment considering the amount of injuries that plagued last season’s defense. But this reliability creates a sense of comfort in the secondary, knowing that Burnett is always going to be back there getting them in the right position.

Filling Driver’s leadership role will fall to James Jones. With Jennings also leaving the Packers, the WRs will be markedly different next year. And with Jones’ emergence this past season after rediscovering his hands, he becomes the senior member of the group and also its most productive.

This is a perfect role for Jones too. Always quiet in the way he goes about his business. Ascending as he did last year, Jones will provide leadership through example: work hard, stay patient, and trust that Rodgers will get you the ball when you are open.

Burnett and Jones are positioned to assume the leadership positions for their respective position groups. But, the Packers team leadership roles will fall to young stars: Rodgers and Clay. Primed to earn the richest contracts for offensive and defensive players, both Rodgers and Clay must become the team leaders.

Rodgers has already assumed this mantle to a certain extent. But he was also deferential to the veteran leaders. Now, Rodgers is the fourth oldest player on the team. He is the veteran leader.

For Clay, he’s still young and hasn’t appeared to take true leadership role on the team. But, with a new contract comes new responsibilities. He is bound to inspire players with his relentless play and heart. He will be looked to assume a bigger leadership role beyond just setting an example.

It’s a young man’s game. And the Packers are a young team that just got younger by losing Woodson and Driver. Its imperative to next season’s success that new leaders fill the leadership void left by them. Burnett, Jones, Rodgers, and Clay must be ready to fill it.

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The Value of Donald Driver

It’s this passion and smile that has endeared Packers fans to DD over the years.

By now you’ve heard that Donald Driver is returning to the Packers on a restructured deal, one more commensurate with what he brings to the table as a 37 y.o. WR. DD is a beloved, life-long Packer that has endeared himself to the fans and community as he has risen from a thought-after 7th rd. selection in 1999 to become the all-time leading receiver in Packers history. He brings a passion, energy, and smile to the game that fans love. And, he’s the ultimate team player. Needless to say, DD is a player any organization would be lucky to have. Yet, all off-season, it was assumed that he had played his last game with the Packers.

There is little debate that DD’s production has fallen off these last few years. After rattling off six-straight 1,000+ yards receiving from 2004 to 2009, his receiving yards dropped to the pedestrian levels of 565 and 445 yards these last two years. As you would guess, his receptions have taken a similar dive over this time frame. Despite this severe drop in production, DD still had a way to make his presence felt at crucial points in the season – most notably in last year’s playoff debacle and this play.

The most pressing reason why many assumed his time in a Packers uniform was coming to an end, though, was because of the plethora of intriguing and young talent on the roster. The hierarchy at WR heading into the 2012 season should be: Jennings, Jordy, Jones, and Cobb. (Even though he is only in his second season, the Packers need to give Cobb more playing time ahead of DD. He’s electric, uber-talented, and the future slot WR. Assuming he progresses, he is the better player at this point.) After Cobb, many thought the 5th WR spot would go to the likes of Tori Gurley, Diondre Borel, or even some undrafted free agents from this years crop. After all, TT devoted extra cash to Gurley and Borel on the practice squad to ensure they wouldn’t leave for other teams last season. It’s TT’s mantra to promote from within.

This last reason why DD was supposed to be cut is why DD is still a Packer. If you’ve read the quotes from these young players, you can tell that DD brings a lot to the table that cannot be measured by statistics. He is quite simply the leader of the WR core and a great teammate – the opposite of Brett Favre (sorry, I couldn’t resist.) Having veteran leadership on a roster – particularly one as young as the Packers roster – is invaluable. And DD knows, or at least should know, his role on the team. He has never, and likely will never, complain about his playing time or individual stats. He’s a professional in the truest sense of the word and will likely be an important mentor for these young and intriguing prospects. And, frankly, I do not believe DD’s presence on the roster will prevent the Packers from keeping Gurley or Borel as a 6th WR, so long as they prove their worth on special teams – both of which showed some ability in that department last preseason.

As a 5th WR, you really couldn’t ask for more if you are a Packers fan. DD is the consummate pro and leader. TT is not keen on keeping players one year too long; but in this instance, TT made the right decision. DD’s value is far beyond his pure statistics and he will be a crucial member of the Packers as they hope to return to the Super Bowl.

An Exercise in Futility

TT is averse to free agency, but this could be the year he breaks that trend.

Let’s be honest, talking free agency strategy with Ted Thompson running our squad has been mostly an exercise in futility. The way TT pinches pennies, you’d think he was Mitt Romney’s financial advisor. But, the few times he has dipped his toes in the free agency waters, he’s hit it big by plucking Woodson and Pickett. The Packers have few needs, and free agency might be a good route for TT to fill a need or two.

For starters, the Packers have approximately $6.9 million in cap space presently, which includes an added bonus of $1.6M thanks to Jerry Jones and Dan Snyder. That’s not a lot to wheel and deal, and I expect TT to create more cap space in the coming days. The two obvious candidates are DD and Clifton. Both players have been great players and representative for the Packers throughout their careers. But, it’s a cut-throat business and the Pack have younger and better players that need to see the playing field in their place – Cobb/Gurley and Newhouse. TT has always been one to cut a player one season too soon than too late (see Cullen Jenkins), and I expect this will be no different. Frankly, I’d love to see TT cut Mr. T-Rex arms (Hawk). I have no clue what the cap repercussions may be in doing so (if you can find this information out, please comment and I will update accordingly), but he’s a dud and replaceable. Regardless, if the Packers handle DD and Clifton, they would be sitting with approximately $12M – more than enough ammunition for TT to get to work in free agency.

Even though our defense is in desperate need of some upgrades, the biggest priority in free agency needs to be retaining or replacing Scott Wells. Numerous reports indicate Wells harbors vitriol towards the Packers because they attempted to replace him in years past and refuse to pay him top-5 money for his position. Wells may be in for a rude awakening, though, once he gets to free agency. After all, the same reasons the Packers have continually tried replacing him – short, stocky, and not a road grader – still exist. In fact, his value is probably the greatest with the Packers than any other team because of his familiarity with the system and it being a pass-oriented attack. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up resigning with the Packers once he sees his market is not nearly as big as he anticipates. This situation reminds me James Jones from last year in that respect.

In the event Wells signs elsewhere, there are a number of available centers in free agency. Chris Myers from Houston is regarded as the best available center. He comes from a zone-blocking scheme and led their top-ranked rushing attack. He’s also over-30, though. An interesting prospect is Samson Satele from Oakland. He’s younger at 27 and anchored the 2nd and 7th ranked rushing offenses the past two seasons. Otherwise, the Pack will have to look to the draft to replace Wells. A pair of Sconnie’s are regarded as two of the best available centers in the draft – Peter Konz (1st round grade) and Kevin Zeitler (guard, but might be better suited for C).

After Wells, then it’s a matter of finding the right fit for the right price on defense. Obviously, the Packers could use upgrades or depth at every position on defense. And, to beat you to the punch, Mario Williams is out of the question. He’s going to demand the biggest contract in NFL history for a defensive player, and the Packers have too many players to resign in future years – Matthews, Rodgers, Jennings, and Raji to name a few. So who, exactly, could the Packers target? Well, who the hell knows, but here’s a few names to keep in mind as the free agency madness gets into full-swing:

Mark Anderson – OLB for the Pats. He resurrected his career with the Pats this past season, recording 10 sacks. At 29, he’s still relatively young and would be an instant upgrade opposite Matthews. He won’t demand top-dollar, either, and would be the savvy, under-the-radar type move that may appeal to TT.

Kamerion Wimbley – OLB for Oakland. He’s under contract with Oakland, but his contract will require the Raiders to cut him soon. He’s 28 and is very athletic and talented at 6′-4″ and 255 lbs. He had 7 sacks this past season, and 9 the year before. In six full seasons, he has 42.5 sacks. Needless to say, he’d be a great compliment to Matthews. Unfortunately, his price tag will probably be too steep for TT.

Adam Carriker – DE for the Skins. He’s a former high draft pick that hasn’t panned out. But, he’s still only 28, and at 6′-6″ and 315 lbs., he could play at NT or DE in the 3-4. Starting in 15 games last season at the nose tackle position for the Skins’ 3-4 defense, he notched 5.5 sacks. Like Anderson, he’s not going to garner much immediate attention and should come on the cheap.

Tracy Porter – CB for the ‘Aints. Tracy Porter happens to be one of my favorite non-Packers player because of this play. Don’t forget, Porter is the player that iced the Super Bowl win with the late pick-six on Manning. He clearly does not shy from the big-moment and, at 26, he’s a player with a lot of potential still in him. Porter’s problem, though, has been staying healthy, having never survived a full season. And because of this, he might come cheaper than a young cornerback with his potential might otherwise.

Reggie Nelson – S for the Bungals. Nelson was another former high-draft pick that never made it with his original squad. He’s a safety the Packers may want to target for insurance in case Mr. Pick-Six cannot return. Nelson had a solid season last year with 85 tackles, 4 picks, and 2 sacks and fumbles apiece.

Do you sense a theme in the players listed above? It was intentional. Outside of Wimbley, they are players under-the-radar and not splashy. That’s how TT operates, and if he decides to dabble in the free agency pool, expect him to target these types of players – good fits at the right price. But, considering his last foray into free agency was the huge signing of Duke Preston, well, I’m tempering my expectations.