On Surface, Keeping Driver Makes No Sense

Donald Driver, with his rags-to-riches story, record-setting production and community-mindedness, agreed to a renegotiated contract that probably will keep him in Green Bay for one more season. It's a great story ... though one that doesn't make much sense in a bottom-line business.

With Donald Driver agreeing to a renegotiated contract on Tuesday night, he presumably will be a member of the Green Bay Packers for a 14th season.

That leads to these questions:


That's really the interesting question, isn't it? The NFL is a cold-hearted business. It's not about warm and fuzzy. It can't be about warm and fuzzy. The Packers showed that by happily closing the door on the Brett Favre era after he led the team to the NFC Championship Game.

Driver, the team's career leader in catches and yards, is a franchise icon and one of the good guys in the community. Asking him for his playbook and thanking him for his time would have been wildly unpopular, but those kind of decisions are why Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy get paid the big bucks.

You know these numbers: In 2011, Driver caught 37 passes for 455 yards, his worst season since 2001. Then there are these numbers: His 12.0 yards per catch was the second-lowest since becoming a key player in 2000. His worst? His 11.1-yard average in 2010. Moreover, of the 115 receivers who played at least 25 percent of his team's offensive snaps last season, Driver ranked 75th with 3.8 yards after the catch per reception, according to Pro Football Focus. He ranked 71st in 2010 with 3.6 YAC per catch. That's not good enough for a player who no longer is a downfield threat.

Keep that YAC in mind for a moment. Think Driver should stay and James Jones should go? Jones tied for fourth in YAC per catch at 7.7. Think Driver should take snaps at the expense of Randall Cobb? Last year's second-round pick also averaged 7.7 YAC per catch. Cobb had 51 more yards after the catch than Driver despite 12 fewer catches and 23 fewer targeted passes. Jones and Cobb each broke six tackles. Driver broke just one.

Driver was a superb 18th among NFL receivers with a catch percentage of 68.5. With Aaron Rodgers' pinpoint accuracy, however, that was the worst of the receiver group. Cobb ranked second, Jordy Nelson seventh, Jones 12th and Greg Jennings 14th.

Considering his limited opportunities last year, Driver certainly didn't have a bad year in 2011. He was probably the Packers' best receiver in the playoff game. Driver absolutely can still play, but should it be in Green Bay, where he'd be stunting the growth of players who will be better in the future — and may be better today?

Will they keep six receivers?

Going under the assumption the Packers cut Driver's pay in return for guaranteeing his salary — the same thing they did with Ryan Grant last offseason — the answer seems to be yes.

Jennings, Nelson and Cobb are assured roster spots. Jones, with a relatively modest salary cap figure of $3.1 million, has a reputation for dropping passes. However, Jones dropped six of 54 passes thrown his way last season while Driver dropped eight of 54, according to Pro Football Focus. While Driver turned his 37 catches into 445 yards, Jones turned his 38 catches into 635 yards — giving Jones a 16.7-yard average, or 4.7 yards per catch better than Driver. YAC tells the story there, with 150 yards of their 190-yard difference coming after the catch.

Really, the wild card might not be Jones as much as it's Jennings. Jennings is scheduled to become a free agent after this season, and considering the Monopoly money thrown around in free agency at receivers who are nowhere near as good as Jennings, he's going to get the vault opened for him. The Packers will hope for the best but prepare for the worst by making sure there is continuity in the receiver corps. That means keeping Jones and whoever emerges from the impressive group of Tori Gurley, Diondre Borel and Dale Moss.

What position group will be impacted?

To keep six receivers instead of five, Thompson and McCarthy will have to slice a player off another position group. Common sense says that's tight end, where the Packers went the unorthodox route of keeping five last year. They could probably buy themselves half a season by putting Andrew Quarless on the physically unable to perform list due to his late-season knee injury. However, each of the tight ends has a niche on a roster that kept only four in the backfield (three running backs and one fullback) last year.

The most interesting thing to come from last week's practice was that the Packers have moved Brad Jones and Jamari Lattimore from outside linebacker to inside linebacker. That cross-training could allow the Packers to keep nine total linebackers instead of the 10 they kept last year.

Chances are, the Packers will use Quarless' spot for a sixth receiver and figure out the rest of it when they need to at midseason.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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