Freeman's Attitude a Big Improvement

Antonio Freeman will not be mistaken for Terrell Owens or Keyshawn Johnson on the field, but the Packers wide receiver has been a good story this season, after a troublesome 2000 season, which ended with a suspension for the final game.<p>

Freeman had OK numbers this season: 52 catches for 818 yards and six touchdowns. He had three more TDs in the postseason. His 15.7 yards-per-catch average was his best since his Pro Bowl season of 1998, when he averaged 17 yards per catch.

Once a game-breaking wide receiver, Freeman has become a second receiver, capable of making plays against zone defenses. His speed is average at best, but he has niche for finding soft spots against the zone. He also will go over the middle and take a hit for extra yards, something Bill Schroeder rarely does.

He has showed the willingness to return punts, while returner Allen Rossum was out with injuries. And returning punts isn't exactly the easiest job in football. But it isn't Freeman's on-field performance which has me thinking he'll return for next season, it's his attitude. A year after finding trouble more often than the end zone, and then blaming the media for his troubles, Freeman is a new man this season.

He has been cooperative with the media, honest and been a leader. He has done everything you would hope a player of his veteran status would do, but after last season there were questions.

"What I'm asked to do, I'll do," Freeman said. "If I'm asked to return punts, I'll return punts. If I'm asked to run down and be a gunner, I'll be a gunner. Whatever they ask me to do, I'll do."

Maybe Freeman has to be this type of player now, considering his reception and yardage totals were his lowest since his rookie season. Maybe he figures the more he can do, the more value he has to the team. This isn't a revelation, but Freeman is on the downside of his career.

Still, he hasn't lost his confidence in himself. He preferred to play more of a role in the offense this season as he had two 100-yard games this season and never scored two touchdowns in a game.

"Being a receiver, would I like to catch more balls? Yes," Freeman said. "But we're winning, and winning changes the whole attitude around the locker room. If we weren't winning, you'd probably be writing how Freeman's stats are down again."

There is a real chance for Freeman to stay he'll have to re-do his contract. His 2002 salary is $4.3 million, but for a role receiver that price tag is high.

Freeman was asked last season to re-do his deal and he said no. But last year was a lost year for Freeman.

His future in Green Bay could be determined by his willingness to restructuring his contract. Is there a better place to go? I don't know of a second Brett Favre. Also, the new deal he would take in Green Bay would still be more money than he would get as a free agent after being cut June 1 by the Packers.

That's what he faces. A new deal, or a "pink slip" after June 1.

"I can't control whatever is going to take place," Freeman said. "Right now, I'm a Green Bay Packer, and my football team needs me and I need to be there for them."

If he takes that attitude into the off-season, Freeman will be back in 2002.


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