Packers set wide receiver 'Free'

As expected, the Green Bay Packers today released veteran wide receiver Antonio Freeman is a cost-cutting move. Whether he returns to Green Bay at a much lower salary is unlikely, but still a possibility.<p>

Without Freeman in the mix this season, the Packers will enter the upcoming season with a totally new look at wide receiver. Bill Schroeder (Detroit) and Corey Bradford (Houston) left Green Bay via free agency. Schroeder started opposite Freeman and Bradford was the team's No. 3 receiver.

Terry Glenn, who came to Green Bay in a trade from New England in March, is projected as the No. 1 receiver with second-year pro Robert Ferguson as the other starter. First-round pick Javon Walker has the inside track on the No. 3 spot but will be challenged for playing time by fourth-year pro Donald Driver and third-year pro Charles Lee.

Freeman's agent, Joel Segal, and the Packers tried negotiating a new contract but were unable to come to an agreement, so the Packers waived the eighth-year pro whom they selected in the third round of the 1995 NFL draft as the team opened its June minicamp today.

"He's been a big part of the success that the Packers have had. I'll miss that smile after a win seeing him in the locker room," said Packers coach and general manager Mike Sherman. "In my mind, as I told him the other day, he'll always be a Packers. He'll always be welcomed back here. I'm very appreciative for what he's done for the Packers."

By waiving Freeman, the Packers were able to create $4.3 million is salary cap space for this season. But they have to count about $4.3 million against their cap in 2003.

Freeman received a seven-year, $42 million contract in 1999, which included a $10 million signing bonus. His production has slipped every year since then. Last season, his 52 receptions for 818 yards and six touchdowns marked his lowest output since his rookie season in 1995.

If he would have stayed in Green Bay, he would have had to compete for a backup position because the Packers seem determined to work Ferguson and Walker into the mix.

"We're going to miss Antonio. If he gets himself to another team, I heard some talk about Minnesota ..." said Driver. "I think that would be a great thing for him. But he's also going to be my friend. We'll always keep in touch – me, him, Corey (Bradford) and also Bill Schroeder."

Freeman, 30, leaves Green Bay as the fifth-ranking receiver in team annals with 417 catches, also standing third in career touchdown receptions with 57 (behind Don Hutson, 99, and Sterling Sharpe, 65) and fourth in 100-yard receiving games with 20.

Freeman and quarterback Brett Favre have combined for 57 touchdown passes to rank fifth in NFL history.

Freeman's total of 56 touchdown catches since becoming a starter in 1996 also ranked fourth in the NFL over the past six years, behind only the 63 of the Vikings' Cris Carter, the 62 of the Colts' Marvin Harrison and the 59 of the 49ers' Terrell Owens.

Along the way, he joined Sterling Sharpe (7, 1988-94) as the only players in team history to have as many as six consecutive 50-reception seasons (1996-2001) and was the Packers' leading receiver for three consecutive years - 1996 (56), 1997 (81) and 1998 (a career-high 84). He also shared team honors with Bill Schroeder in 1999 with 74 catches.

The Baltimore native holds 11 Packers postseason records (he shares four additional records) and in 2001 became Green Bay's all-time leader in both career receptions (47) and yards receiving (748), lifting his game to a new level with 13 receptions for 148 yards and 3 touchdowns during the Packers' playoff contests against the San Francisco 49ers and St. Louis Rams.

If Freeman cannot find a better deal elsewhere in the NFL, there is a possibility that he may return to Green Bay, but it does not seem likely at this point.

"That's basically how the league is," said running back Ahman Green. "This type of thing comes up and happens, you can't look at it as a negative. He did great things for this team. ... But that's the business part of it. We as a team have to focus on what we have to do here. Hopefully he comes back. If not, hopefully he gets on a good team and helps that team out."

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