Driver worth the investment

Wide receiver well-deserving of his recent pay raise

This past off-season, Packers general manager Ted Thompson barely did a thing in free agency despite the Packers having plenty of money to spend as they were around $20 million under the salary cap.

Thompson's "big splash" in free agency was signing cornerback Frank Walker to a deal worth no more than $1.5 million for this season. Walker received a modest signing bonus.

A team with money and clearly holes to fill, Thompson's approach to basically do nothing was disappointing to Packers fans, but recently management stepped to the table and gave wide receiver Donald Driver an extension, which will keep him signed through the 2010 season. Anybody who has covered the Packers or is a fan knows Driver is worth every penny. He plays hard, produces, is a good locker-room guy and his Brett Favre's safety valve. His production, however, will be key this season to the offense.

Nevertheless, it seems strange the Packers did this, knowing the upstanding person Driver is, he would never complain about money, let alone while he is under contract. The Packers, though, felt it was key to their future to lock up one of the best receivers ever to put on the green and gold. I have no problem with Driver getting the money, it has been earned. But it makes you wonder why the Packers did this after an off-season of inactivity.

Thompson was asked about the deal, but as expected he said little.

"There's some mechanisms we use with most, if not all, of our veteran-type contracts recently," he said. "We feel like sometimes it enables us to address some things that we think are important. Plus, we'd like for Donald to be here for a long time."

Whatever the case, the Packers have Driver locked up for good. With that in mind, let's look at how good Driver has been in comparison to other top Packers receivers.

Sterling Sharpe remains the benchmark, with a franchise-best 595 receptions and 66 TDs, while James Lofton has the franchise mark for receiving yards with 9,656. Both were first-round picks. Former Driver teammates, Antonio Freeman (third-round pick) accumulated 6,651 yards in his career, while Robert Brooks (third round) had 4,225. Driver has a chance to surpass all these numbers, and has already flew by Brooks. Driver has 421 catches for 5,929 yards and 36 TDs.

What must be remembered in all this is Sharpe and Lofton were first-round picks. They were Pro Bowlers and lived up to their draft status. Of course, Sharpe's numbers would've been better if he had not suffered a career-ending neck injury in 1994. Because of that, Driver, a seventh-round pick in 1999, has a chance to become the Packers' all-time leading receiver in receptions, yards and touchdowns. All three numbers are within reach and Driver said after signing his extension those numbers are in his head. He rattled off how far away he is, so he's well aware of what he has to do.

Driver has always been aware of what's going on, whether it's the team's standing, his position or something else. It's hard to count him out. Time will tell if Driver achieves these goals, but when you look back at 1999, when he was picked in the final round of the draft, he has to be considered one of former GM Ron Wolf's best picks ever.

Teams take flyers in the seventh round or grab a guy they think could develop in time. They never grab a player thinking some day he could be the best receiver, stats-wise, in team history. However, Driver is on pace to, if not be that guy, get close. He has shattered the expectations the team had on him and is a two-time Pro Bowler.

So when the Packers added the extra year to Driver's contract, nobody flinched. He's earned every penny he has ever made, and from here to the end of his career, Driver has to be looked at one of the best picks the Packers have made in the last 20 years.

Certainly, he has been better than Jamal Reynolds or John Michels.

Doug Ritchay

Doug Ritchay is a frequent contributor to and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at

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