Just as offseason programs got underway, Ted Thompson and the Packers front office opted to bring back DWTS champ and aging veteran receiver Donald Driver. The decision produced mixed reactions from experts as practice squad standouts Tori Gurley, Diondre Borel and Shaky Smithson continue to wait their turn in joining the league’s premier wide receiver corps.
Driver’s resigning doesn’t necessarily shut the door to the youngsters’ hopes in Green Bay; the Packers kept five tight ends on the Week 1 roster last season and – with their emphasis on special teams – could do the same at wide receiver this season. However, any extra receiver retained shares a limited role in the offense for as long as Driver is around.
From a sheer contribution standpoint, the difference between Driver and a youngster may be immaterial. With Greg Jennings, Jermichael Finley and Jordy Nelson stealing the majority of targets, it’s instead the development of the fourth and fifth receivers that the Packers are likely concerned with. Driver’s presence, while terrific from a fan perspective, will limit the development of any receiver fortunate enough to stick as the sixth receiver.
The offense nearly became even more crowded before signs began to point to Ryan Grant’s eventual departure. Grant’s exit is comparable to the Driver situation in that both positions have talented depth primed to contribute in a larger capacity. With Grant gone, James Starks will finally be the feature back while Alex Green and Brandon Saine grow behind him.
Thompson’s system yields sticky situations in which some veterans are cut loose earlier than they had planned. While some teams struggle to find 53 quality players to fill a roster, the Mike McCarthy-led Packers have had trouble retaining all of their talent. In the end, money becomes a strong determinant of outcome; the Packers milk the talent of the cheap before getting choosy with long-term deals.
Driver may have been an exception to “the Thompson way” in that the benefits outweigh the costs. Veterans such as Mark Tauscher, Nick Barnett, Al Harris and Chad Clifton weren’t so lucky. It’s early, but I predict that Charles Woodson will eventually get a taste of this phenomenon. Credit to Ted Thompson for thinking in the long-term interest of the organization in spite of emotional pressures.