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Stunned Packers face change; Driver ponders future

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Associated Press
January 16, 2012
— As stunned Green Bay Packers players cleaned out their lockers Monday morning, veteran wide receiver Donald Driver knew he might be packing up for good.

Driver has a year left on his contract and has been a vital part of the Packers offense over his 13-year career. He is the franchise’s all-time leader in catches and yards receiving. If it was up to him, he’d stay.


But Driver will turn 37 next month. And given the Packers’ youth-first philosophy, Driver knows there’s no guarantee the team will bring him back.


“I don’t make any decisions,” Driver said. “This is a business, and if they decide to go a different route with the young players, then I’ve got to go do what I want to do.”


And Driver has no intention of retiring.


“Right now, I’m not ready to put the cleats up, so I guess I’ll be going somewhere else to play,” Driver said.


While there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic that the Packers will contend for years to come in the wake of Sunday’s playoff loss to the New York Giants, Driver’s potential departure is just one of the unsettled situations they’ll have to deal with in the offseason.


Running back Ryan Grant and backup quarterback Matt Flynn also could be on their way out. Center Scott Wells, who generally is regarded as the team’s best offensive lineman, is set to become a free agent.


Tight end Jermichael Finley’s contract is up, although the Packers could use the franchise tag on him.


Safety Nick Collins is still recovering from the neck injury he sustained in Week 2, and his future in football may not be clear for a few months.


Assistant coaches could leave, too. Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin recently interviewed with the Miami Dolphins for the coaching vacancy, before the shocking death of his son last week. And several Packers coaches could draw interest from the Oakland Raiders after longtime Packers executive Reggie McKenzie recently took over as the Raiders’ general manager and ousted coach Hue Jackson.


“You always want to build relationships, years and years, with your coaches,” cornerback Tramon Williams said. “I think it builds a good team. But at the same time, opportunity only presents itself a certain amount of times, and if they have to take those jobs, then I fully back them up.”


So when Aaron Rodgers thought about the loss Sunday night, one of the first things he brought up was the idea that this specific group of coaches and players will never be together again.


“(It’s) disappointing because every year is unique to itself, and different guys, different opportunities,” Rodgers said. “Just the relationships that we have in the locker room with those guys and those coaches, you just know that it’s going to be a new team next year, so that’s probably the most disappointing thing, to stand in there and know that it’s probably your last time together with these guys.”


Driver had the same thought.


“That’s very sad,” Driver said. “You develop a friendship with a lot of guys in this locker room, and then these guys will go play for other teams. There’s going to be that, but we’ll be fine.”


Yes, Driver still refers to himself and the Packers as “we” — but for how long?


Driver doesn’t know if he’ll be back next season, and didn’t sound particularly optimistic when he spoke to reporters Monday. The Packers have been happy with the development of rookie receiver Randall Cobb, and would like to find a role for promising practice squad receiver Tori Gurley.


Without mentioning Brett Favre by name, Driver seemed to contrast his situation with the one the Packers went through with their former franchise quarterback in 2008.


“I think you get to a point where you have to prepare yourself for this situation,” Driver said. “You never think it will come. I think one guy played here a long time, he didn’t expect that to come either, but it came. And for him, it’s a little bitter. For me, I think I prepared myself for it that it won’t be bitter at all. It’s business, and I have to do what I have to do.”


The Packers also are waiting to hear on Collins, who said he will be re-evaluated in March.


“I want to be able to make my decision before the draft, so this organization can make a decision on who they can bring in and who they want to draft,” Collins said.


But even as the Packers considered their potential offseason issues, they still found it hard to believe they weren’t talking about playing another playoff game.


“No one prepared for this,” Driver said. “No one prepared to pack their bags up and move out. But you play the way we played, and that’s the outcome. You have to pack your bags and head down the road. I think right now, a lot of guys are saying they don’t know what to do. They don’t know when to go home. Because no one prepared to leave this week.”



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