When it was reported the Green Bay Packers and wide receiver Donald Driver came to terms on Wednesday the face of another legendary receiver came to mind.
Wouldn’t it have been nice if Hines Ward’s career could have had the same ending?
There is no denying that the two receivers are much more alike than they are different, but the path that their respective teams decided to take varied.
They are close in age (in fact, Driver is older), similar size, they are (were) both fixtures in their lineups, spent all of their playing careers with one team and are beloved by their fan bases for it. Heck, both men brought home top honors on Dancing With the Stars.
It was very clear that Ward was in the twilight of his career, much as Driver is. Ward’s desire to play was apparent, but the Pittsburgh Steelers did not feel the need to bring him back.
That is the one key difference.
The Packers wanted Donald Driver. Some speculate that the move could be a PR stunt. While that perspective is understandable, it is doubtful that selling a few extra tickets at the already continually sold out Lambeau Field was the reason the Pack opted to make an offer to Driver.
Even at the age of 37, Driver is still a key piece of a winning puzzle and those in charge in Green Bay understand that.
It may not contain an abundance of household names, but the Packers receiving corps is one of the more solid units in the league.
There is no doubt that Driver’s role in the offense diminished last season. In some respects, that may be a good thing. Jordy Nelson and James Jones each had career years a season ago and Randall Cobb proved himself as a capable rookie with some potential, especially out of the slot.
It is also possible that Driver, who has battled hamstring issues in the past, isn’t able to get open as easily as he used to.
While the truth likely lies somewhere in the middle, there is no denying that Driver’s numbers have been trending downward the last two seasons. Last year, his receptions and total receiving yards both were at their lowest marks since 2001.
That is not to imply that his presence on the roster isn’t important.
No matter how deep a team appears to be at the receiver position, the presence of a veteran receiver with a sure set of hands is always a precious commodity, especially on an injury prone squad who has, historically, had plenty of trouble hanging on to the football.
What if one of the top-three receivers goes down?
What if Randall Cobb isn’t ready to step into the role of a true third or fourth receiver?
Driver will prove to be an affordable and reliable safety blanket for either of those issues. Regardless of what the 2012 season brings DD will find a way to factor into the equation.
Players who spend an entire career with a single team are a rare breed. The Packers made the right choice in affording Donald Driver that opportunity.