GREEN BAY—It’s a group that has always referred to itself as that, a group. It has played a lot of football games, gained a ton of yards and scored a bunch of touchdowns, together.
But the odds are the offseason could result in change.
The Green Bay Packers’ wide receiving corps that has served as Aaron Rodgers’ primary targets since he took over as the starting quarterback in 2008 – Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, James Jones and Jordy Nelson, with Randall Cobb added in the past two years – might have played its last game together on Saturday night in San Francisco.
Driver was inactive for four of the final seven games in his 14th season. Jennings is a pending free agent who said his agent has had no talks with the Packers about a new contract.
As the Packers packed up their lockers at midday Sunday in Green Bay, fresh off only a few hours’ sleep after returning from the West Coast at 4:30 a.m., the Packers’ receivers considered the future.
“It sunk in to me halfway during the season,” said Jones, who arrived as a 2007 draft choice, one year after Jennings and one year before Nelson. “We all understand that it’s a business, and we all understand that everybody in this locker room is trying to win Super Bowls, but everybody in this locker room is trying to take care of their family as well.
“Football is our job and football is how we do it, and we understand we have four or five No. 1 receivers who want money at some time, so we know it’s going to be hard for this organization to pay everybody what they want. It’s part of the business, because I wish we could stay together for the rest of our career, go on a run and win some Super Bowls, but things happen.”
Driver, the franchise’s all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards, said he will contemplate retirement, but he’ll also listen to any teams who might have interest in him.
After a season he admitted was “difficult,” “tough,” and “frustrating” – being inactive so often down the stretch and not having a catch since Week 11 – Driver was never a distraction in the locker room. He wasn’t committing to anything for the future, though he did mention his long-standing goal of playing until he’s 40. He will turn 38 in three weeks.
“I haven’t officially made a decision on what I’m going to do,” he said. “I said I’m going to go home, sit down with the wife and kids, and make a decision from there.
“I don’t know exactly what’s all going to lay out, but it’s going to be a tough decision regardless of what I do.”
Driver added that he has no regrets about coming back to play another season after winning “Dancing With The Stars” last spring, and he did appreciate being active again on Saturday night, even if it was for only a few special-teams snaps.
“It meant everything,” he said. “I’ve worn that uniform for a long time. It was truly a blessing to be wearing the green and gold.”
Meanwhile, Jennings dealt with his own frustrations in a contract year, missing half the season due to an abdominal injury that eventually required surgery.
He returned from the long layoff in Week 13, and as the season wound down he started to look like the Jennings of old, making tacklers miss and turning short and intermediate passes into big plays. His eight catches for 120 yards and two TDs in the Metrodome in Week 17 was his best game since the middle of the 2011 season, when he first started dealing with injuries.
Jennings summed up the season for this team in one word – “unsuccessful” – but from a personal stance, he feels he’s back to being the receiver who recorded three straight 1,100-yard-plus seasons (2008-10) and has caught at least nine TD passes four times in his seven-year career.
“Yeah, yeah. I’m pretty convinced about that,” Jennings said. “I hope that I get an opportunity to play football next year, which is pretty likely, so I’m excited to train and prepare for the 2013 season.”
The first to join Driver, in 2006, as this receiving group began taking shape, Jennings enjoyed the camaraderie that developed as much as anyone.
“Great guys,” he said. “I’ll definitely be in touch with these guys throughout my career. That’s the one thing that you take away from it. Everything else falls to the wayside a bit, which is unfortunate, but you build relationships, long-lasting relationships, and you establish something for after football.”
Most disappointing to this group is that the legacy it established in Green Bay included just one Super Bowl title. Since then, a collective 75 TD receptions (including playoffs) for the quintet over the past two years and an NFC-best 26 regular-season wins in that time preceded two divisional round postseason exits.
“We didn’t finish, man. We didn’t finish,” said Jones, who led the team this season with 14 TD catches, adding a 15th in San Francisco. “That’s the bottom line. We didn’t finish. We had a chance to do something great, to get back to the Super Bowl, and we didn’t finish our season strong.
“Gotta start all over. That’s the (rotten) part. We’ve got to start all over from scratch, OTAs, training camp, all that. We have to start all over and take the journey again.” Additional coverage - Jan. 13