Donald Driver says he has prepared himself for the possibility that his future as a member of the Packers is not in his hands and that he might be taking his pass-catching talents elsewhere in 2012.
Speaking with reporters on Monday morning, barely 14 hours after the Packers’ season ended with a divisional-round playoff loss to the Giants, Driver said he has no plans to retire and that he wants to finish his career in Green Bay.
In the same breath, however, he knows that a 13-year veteran in a deep receiving corps that includes two promising practice-squad players has no guarantees, not with the Packers’ track record of maintaining a young roster.
“You don’t want to leave,” Driver said, still managing his trademark smile. “I’ve spent my whole career here, but like I said, I don’t make any decisions. If they decide not to bring me back, then I’m OK with that. I feel like I’ve done everything here in Green Bay.”
Everything includes catching more passes for more yards than any receiver in team history. The lists he tops feature Don Hutson, James Lofton, Sterling Sharpe and Antonio Freeman, to name a few. He won a Super Bowl and, on Sunday, he became the franchise’s all-time leader in postseason receptions.
Driver will turn 37 on Feb. 2 and maintains that he wants to play until he’s 40, and he didn’t specify how many years he thinks he has left but just said “plenty.” He even joked about making it to 45 because “this year, I didn’t get myself beat up a lot,” unlike last year, when a quad injury robbed him of a chunk of the regular season and then a broken ankle knocked him out of the Super Bowl.
Driver finished 2011 with 37 catches for 445 yards and six touchdowns in the regular season, bringing his career totals to 735 receptions for 10,060 yards and 59 scores. With three catches for 45 yards and a TD against the Giants, he boosted his career postseason numbers to 49 catches for 675 yards and three TDs.
The postseason loss is especially difficult for Driver to accept following a 15-1 regular season, but he said his age and time in the league don’t make it any more difficult than the other six playoff defeats he’s experienced.
“I think it makes it tough regardless of the situation, regardless of how many years you have in,” he said. “It’s just hard getting here. I’ve played a long time, I’ve been to a lot of playoffs and only one Super Bowl. That tells you right there.”
His future with the team is in doubt because, with Driver the fourth most-productive wide receiver on the roster this season, rookie Randall Cobb is right on his heels and primed for a larger role next season. Also, undrafted rookie receivers Tori Gurley and Diondre Borel spent the entire season on the practice squad, and both turned down offers to join the active rosters of other teams late in the season to stay in Green Bay.
There’s nothing guaranteed to them, either, but it’s a given they’ll return in training camp with a fire similar to Driver’s as a 1999 seventh-round draft pick who earned a roster spot through sheer will and determination.
“I just want an opportunity to play,” Gurley said. “I have to work hard and continue to develop, and learn the very meticulous details of the game.”
Driver, of all players, can appreciate that approach and those thoughts. As a veteran leader, he’s tried to instill those in every receiver on the team, and he’s still got them himself.
“I’m not ready to hang the cleats up,” he said. “My wife feels like I’ve still got it, I feel like I’ve still got it, and if my family feels that way, then I’m going to continue to play.
“It’s up to the organization to make that decision. I hope they keep me. If not, I had a great career here. I love them, and that will never change.”
On the mend: Rookie offensive lineman and first-round draft pick Derek Sherrod was in the locker room on Monday on crutches and spoke with reporters for the first time since breaking his lower leg on Dec. 18 in Kansas City. Sherrod underwent surgery in Kansas City the night of the game, and though he isn't putting a timetable on his return, he said he's been told by the doctors that he will be able to play next season.
"I'm working hard at my recovery," he said. "I know I'm going to be back pretty healthy for next season, so I'm pretty excited about that." Additional coverage - Jan. 16