GREEN BAY – When the Green Bay Packers reconvene for their next organized team activity practice, will franchise all-time leading receiver – and new Dancing With the Stars mirrorball champion – Donald Driver be with them?
That likely depends on how long it takes for the Packers and Driver’s long-time agent, Jordan Woy, to strike an accord on a restructured contract for Driver. But it appears that is now a matter of when, not if.
While Driver missed the first two phases of the team’s offseason program and the first two practices of OTAs while competing in the ballroom, he fully expects to be back with the team in 2012 and should be at practice at some point this week. The Packers are slated to practice Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, although Wednesday’s workout is the only one open to the public and the media.
In an interview with ESPN Radio’s Scott Van Pelt late last week, Driver reiterated that he expects to play one and maybe two more years with the team that chose him in the seventh round of the 1999 NFL Draft out of Alcorn State.
“I’ll be in Green Bay. I’m not going anywhere,” Driver told Van Pelt and Ryen Russillo. “I’ve always said I want to retire as a Packer, I think the organization knows that, so we’re going to come together. We’re going to make a decision. One, two more years, and then I’ll put my cleats on the shelf and sit back in Dallas and relax. It’s family.”
That’s a stark departure from what Driver was saying on Jan. 16, the day after the team’s season-ending playoff loss to the New York Giants.
““If the Packers don’t want me, I’ve got to go somewhere else and play. I don’t have a choice,” Driver said then. “I’m not ready to hang the cleats up.
“I’ve got plenty (left). The thing is, it’s not up to me. The Packers have to make that decision. If they decide to keep me, then I’ll come back. If not, I guess I’ve got to go somewhere else play. But that’s always been my goal, to retire here. It’s going to be up them to make that decision.”
Now in the final year of his contract, the 37-year-old Driver is scheduled to be paid $2.2 million in roster bonuses, including $1.5 million to be paid on the first day of training camp; a $200,000 workout bonus; and a $2.6 million base salary. The team won’t bring back Driver at a $5 million salary-cap charge, but he said shortly after the season ended that he’d be amenable to a pay cut. That cut is what Woy and the Packers must agree upon.
After Driver posted an ambiguous Tweet about his future on his Twitter page (@Donald_Driver80) on May 17, shortly before Driver’s DWTS title, Woy assured several media outlets that his talks with the Packers have been ongoing.
In an email to ESPNWisconsin.com, Woy wrote: "We will work things out once he gets back from the show. I have talked to Packers for a while about Donald."
Woy was more detailed in an email to ProFootballTalk.com, writing: “The Packers have always wanted Donald back and we have always planned on him playing there. He has been busy with the DWTS show and the team knows that. I discussed deal structure with the team a while ago and we will work out the details once Donald returns to Green Bay.”
The Packers will almost certainly insist on having the restructured contract done before Driver participates in practice, to protect them should he suffer an injury. At the team’s first open OTA practice last week, coach Mike McCarthy spoke as if Driver would be participating sometime this week.
“It depends on the work week. But as far as when he actually arrives, I don't have that specific,” McCarthy said. “But I would anticipate he'd be involved in the workouts next week."
Driver returned to Wisconsin last week and has a made-for-TV special recapping his DWTS championship scheduled to air Friday on ABC affiliates throughout the state. His annual charity softball game in Grand Chute is scheduled for Sunday.
Driver certainly kept in shape during his time dancing. Not only did he practice his dance floor moves with partner Peta Murgatroyd, he also worked out with a trainer during his time in Los Angeles.
“Doing the show, I used to work out with my personal trainer before I got to even see Peta (for dance practice),” Driver told Van Pelt. “So my day was working out all day long to make sure when I came back to camp that I was ready to go.”
There’s still reason to wonder just what Driver’s role will be with the team, even if he does stay. With Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson clearly the Packers’ top two receivers, Driver shared time with James Jones and rookie Randall Cobb last season, finishing the regular season having caught 37 passes for 445 yards and six touchdowns, ranking him fifth on the team in both receptions and yardage.
The Packers also upped the salaries of two of their practice-squad wide receivers – Tori Gurley and Diondre Borel – to keep them on the practice squad when Gurley (Minnesota) and Borel (Tampa Bay) were offered roster spots on other teams’ 53-man rosters.
For now, though, Driver’s simply looking forward to seeing his teammates again – and perhaps hearing a little good-natured ribbing for some of the costumes he donned on national TV.
“I think if I would’ve lost it would’ve gone over pretty tough (for me), because guys would’ve talked about the clothes, the tight pants, the shirt off,” Driver said. “But since I won it, I think I have the upper hand on everybody at this point.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today,” and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.