The Green Bay Packers enter the 2013-2014 NFL season once again considered a contender to make the playoffs and possibly win the Super Bowl. They may not be getting the attention they have in recent years, but at last check Aaron Rodgers was still taking the snaps at quarterback. In a QB-driven league, the best man at the position certainly improves your team's chances.
The Packers also added some potentially crucial new faces to the team this offseason, particularly first-round pick Datone Jones on the defensive line and second and fourth-round picks Eddie Lacy and Jonathan Franklin, respectively, at running back. The Packers are looking to get big production out of the three, with hopes that these new faces will generate enough shakeup to the team to bring them back to a Super Bowl. Perhaps the biggest shakeup on these Packers, however, comes from three different names. Longtime Packers veterans Donald Driver, Greg Jennings and Charles Woodson are no longer with the team. Driver retired, Jennings left for the rival Vikings in free agency (unhappy to say the least) and Woodson was cut.
Driver, Jennings and Woodson brought a combined 36 years of NFL experience to the table. That is an average of 12 years in the league per player. That type of experience is not teachable, but Ted Thompson, Mike McCarthy and the team felt that it was best to move forward without the players. The decision to do so will no doubt impact the team, but which loss will have the biggest effect on the 2013-2014 Packers? Let's take a look.
Driver has been a staple in the Packers offense and locker room for his whole career. Arriving just around the start of the new millennium, Driver made his presence known by grabbing acrobatic catches and breaking tackles with his small but extremely athletic frame. He was always a fan favorite, but his role for the organization hit a new level after the Brett Favre drama of 2008. Driver became the new face of the franchise, a player everyone loved to cheer for. However, in recent years, his role decreased in the offense. Driver felt he could still play, but younger guys like Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson began taking more and more passes from Driver. Seeing that his time in Green Bay was running short, Driver decided to retire on his own terms, keeping his legacy with the fans very much intact. Driver's missing face may have a big impact on fans and in the locker room, but the loss will not likely result in much change in the field.
After a successful start in Green Bay, it seemed Jennings would continue in the footsteps of Driver by staying with the team for his whole career, but after hearing the comments Jennings made all offseason, it appears he was not as happy as he seemed. Jennings talked about everything from being underappreciated to dealing with a quarterback who everyone worships. They were big accusations at a guy who carried the Packers to a Super Bowl victory, throwing two touchdowns to Jennings in the process. Despite the fans' willingness to move on from a player who looks more selfish every day, the loss of Jennings on the field is big. He has been a huge part of the Packers offense since he was drafted and a premier receiver in the NFL for much of that time. The one knock on him has been his injury history, and the team did not want to pay him the big money he wanted. Jennings was offered a contract, but he decided to join a team who wanted him more. The Packers are hoping that a few players can fill his role, but Jennings may leave a void bigger than they expect.
Like Driver, Woodson's role on the team was not the same role he played in his prime just a few years ago. His injury battles were often tough to watch, as he struggled to be that athletic, dominant player he once was. Woodson came to the Packers reluctantly in free agency in 2006, after no other team showed interest. Eventually, he realized Green Bay had a home for him, and he thrived during his time with the team. Woodson was hurt when the team decided to cut him this offseason, but that did not stop him from defending his quarterback from some of the barbs he received from his former receivers. Woodson said it was ridiculous to question the leadership of Rodgers, who carried the team to Super Bowl XLV. While Woodson's playing career was winding down in Green Bay, his role on the team proved invaluable off the field. The vocal leader for the Super Bowl team of 2010 continued to provide guidance for younger players, and his shoes both on and off the field will be nearly impossible to fill. The words Charles Woodson spoke after the NFC Championship Game that year were inscribed on the team's championship ring.
"One mind, one goal, one purpose, and one heart for one more game."
All three players will be missed for different reasons this year, but in all reality, the loss of Jennings could prove to be the one that changes the most games on the field. The Packers must hope that the decisions they made this offseason with these veterans make the team better on the field and that players like Clay Matthews and Randall Cobb can step up in the locker room in their absence.