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Freeman believes Driver made 'smart decision' in pay cut

Nov. 6, 2013
 
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When Antonio Freeman flew out to Los Angeles last month to visit with Donald Driver prior to the ‘Dancing with the Stars’ finale, he talked at length with Driver’s wife, Betina, and other family members about what was next for the Packers’ all-time leading receiver. Conversation after conversation, it didn’t take long for Freeman to realize his former teammate had only one true ambition once the show ended and the coveted 'Mirror Ball' was secured. “It was always about Green Bay,” Freeman recalled. After teaming with Driver for four seasons, Freeman knows the competitiveness burning inside the team’s 37-year-old wide receiver entering his 14th NFL season. It's not about money — as Driver’s contract restructuring has proven — and it's certainly not about fame. This was about simply etching yet another chapter into a career that's spanned nearly 200 career regular-season games while eclipsing the 10,000-yard receiving threshold last year. At the same time, Freeman also understood the crossroads Driver faced after posting his lowest offensive numbers since being his understudy during the 2001 season. It’s the same one Freeman encountered after that year when he declined to take a pay cut. After seven seasons, Freeman was subsequently released, only to return to Green Bay one year later to play for the same head coach, Mike Sherman, that let him go. “Donald is a smart man and he made a smart decision,” said Freeman, who’s working as a group facilitator for the fourth year at this week’s NFL Rookie Symposium in Aurora, Ohio. “He’s just one of those special, special guys that whether he has one catch or 11 catches, you don’t hear Donald Driver. “It’s those types of things that give you an edge when you’re negotiating late in your contract years and I didn’t have that same leverage Donald Driver had. I was the highest paid receiver in 1999 and it’s a long slide to come down from that and say, ‘I’m going to play for the league minimum.’” When talking with NFC rookies during the first portion of the week-long seminar, Driver’s name has been mentioned more than once. It dates back to Driver’s rookie season in 1999 when he was a seventh-round pick out of Alcorn State and starring up at a depth chart consisting of Freeman, Bill Schroeder and Corey Bradford miles ahead of him. The key, according to Freeman? Don’t look at what the numbers. Whatever you do, don’t pay attention to the depth chart. Control what you can control and opportunity will present itself. For instance, the year after Freeman left. The Packers traded for Terry Glenn, drafted Javon Walker in the first round and Robert Ferguson was supposed to take the next step. In the end, however, it was Driver who shined as the Packers’ only 1,000-yard receiver that year. It was the first of his seven 1,000-yard campaigns after tallying only 37 catches for 520 yards in his first three NFL seasons. “Be accountable on the field and don’t count those numbers,” Freeman said. “I know Green Bay has about 10 or 11 very good receivers right now and there’s a logjam between four, five and six, so I tell Shaky Smithson, ‘Don’t count numbers, you just go out and ball-out.’ I tell (Jarrett) Boykin from Virgina Tech, ‘You just got out there and ball-out, you don’t worry about the numbers.’ You’re not only interviewing for the Green Bay Packers, you’re interviewing for every other team that’s going to get this film Monday morning.” Freeman continues to work as a color analyst for the Baltimore Ravens with Comcast Sports while working to bring his foundation, the B’More Free Foundation, to Wisconsin. Look for more on Freeman in Friday’s edition of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.

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