Upon mutual agreement between the team and the player, the Green Bay Packers have placed veteran wide receiver Antonio Freeman on waivers, GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman announced today.
Despite creative efforts to keep Freeman under contract in Green Bay, Sherman said the Packers were unable to reach an agreement with him and his agent, Joel Segal.
The decision thus brings to an end one of the most productive tenures by a wide receiver in the Packers' 81-year National Football League history. Freeman, drafted as a punt returner in the third round in 1995, far exceeded expectations and now departs the Titletown scene as the fifth-ranking receiver in team annals with 417 catches, also standing third in career touchdown receptions with 57 (behind Don Hutson, 99, and Sterling Sharpe, 65) and fourth in 100-yard receiving games with 20.
Sherman, commenting on the move, said, "I had a very good conversation with Antonio last Friday. He spoke with candor about his opportunities in Green Bay as compared to those elsewhere. Although he reminisced very fondly of his career as a Packer, the memories he has and the friends he made, he felt what was best for his career at this time was to see what was available to him on the open market, since we have not been able to come to terms with him contractually. I granted him that request by releasing him today.
"His Monday night game-winning catch against the Vikings in overtime may go down as one of the greatest catches of all time," Sherman continued.
"Antonio Freeman has been an integral part of the Green Bay Packers' success over his 7-year career with us. He has always been someone who exhibited game day savvy. I thought he had a very good season for us last year culminating in typical Antonio Freeman form by catching 13 balls in our two playoff games.
"His willingness to return punts last season also demonstrated his desire to help our team any way he could," Sherman said.
"Freeman was well respected by his teammates, coaches and me. His presence will be missed."
The 30-year-old Virginia Tech alumnus, gifted with a "nose" for the end zone, combined with quarterback Brett Favre to form the most prolific active quarterback-to-wide receiver duo in the league, the pair collaborating for 57 touchdown passes to rank fifth in NFL history.
Freeman's total of 56 touchdown catches since becoming a starter in 1996 also ranked fourth in the NFL over the past six years, behind only the 63 of the Vikings' Cris Carter, the 62 of the Colts' Marvin Harrison and the 59 of the 49ers' Terrell Owens.
Along the way, he joined Sterling Sharpe (7, 1988-94) as the only players in team history to have as many as six consecutive 50-reception seasons (1996-2001) and was the Packers' leading receiver for three consecutive years - 1996 (56), 1997 (81) and 1998 (a career-high 84). He also shared team honors with Bill Schroeder in 1999 with 74 catches.
The Baltimore native holds 11 Packers postseason records (he shares four additional records) and in 2001 became Green Bay's all-time leader in both career receptions (47) and yards receiving (748), lifting his game to a new level with 13 receptions for 148 yards and 3 touchdowns during the Packers' playoff contests against the San Francisco 49ers and St. Louis Rams.
Freeman also has made major inroads in NFL playoff history. His10 career TD receptions in playoff competition tie him with former Oakland Raider Pete Biletnikoff for third in the league's postseason annals and, with a touchdown in 5 consecutive postseason games, he also is tied with James Lofton and Randy Moss for the second-longest such streak in the NFL record book, behind only the 8-game string of John Stallworth.
In his farewell Green Bay season, Freeman registered his premier performance of the year in the Packers' 31-23 triumph over his hometown Baltimore Ravens - then the reigning Super Bowl champions - leading the team with 9 receptions for 138 yards (both season highs), including an 8-yard score just before halftime. He also recovered an onside kick in the game's final minute to seal victory.
Freeman returned punts during two different stretches over the '02 season when designated returner Allen Rossum was sidelined by injuries, averaging 6.7 yards per runback without a single mishandle while resuming a role he had not played since his rookie, 1995 season.