Moving to shore up an injury-ridden receiving corps, the Green Bay Packers have re-signed Antonio Freeman, the fifth-ranking receiver in team history, and fellow free agent Chris Jackson, GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman announced Wednesday.
The 31-year-old Freeman, who had previously combined with quarterback Brett Favre to forge one of the most productive passing combinations in NFL annals, had been out of football thus far in 2003 after spending the 2002 season with the Philadelphia Eagles, for whom he had caught 46 passes for 600 yards and 4 touchdowns.
Sherman put in the calls for Freeman and Jackson after seeing three receivers - Donald Driver (strained neck), Robert Ferguson (knee/ankle) and Karsten Bailey (hamstring) - go down with injuries in Sunday's opening day loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
Freeman and Jackson will join the Packers on the practice field Wednesday.
Originally drafted primarily for his skills as a punt returner, the 6-1, 198-pound Baltimore native proceeded to carve out a major niche in Packers pass receiving history. A third-round selection in 1995, he ranks fifth on the club's career lists in both receptions (417) and yards (6,510) and third in touchdowns (57).
In the latter category, he teamed with Favre to effect the fifth-most touchdown connections (quarterback to receiver) in NFL history - immediately behind the legendary Johnny Unitas-Raymond Berry duo, who rank fourth all-time with 63 such connections.
Along the way, Freeman was the Packers' leading receiver four seasons in a row (1996-99) and also led the team in touchdown receptions for four consecutive years (1997-2000), recording three 1,000-yard seasons in the process - 1,243 in 1997, a career-high 1,424 in 1998 and 1,074 in 1999 - and posting 20 100-yard receiving games, the fourth-most in team history.
One of the nation's premier punt returners as a collegian, Freeman also demonstrated that skill in record-breaking fashion as a rookie, returning a second-quarter punt 76 yards for a touchdown to help the Packers defeat the Atlanta Falcons, 37-20 in a Wild Card playoff game Dec. 31, 1995. Still a team record, it was the first scoring return of a punt or kickoff in the Packers' postseason history.
Freeman signed with the Eagles for the 2002 season after being released by Green Bay last June 3, but was not re-signed by Philadelphia for 2003.
He has been re-assigned to jersey No. 86, the Packers jersey he previously wore for seven seasons (1995-2001). It had been worn during training camp and the preseason by rookie wide receiver Carl Ford. Ford, however, is now on injured reserve (knee) and cannot return to the active roster before 2004.
As with Freeman, it is the second time around in Green and Gold for the 6-1, 203-pound Jackson, who previously was signed as a free agent on Aug. 1, 2002, and spent the preseason with the Packers before being waived Sept. 1 in the team's final roster reduction for the regular season. He later signed Sept. 28 and saw action vs. Carolina the following day, before being waived Oct. 1.
The 28-year-old Washington State alumnus had spent the '03 preseason with Miami, catching 3 passes for 27 yards, with a long of 14 yards, before being waived in the Dolphins' reduction to the 65-player limit Aug. 27.
Originally signed by Seattle as a free agent April 28, 1998, Jackson spent the majority of the '98 and '99 seasons on the Seahawks' practice squad. Waived Sept. 6, 1999, he signed with the Tennessee Titans Oct. 4, 2000, and played in one game - vs. Pittsburgh October 5 - before suffering a back injury and being placed on injured reserve December 1. He subsequently was released March 1, 2001, and had not been on an NFL roster until being signed by Green Bay for the first time Aug. 1, 2002.
In the spring of 2000, Jackson played for the Los Angeles Avengers of the Arena Football League and earned AFL "Rookie of the Year" honors after leading the team with 91 receptions for 1,325 yards and 26 touchdowns, the latter ranking fifth in the league.
Earlier, he had been one of quarterback Ryan Leaf's primary targets at Washington State, where he set the Cougar single-season record for touchdown receptions with 11 in 1997 and ranked as the No. 4 receiver in the Pacific 10 Conference with 54 catches for 1,005 yards.
Jackson has been assigned jersey No. 81. Practice squad wide receiver Scottie Vines, who had been wearing 81, has been reassigned to No. 17.
Wide receiver Karsten Bailey and linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer, the Packers' second selection in the fifth round of this year's NFL draft, have been placed on waivers to make room for Freeman and Jackson on the team's 53-man active roster.
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