The Green Bay Packers are coming off another division title, but will have to make a number of interesting decisions this offseason as they get ready for 2014. One of the more interesting decisions is what to do with wide receiver James Jones, who is an unrestricted free agent this year. Jones has been with the Packers since they drafted him in the 3rd round back in 2007, and this is actually his second time coming up as an unrestricted free agent.
The last time around Jones was coming off his best season as a pro to date with 50 catches for 679 yards and 5 TD’s. Jones was entering his age 27 season and looked like a prime candidate for a big contract and possibly being overpaid. The Packers though lucked out as Jones hit free agency during the lockout year, so there was limited time for a market to be established. When a major market didn’t develop, the Packers offered a 3 year $9 million deal, which appeared to be below market for a young promising receiver in the prime of his career. Jones took the offer and stayed with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense.
Despite sticking around, Jones didn’t really grow too much in the Packers offense at first, as he wasn’t a starter in 2011, and caught just 38 passes (though he did amass over 600 yards and 7 TD’s). In 2012 his role picked up as he caught 64 passes for 784 yards and 14 TD’s. Not only did lead the Packers in TD catches, but his 14 scores led all receivers. Jones proved that while he maybe wasn’t a top receiver, he was a reliable target for Aaron Rodgers and would be there when he needed him. Jones became more of an integral part of the offense, a unit that kept the Packers winning and ensured they were worth the ticket price. In 2013 it finally looked like Jones could crack the 1,000 yard mark as both Donald Driver and Greg Jennings were gone, and there should be more opportunities for Jones.
Jones’s opportunities improved even more with the injuries to WR Randall Cobb and TE JerMichael Finley, two of the Packers top targets. Unfortunately Jones himself suffered a couple injuries that limited him. A PCL sprain in October sidelined him for two weeks and hampered him for the next month or so. Jones also broke two ribs at the end of the year and toughed it out to play through the pain. Jones also had to deal with substandard QB play for a large chunk of the season when Aaron Rodgers was out. Between his and Rodgers injuries, Jones was unable to crack the 1,000 yard mark, finishing the year with 59 catches for 817 yards and 3 TD’s.
While Jones says he wants to remain a Packer and isn’t looking for a big pay day, he still might be considered too expensive for the Packers, who notoriously don’t pay big money contracts to anyone but their top players. While Jones has been a steady performer, the Packers need to decide if he’s worth the $3 million or more per season it would take to sign him. One unfortunate side effect of the Cobb injury was it allowed Jarrett Boykin to get on the field. The former undrafted receiver, shined for the Packers, even with Aaron Rodgers being absent. With Cobb back healthy and Jordy Nelson still the top receiver, the Packers may not want to pay jones the money, when Boykin can offer similar production for 1/6 of the price.
The x-factor in all of this is Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers obviously has a connection to Jones and may not want to see one of his favorite targets leave, especially since Finley isn’t expected back with the Packers. If Rodgers wants the Packers to retain Jones he will probably get another 3 year $3-4 million a year short term deal. But if Rodgers doesn’t push too hard, then it is likely that Jones has played his last game in a Packers uniform.