The Packers are a passing team first and foremost, and Ted Thompson has taken Ron Wolf’s lamenting to heart and has always made getting weapons for his star quarterback a priority. Whether its drafting or resigning his own, Thompson has always made a big effort to keep talent at the wide receiver position, which can’t be said for some other positions like center. However, next season presents a unique set of challenges, namely having both Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb both enter free agency by the end of this season. While the Packers do have a relatively healthy salary cap it will be quite interesting to see how Thompson and lead negotiator Russ Ball deal with both Nelson and Cobb, who while playing the same position are almost two polar opposite players.
Jordy Nelson has been consistently one of the better wide receivers in the league, ranking as high as 2nd last year according to Pro Football Focus; he’s probably best suited for the perimeter and can use his size and deceptive speed as a deep threat for Aaron Rodgers. He’s also going to be looking for a big contract after taking a below market deal as he knows this will probably be his last big contract. Randall Cobb on the other hand is a multi-purpose weapon that does a variety of things well, he’s a prototypical slot receiver but also has great versatility and can play running back and return kicks. Cobb’s is likely looking to capitalize on his success early after missing out on the big money due to being picked in the 2nd round and also being in the first class under the new CBA.
I think the biggest problem with wide receivers is that there are so many of them and there are a lot of ways to be a good wide receiver. If you think about quarterbacks, there are only a couple really great quarterbacks and they all share a lot of common traits like accuracy, poise, intelligence and arm strength. Wide receivers on the other hand come in all shapes and sizes; Calvin Johnson plays very differently from Wes Welker but both are great wide receivers in their own right. Some are fast, some are quick, some a big and some are small. Does it make much sense for Randall Cobb to be looking at Calvin Johnson’s contract? Sure they play the same position, but Johnson has such a different game it’s hard to justify using that as a contract bench mark (ignoring the fact that Johnson or Suh have the most ridiculous contracts of any player on the NFL).
However, contracts are always compared based on contract signed by other players and what I’ve done is go through and find some potential contracts that Cobb and Nelson’s agents will be likely bringing to the table as part of their negotiation tactic. If you haven’t read NFPost mock negotiation article, I highly suggest you read this first to get a good idea of how the process works. All contract values are courtesy of Over the Cap.
Potential contract benchmarks for Randall Cobb
Percy Harvin: 6 year, $64.245 million total, $14.5 million guaranteed
DeSean Jackson: 3 year, $24 million total, $16 million guaranteed
Victor Cruz: 5 year, $43 million total, $18.6 million guaranteed
Rationale: Cobb is probably looking at Harvin’s contract first off because it’s the biggest but also because the player most often compared to Cobb is Harvin. However, Cobb does have the benefit of not having a concussion history like Harvin’s and also the mental issues that Harvin has exhibited likely associated with concussions that have followed Harvin through the NFL. On the other side, Harvin got a pretty outrageous deal from the Seahawks, who also had to give up a boat load of picks to secure his trade, which obviously puts them in a position of weaker leverage. I’m almost positive the Packers will balk at the idea of paying him in this range. DeSean Jackson is also another good comparison to Cobb, both are electric in the return game and while Jackson has much better top end speed, Cobb more than makes up for that by being a better receiver. The Packers may opt to start negotiations at this point, but this time Cobb’s camp might balk since Jackson probably took a lower amount because of all the negative press that followed him after his release from Philadelphia (included rumored gang ties). I think the best comparison is probably Victor Cruz, who is also a slot wide receiver but also isn’t the fastest guy around. Cruz also has been a model citizen with the Giants, which can’t be said with either Harvin or Jackson and also got the highest guaranteed money of the trio; Cobb also has a clean record so I think the Packers may choose to go with a lower total value but higher percentage of guaranteed money, which is a win-win for both sides.
Potential contract benchmarks for Jordy Nelson
Brandon Marshall: 3 year, $30 million total, $14.8 million guaranteed
Greg Jennings: 5 year, $45 million total, $17.8 million guaranteed
Vincent Jackson: 5 year, $36.3 million total, $17.7 million guaranteed
Rationale: For Nelson, this is likely his last major deal as he’s approaching the wrong side of 30 and I’d guess he’s going to try to maximize this contract. Nelson did take a below average deal and hasn’t made a fuss about it, and likely the Packers will reward him for that. However, the Packers really need to be careful as Nelson has been injured quite a bit and wide receivers do tend to fall off the cliff in terms of production rather quickly. Some of this will be mitigated by having Rodgers throw him the ball, but it’s likely his top end speed will begin to diminish in the next couple of years. The obvious benchmark would be former wide receiver Greg Jennings, who was also looking for his third contract but scoffed at the reported $ 8 million yearly contract. I’m not sure Nelson would take a second hometown discount and I hope the Packers aren’t expecting him to sign in this range. Another good comparison is Brandon Marshall who is another big wide receiver, however Marshall’s contract history is so convoluted with his time with the Broncos, Dolphins and now Bears as well as only being a good player when next to Jay Cutler that I’m not really sure what to make of his contract. He obviously has talent, but also has admitted to having a multiple personality disorder and has been in the news for breaking his arm in a TV set and a very public fight with his now wife. Vincent Jackson rounds out the trio as another bigger wide receiver who was looking for his last major contract, however Jackson fight with then general manager AJ Smith was well publicized (and mostly the fault of Smith) and thus Jackson was fined and punished which likely left no room for him to be resigned with the Chargers. Overall, I think the best comparison for Nelson is likely Marshall as I don’t think the Packers will extend him for 5 years, however he’s likely to get more guaranteed money than Marshall which may help negotiations a little.
Overall, I think one of the two wide receivers will be resigned mid-season, as is the Packers MO and tradition. My guess is that it will be Cobb, who is considerably younger and probably hasn’t reached his potential yet, which will make negotiations difficult with Nelson because he will likely hit free agency and the Packers will have less wiggle room after paying Cobb. On the plus side, it should be relatively easy to keep both Nelson and Cobb as there aren’t any other major resignings that need to be taken care of; Bryan Bulaga and Derek Sherrod are another two potential resigning options, but both have major injury issues and likely won’t be seeking top money. Add to that the Packers won’t be carrying Jermichael Finley’s contract, who even if resigned by the Packers will likely not command that much money, and a rather deep pool of young wide receivers that aren’t going to get paid anytime soon and the Packers might be able to keep two of the most electrify players of the Ted Thompson regime.
Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.