In each of the past three regular season games for the Green Bay Packers, Jordy Nelson has received more targets from Aaron Rodgers than he has ever had in a game. He had 16 targets and 9 receptions against the New York Jets, 14 targets and 9 receptions against the Seattle Seahawks, and 16 targets and 10 receptions against the Chicago Bears at the end of last season. Across those three games, he netted 453 yards, 16.2 yards per reception, and one touchdown.
While those numbers are quite impressive, they are part of the argument against the Packers quality depth at wide receiver. Aaron Rodgers is known to spread the ball around, yet over the past two games he seemed to be zeroing in on Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. In fact, those were the only two wide receivers he even targeted in Week 1 against the Seahawks. Rookie draft pick Davante Adams and third-year wideout Jarret Boykin finally saw a decent share of targets against the Jets, though Boykin was essentially benched in favor of Adams during the game.
This has raised some red flags for fans. Can the Packers continue to be a dominant offense with these question marks at third and fourth wide receiver? Sure, there’s long-term potential, but there needs to be more short-term reliability with some tough games on the schedule. The void left by veteran receiver James Jones still has some empty spaces that need to be filled.
My question this week, then, is this:
Was it a good idea for Ted Thompson to let James Jones walk away in free agency?
In this installment of the Packers Beer Mug Perspective, we’ll take a look at the issue from both angles, then determine whether our mug is really “half empty” or “half full.”
THE MUG IS HALF FULL
Despite being with the Green Bay Packers for seven years, James Jones never really rose above the third receiver position. Guys like Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson, and eventually Randall Cobb would get the lion’s share of targets from the quarterback. Sure, Jones would get bumped up to the second tier when one of those guys would get injured, but otherwise he was at the bottom of the top.
And really, that’s where he belonged. He’s a good receiver, but he isn’t a great one. In fact, Jones has had some significantly rough spots with the Packers team over the years. Known for his multitude of dropped passes (41 total over 7 years), he hit rock bottom in 2010. Jones quickly became the goat for the Packers’ loss to the Chicago Bears in Week 3, when he fumbled away the offense’s opportunity for the final go-ahead scoring drive.
It didn’t even seem like Ted Thompson was that high on keeping Jones around. The Packers General Manager let Jones test free agency in 2011, though he wasn’t able to land a contract outside of Green Bay. Even though the contract lockout made it tough for free agents that offseason, it was clear how little Jones was valued across the league. So he ended up back with the Packers on a three-year contract.
Now the Packers offense has Davante Adams and Jeff Janis waiting in the wings alongside Jarret Boykin. Keeping James Jones would have meant having one of those players subjected to waivers and possibly ending up on another team. Would the comfort of having Jones been worth the loss of replacements with ceilings yet to be seen? Or was Ted Thompson making the right move in moving on?
THE MUG IS HALF EMPTY
The Oakland Raiders now have James Jones under a three-year, $10 million contract, with $3.65 million guaranteed and an extra $1.3 million in incentives. So far, despite the Raiders’ 0-2 start, James Jones has been one of their biggest blessings on offense. His 17 targets, 12 receptions, 146 yards, and two touchdowns lead the team. He’s even made the highlight reels with his catches. After starting with the team as a second string receiver, Jones has clearly become the number one option.
We’ll have to wait and see if Jones’ production with Derek Carr and the Raiders continues, but this type of play shouldn’t be all that surprising. Regardless of his troubles in the past, James Jones left Green Bay on an upward trend. In 2012, he caught 14 touchdown passes, the most of any player in the NFL that year. He had his highest target count during his last two seasons (98 and 93, respectively), and his dropped passes decreased to just four in 2012 and three in 2013.
We also can’t forget how Aaron Rodgers – right or wrong – went to bat for James Jones during his 2011 free agency period. Even though Jones had some rough performances the season prior, Rodgers still had a lot of confidence in his ability. We also saw this preseason how much value the Packers quarterback puts in a guy’s ability to know the system and run the correct routes. He trusted Jones, which is something we can’t say yet for guys like Adams or Janis.
Would the Packers have avoided Richard Sherman so visibly if James Jones were part of the receiving corps? Would Rodgers have been able to throw the ball more quickly against the Jets with Jones in the mix? It’s hard to say for sure, but under Mike McCarthy’s offensive system, it’s not just about getting open as a receiver. It’s about doing your part to draw coverage and help the play develop as it should. For all their future potential, the rookie receivers just aren’t that reliable yet.
GETTING THROUGH THE FOAM
To say that James Jones has been a polarizing figure among Packers fans would be an understatement. And to be honest, I started writing this article with my mind made up that Thompson’s decision to let Jones walk away was a poor one. The more I wrote, though, and considered the situation, the more I convinced myself that it might just have been the right decision.
First and foremost, this was not completely a financial decision by the Packers front office. They could have easily matched the Oakland Raiders’ offer. Jones’ three-year, $10 million contract is but a fraction of Jordy Nelson’s five-year, $43 million contract.
That said, would it have been wise to lock up money for a few years on an aging wide receiver? And more importantly, would it have been wise to lock up that position?
Davante Adams and Jeff Janis have a lot of growing to do before they become truly reliable options in the Packers offense; however, in order to grow, they need opportunities. They wouldn’t see the field much at all with Nelson, Cobb, and Jones all on the active game day roster. No matter how much time they get on the practice field, you just can’t mimic the live action experience and wisdom that comes from it.
This is the big trade-off that Ted Thompson had to make. He’s risking the short-term effectiveness of the wide receivers with the long-term development of his younger players. Along with that, there’s the hope that these rookies will end up with a higher ceiling than Jones in the long run. It’s a long season, and as the old adage goes, “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”
So in spite of my original intentions, I see this decision with the mug as half full. I’m happy that James Jones has found personal success with the Oakland Raiders, but it was time to move on and let some new players in. The future of the Packers will depend on it.——————Follow @ChadToporski