We’ve noted this several times, but we’ll note it again. James Jones is set to become an unrestricted free agent. The Green Bay Packers have more decisions than that to make about their receiver position though.
What we haven’t noted is that Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson will be entering the final year of their contracts in 2014.
So, if armageddon comes, the Packers could be down to Jarrett Boykin — from this year’s receiver group — by 2015. Now, we highly doubt it will come to that, but clearly there are some important decisions to made.
The first decision is whether or not to re-sign Jones. That should be dictated largely by the market.
Jones is coming off a three-year deal that averaged a little over $3 million per season. He’ll surely be looking for a raise this year.
Jones has been fairly productive since signing his last deal. He led the NFL in touchdown catches (14) in 2012 and set a career high in yards in 2013 with 817, despite missing two games.
The downside for Jones is he’s not a No. 1 receiver and he’ll be 30 in March. Those two factors alone should keep his price fairly reasonable. Our estimation is Jones will ask for $5-6 million per season and the Packers, if they engage, will want to come in around $3-4 million.
As always, the market could take the Packers out of the picture entirely. It happened when the Vikings decided to overpay Greg Jennings last offseason.
The bigger issues will come after next season, when both Cobb and Nelson are set to be free agents.
We fully expect the Packers to make every effort to sign Cobb to a new deal before that happens. Even though he only plays in the slot, Cobb is entering the prime of his career and is an offensive weapon the likes of which not many teams have.
Ultimately, the question is what kind of money will Cobb command?
If you’re looking for a similar player, we’ll point out that Wes Welker’s last contract averaged $6 million per season. Welker, of course, is nine years older than Cobb. That alone could add another $1 million per season to Cobb’s next deal.
As for Nelson, he’s been a total bargain for the Packers. Nelson signed a contract extension before he was set to become a free agent in 2012. The Packers were able to lock him up for a little more than $3 million per season.
All he’s done in the three years since signing the extension is put up two 1,200-plus yard seasons and 30 touchdowns. If Nelson hadn’t missed four games in 2012, he might have had another 1,000-yard season.
Nelson will be 30 prior to the 2015 season, but he’s established himself as a clear-cut No. 1 receiver.
These four guys are in the same age range as Nelson will be when he becomes a free agent and they all made at least $9 million this past season — Andre Johnson (32), Larry Fitzgerald (30), Brandon Marshall (29) and Santonio Holmes (29).
I’m not suggesting the Packers will fork over that much, but that’s what the market tells us a No. 1 receiver on the cusp of 30 is going to get paid.
In all likelihood, Green Bay will have to lock up Nelson with an extension prior to him hitting free agency if they want any shot of keeping him.
That bring us full circle back to Jones.
As we’ve documented many times, the Packers have a ton of money invested in two guys — Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews. That means they have to keep costs down at other positions.
What we’re getting at is the Packers simply can’t afford to have three receivers getting paid top dollar. We know they’ll pay Cobb after the season. We would think they’d want to pay Nelson (if they can afford him).
And while we’re sure they’d like to find a way to pay Jones too, we just don’t see how it can happen. That is, unless there’s no market and Jones comes back on the cheap.
That seems pretty unlikely.
More realistically, the Packers have to look at drafting another receiver this year. Guys playing on rookie contracts come cheap.