If there is one position Packers general manager Ted Thompson has excelled at acquiring, it’s wide receiver.
Since Thompson took over as Packers GM in 2006, he has had repeated success drafting wide receivers in the second and third rounds of the draft. There are four major examples of this and they include Greg Jennings (2nd rd. 2006), James Jones, (3rd rd. 2007), Jody Nelson (2nd rd. 2008) and Randall Cobb (2nd rd. 2011).
Those four players were the cornerstone of the Packers receiving core from the 2006 season through 2013, only Jennings was not with the team in 2013 but with Jones headed for unrestricted free agency as well as Cobb and Nelson headed there next season, Thompson and the Packers have some serious decisions to make.
So without further ado, we continue the Packers Guru series of breaking down the Packers by position then assessing the free agency/draft options available, today we are evaluating the wide receivers.
Currently Under Contract: Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, Jarrett Boykin, Myles White, Kevin Dorsey, Chris Harper
Free Agents: James Jones
So much of what the Packers do at the wide receiver position going forward depends on what they do with the receivers they have now.
Nelson has established himself at the top target and just had his best season with 85 receptions for 1,314 yards and eight touchdowns, while Cobb has continually proven his playmaking ability over his first three seasons, despite missing a big chunk of 2013 due to injury.
Then there is Jones, who posted 59 receptions for 817 yards and three touchdowns this past season, despite fighting off leg injuries for most of the year.
With Jones set for free agency this year, the Packers have a difficult decision to make.
Three years ago, after winning the Super Bowl, Jones hit the market but found little interest and returned to Green Bay on a three-year deal. Now that he has another chance, he will be looking to cash in big and while the Packers want to keep him, getting into a bidding war for his services would not be wise.
The problem for Jones is that Nelson and Cobb both need their contracts addressed and given their importance to the offense, they take preference over Jones.
Furthermore, the emergence of Boykin, the second-year wide out from Virginia Tech, who had a breakout season with 49 receptions for 681 yards and three touchdowns, makes Jones even more expendable.
Certainly, the Packers would love to keep Jones but the price has to be right. He is never going to be more than the no.3 guy in Green Bay as long as Cobb and Nelson are around and his contract should reflect that.
However, one thing that plays in the Packers favor is that the free agent market is fairly strong at wide receiver with the likes of Eric Decker, Jeremy Maclin, Hakeem Nicks, Riley Cooper, Jacoby Jones, Anquan Boldin, Julian Edelman and Nate Burleson all available.
Therefore, the market may be a bit slower on Jones than normal and may allow the Packers to retain him without breaking the bank. If this can be done the Packers would love to get him back but they also have come to grips with the fact that he may be elsewhere in 2014.
If the Packers do end up losing Jones, there is no need to panic.
For starters, the Packers have three very good receivers on the roster in Nelson, Cobb and Boykin. Secondly, the 2014 NFL Draft is loaded with wide receiver talent and Thompson has already proven his propensity for finding quality pass-catchers in the annual selection meeting.
By the time the Packers select with the 21st pick in the first round of the 2014 Draft, it’s possible that three receivers will already have been selected with Sammy Watkins of Clemson, Mike Evans of Texas A&M and Odell Beckham all projected to go in the top half of the first round.
Yet, there are a number of other prospects that should be going near the end of the first round and even into the second round that should interest the Packers such as Marquise Lee of USC, Jarvis Landry of LSU, Kelvin Benjamin of Florida State, Allen Robinson of Penn State and Davante Adams of Fresno State.
There are also a number of other prospects that will be available later on day two or even on day three of the draft, so if there is one position where the Packers can afford to lose a free agent, it’s wide receiver.
If Jones is allowed to walk, it becomes imperative that the Packers get new contracts done with Nelson and Cobb. A team like Green Bay that relies so heavily on the throwing the football, can’t allow its top three wide receivers to leave in back-to-back years.
Therefore, if Jones leaves, my prediction is that Green Bay will use an early to mid-round draft pick to help fill his shoes, somewhere between rounds 2-4. Then, they will work to reach long-term deals with Nelson and Cobb, keeping their two star receivers on the roster while continuing to compile weapons around Rodgers through the draft.