Wide receiver James Jones has nothing but good things to say about the Green Bay Packers.
“I love the city, love the team, would love to come back,” Jones was saying earlier this week during an appearance at the Meyer Theatre for the premiere of the Super Bowl XLV Champions DVD.
Yet despite all his genuine goodwill toward the Packers in the aftermath of a championship season, Jones’ days in Green Bay appear numbered.
Assuming a new NFL collective bargaining agreement is reached, Jones will likely become an unrestricted free agent and can sign with any team. The Packers in all probability won’t be high on his list of potential future employers.
It has nothing to do with team chemistry, coaching, personality conflicts, the small-town environment or the Packers organization.
Jones is simply looking for career advancement, and the chances of that happening with the Packers aren’t great.
Jones has been part of one of the NFL’s best receiving groups. With elite quarterback Aaron Rodgers directing coach Mike McCarthy’s pass-oriented offensive attack, Green Bay should be a receiver’s dream destination. Except in Jones’ case, he serves mostly as a role player and desires something more.
Jones wants to become an every-down NFL starter and believes he possesses the skills to make that happen. What he needs is a chance, something that likely won’t come anytime soon in Green Bay.
In four NFL seasons Jones has established himself as Rodgers’ third or fourth option on passing plays. Greg Jennings is the unquestioned top receiver on the team and has the Pro Bowl credentials to prove it. Tight end Jermichael Finley, who sat out most of the 2010 season with an injury, will return with a vengeance and is sure to gobble up a hefty chunk of receptions.
So that leaves 13-year veteran Donald Driver, Jones and Jordy Nelson to fight for the remaining scraps that Rodgers doles out.
It’s not a bad gig. Jones caught a career-high 50 passes last season and produced his share of memorable plays. Jones made a crucial third-down catch to keep a Packers’ second-half touchdown drive alive in the Super Bowl, and had another big reception on the final offensive series against Pittsburgh that helped the Packers chew up precious time.
Jones’ critics point to his inconsistency and two dropped touchdown passes in the playoffs – one in the Super Bowl and another in the wild-card game at Philadelphia. But he also made two difficult post-season touchdown catches – one in the same Philadelphia game and another against Atlanta.
Some conclude that since Jones hasn’t earned a starting spot yet, he’s simply not good enough. But that was the same criticism leveled against Packers linebacker Desmond Bishop, who made occasional big plays as a backup but was considered too inconsistent for regular duty on the No. 1 defense.
Lo and behold, when Bishop finally became a starter last fall in his fourth season due to Nick Barnett’s wrist injury, he was so good the Packers rewarded him with a new contract.
This is not to suggest Jones is destined to become a sure-fire NFL receiving star. He still has much to prove, and some team must be willing to make a significant financial commitment.
But from Jones’ vantage point, he would be foolish not to explore all his options. If another team comes calling with a starting job and sizable raise, why wouldn’t he jump at the opportunity?
Jones’ teammates seem resigned to his eventual departure.
“He has to make the best decision for him and his family,” said Jennings.
Jones has been a good fit in the Packers’ locker room and has contributed to a sense of camaraderie and unselfishness rarely seen among receiving groups. The Packers would love to keep him, but it seems unlikely the team would pay what Jones might command on the open market.
Jones readily admits it would be difficult to leave the Packers, who could be Super Bowl contenders for years to come, but it’s a sacrifice he seems willing to make.
It would be hard to fault Jones for chasing his dreams and attempting to fulfill greater career aspirations.
Mike Vandermause is sports editor of the Press-Gazette.