Green Bay Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson (87) celebrates his first quarter touchdown with fans during the Green Bay Packers-Denver Broncos on Sunday at Lambeau Field. / File/Gannett Wisconsin Media
It looks like this version of the Green Bay Packers’ offense, one that’s helped the team to the NFL lead in scoring through four weeks, is going to be around for a while.
On Monday, coach Mike McCarthy confirmed that receiver Jordy Nelson has signed a contract extension that’s believed to run through the 2014 season. That means all of the Packers’ key players in the passing game are under contract through at least the 2012 season except for one: tight end Jermichael Finley.
As Sunday’s 49-23 victory over the Denver Broncos showed, the Packers’ offense can be nearly unstoppable when all of its playmakers are available and involved. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw for a career-high 408 yards and four touchdowns. Four different receivers — Nelson, Donald Driver, Greg Jennings and James Jones — caught touchdown passes. The fifth receiver, rookie Randall Cobb, had a 61-yard reception. A week earlier, Finley had a three-touchdown game against the Chicago Bears.
If a deal can be worked out with Finley, and there’s no indication that one won’t be before he would hit free agency in March, then there’s reason to think the Packers can be one of the league’s dominant offenses for years to come.
Rodgers is under contract through 2014 but could get an extension and a raise as soon as this season. Jennings signed a three-year extension in 2009 that averages $9.1 million per season and if he continues to play like he has been, he will be in line for another big pay day before his current contract expires at the end of the 2012 season.
The Packers re-signed Jones this offseason through 2013 at a relatively modest rate of $3.2 million per season. Cobb, of course, is under contract through 2014 like all players drafted last April. Even Driver, who at age 36 could be nearing retirement, has another year left on his deal at a fairly reasonable price of $2.6 million for the 2012 season.
“You hope that continuity’s got some value,” Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said Monday. “Players are a lot more important than coaches, however, I think it helps that we’ve all been together for a while.”
Nelson’s deal wasn’t turned into the NFL Players Association on Monday, according to a source with access to NFLPA salary information, so the exact breakdown of the contract wasn’t known. But the source said Nelson received a $3.5 million signing bonus, so part of that would be prorated to this year’s salary cap. Nelson had a base salary of $600,000 this season with a cap number of $1.064 million. ESPN.com reported that Nelson’s extension was worth $13.35 million.
Nelson has essentially become the Packers’ No. 2 receiver even though Driver still carries the designation of a starter along with Jennings. Nelson is third on the team with 15 catches behind Jennings (25) and Finley (18). All three have three touchdowns in four games this season.
A second-round pick in 2008, Nelson shared the No. 3 receiver spot with Jones last season but began to separate himself late in the season. He caught a game-tying touchdown pass in the final moments of the Nov. 28 game at Atlanta and then began a torrid playoff run with eight catches, 79 yards and a touchdown in the divisional round, also at Atlanta, where the Packers play this Sunday night. In Super Bowl XLV, he caught nine passes for 140 yards and a touchdown despite three drops. In four postseason games, he tied Jennings for the team lead with 21 receptions and two touchdowns.
“He had that big touchdown catch at the end of the first Atlanta game, but I don’t know if there was that epiphany,” Philbin said. “I just think he’s gotten better each year, it seems. I think his anticipation with the quarterback and that connection is better than it’s ever been. I think there’s more of a comfort level that the quarterback has. He’s really starting this year to pluck the ball a little bit more and really go out and get it. He really seems to be rounding himself into a nice player.”
Nelson’s performance against the Broncos was indicative of that. He caught five passes for 91 yards. His touchdown came on a 50-yard, play-action bootleg in which he used his speed to outrun double coverage and catch a bomb in stride. On another play, he used his long arms and strength to pick up 9 yards on a hitch thanks to a stiff arm to a cornerback. He also made a key special teams play, recovering a surprise on-side kick.
“Number one, very happy for Jordy Nelson, personally,” McCarthy said. “Any time you see one of your players that’s drafted, he’s developed, and he’s earned everything that he’s accomplished to this point and looking forward to many years to come with Jordy Nelson. I’ve very happy with him as a football player. He went out there and on his first opportunity on the surprise on-side (kick), he recovers it. He’s a contributor on special teams, and we all know what he can do as a wide receiver. He’s getting more opportunities now. He’s been very productive, had a strong finish last season and just very happy that his contract is done.”
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @RobDemovsky.