In Green Bay for a meeting, veteran receiver James Jones says he hopes to re-sign with the Green Bay Packers. (Sept. 6, 2015) Weston Hodkiewicz | Press-Gazette Media
James Jones is back with the Green Bay Packers.
An NFL source confirmed the 31-year-old receiver re-signed with the organization less than two hours after flying into Green Bay to visit the team on Sunday afternoon. NFL Network first reported the agreement.
A third-round pick in 2007, Jones spent his first seven seasons with the Packers before leaving for Oakland a year ago. The past year has been a bit more tumultuous. The Raiders released the 6-foot-1, 200-pound receiver in May. On Saturday, Jones was among the New York Giants’ final cuts.
Jones’ agent, Frank Bauer, informed him later that night of the Packers’ interest. On Saturday, Jones flew from New York to Austin Straubel International Airport with the hope of rejoining the Packers if the visit went well.
It obviously did.
“That’s the plan, man,” said Jones before meeting with the team. “Hopefully something gets done. I flew all the way over here, so hopefully something gets done. I’m excited man, it feels good to get back and be back home.”
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Jones caught 310 passes for 4,305 yards and 37 touchdowns with the Packers before leaving for Oakland on a three-year, $10 million contract in March 2014. He caught a career-high 73 passes last season, but his 9.1-yards per catch were the lowest of his career.
Jones was a full-time starter during his final two seasons in Green Bay and a popular target of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who he caught passes from for six seasons. He led the NFL in receiving touchdowns in 2012 with 14.
The veteran receiver witnessed the offensive evolution under Packers coach Mike McCarthy and the maturation of Randall Cobb from an intriguing slot receiver to one of the league’s top playmakers. Three weeks ago, it didn’t seem like the Packers would have need of Jones with their abundance of weapons.
However, Jordy Nelson’s torn anterior cruciate ligament changed things in addition to Cobb spraining his AC joint a week later against Philadelphia. He intends to play in Sunday’s regular-season opener in Chicago, but it’s possible he won’t be 100 percent.
Nelson’s replacement, rookie Ty Montgomery, sat out of Thursday’s preseason finale against New Orleans with a hamstring injury. If Jones has been anything in his NFL career, it’s reliable. He’s played in 120 of a possible 128 regular-season games.
It’s no coincidence his best NFL seasons came when Nelson (hamstring in 2012) and Cobb (broken leg in 2013) missed extended time due to injuries.
“It’s a crazy business, man,” Jones said. “I’ve noticed that this past year getting released from Oakland and getting released from the Giants. It’s a crazy business, but I’m just happy to have the opportunity to continue to keep playing.”
Jones said he reached out to Nelson after the injury, but didn’t draw any conclusions about a possible path back to Green Bay. He was concentrating on making the Giants’ roster. New York kept six receivers on Saturday, but Jones wasn’t among them.
As a vested veteran, he wasn’t subject to waivers and free to sign with any NFL team.
“To be honest with you, I didn’t even think about it man,” said Jones about Nelson’s injury leading to his own return to the Packers. “Me and Jordy are so close. The only thing I thought about was my man missing a whole season. I know how hard that dude works. I didn’t even think about it. I just called him. At first I texted him said, ‘Please tell me it’s not true.’
“I texted him right when I heard and after he told me it was true. No, man. I was trying to make that team. I really didn’t think about coming back.”
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Jones becomes the most recent in a string of former players that general manager Ted Thompson has brought back to Green Bay, joining quarterback Matt Flynn (2008-11, 13-14), running backs Ahman Green (00-06, 09) and Ryan Grant (07-11, 12), and center Evan Smith (09, 10-13).
The Packers kept 53 players during their final cut down, so they’d need to release someone to make room for Jones. They could keep six receivers like they did in 2012 or try to sneak Myles White onto the practice squad for a third season.
Thompson also went deep at running back (five), offensive line (nine) and secondary (11) after Saturday’s final cuts. They have a little time, as they don’t officially have to make a corresponding roster move until Monday.
Jones admits the Packers probably have made a few tweaks to their offense he’ll need to catch up on, but doesn’t think it will be an issue. He’s quick to remind that “I’m only one year removed. It seems like 10 years.”
The receiver’s challenge is to show he still has something to offer after two non-playoff teams passed on him this summer. He’ll need to hold off a pair of young receivers in Montgomery and Jeff Janis to stay in the starting rotation with Cobb and Davante Adams, who was drafted a year ago as Jones’ replacement.
Jones’ frame makes him a more natural fit on the outside than the 6-foot Montgomery and should allow Cobb to continue doing what he does best in the slot. It also frees Montgomery up to work inside on four-receiver sets.
It’s been a crazy year for Jones, but he hopes his rollercoaster finally ends in Green Bay.
“It’s been like my life, man,” Jones said. “A lot of ups and downs. A lot of good and a lot of bad. That’s life, man. You have to run with it sometimes and take the punches that are given and keep on going. I’m here. Hopefully we can get something done and I’ll be playing football again.”
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.