Jones back with something to prove
James Jones has been around the NFL long enough to know what his situation looks like.
The 31-year-old receiver was cut not once, but twice this summer. His effervescent return to the Green Bay Packers this weekend comes on the heels of a tumultuous 2014 season in which he registered the fewest yards per catch (9.1) of his career with the Oakland Raiders.
The Raiders chose to go in another direction this offseason. He landed in New York, where the Giants also gave him his walking papers after keeping six other receivers on their final 53. Now Jones is back where it all began and knows he has a lot to prove.
"I feel like I've got a lot to give," said Jones, who re-signed with the Packers Sunday night. "I feel like I'm still playing at a high level. I had the most catches of my career last year. I don't necessarily feel like I've fallen off, but I've got a lot of people to prove wrong. If there's any time to do it, it's right now with the best quarterback in the league to help me out."
The Packers made Jones' return official Monday, releasing second-year receiver Myles White to make room for their 2007 third-round pick. White, who spent all of last season on the practice squad, survived Saturday's final cuts for the first time in three attempts.
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Jones caught 310 passes for 4,305 yards and 37 touchdowns during his first seven seasons in Green Bay. It wasn't Jones' first choice to leave in free agency a year ago, but the writing was on the wall when the Packers showed little interest in competing with Oakland's three-year, $10 million offer.
It was a move back home for the native Californian. Once he got there, it was a complete reversal from the success he enjoyed in Green Bay. Instead of the stability of Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, the Raiders fumbled through a 3-13 season with Matt Schaub, Matt McGloin and Derek Carr rotating under center.
The Raiders' 13 losses were more than what Jones experienced in his final two years with the Packers combined. He caught a career-high 73 passes, the only silver lining in an otherwise lost season.
"I mean, to me, it was up and down," Jones said. "Oakland, it was just, we were trying to find our way out there. Nobody was really having a breakout year. We were struggling as a whole, as a team, and I was trying to do my part. I felt I had a good year with what I had to work with, and they felt otherwise and wanted to go a different path."
It wasn't easy for Jones to leave Green Bay. He had built up seven years of relationships in the Packers' locker room. With his season long over, he sat helplessly at home like most fans during the waning moments of January's NFC Championship game at CenturyLink Field.
Watching many of his former teammates walk off the field with their heads down after the 28-22 overtime collapse was painful. While the Seattle Seahawks were headed to the Super Bowl, the Packers had to catch a flight back to Green Bay.
"I was sick to my stomach just because all these dudes are brothers to me in here," Jones said. "To see them lose a game that way, and I was just with them the year before, it hurt. It hurt and I hurt for them."
Jones' return to Green Bay was admittedly bittersweet because it came as a result of White's misfortune.
White, 25, was among the team's final cuts in each of the last two seasons, but enjoyed his best preseason in leading the team with 16 catches for 157 yards and two touchdowns. It was similar to Jones' situation in New York, where his team-high 15 preseason catches for 187 yards weren't enough to gain employment.
The two receivers grew close during White's first season in 2013 when the rookie played seven games in place of an injured Randall Cobb. Jones said White called him Sunday night and the two had a "long conversation." He told the young receiver to keep his head up.
The Packers filled out their 10-man practice squad Monday with rookie receiver Ed Williams, according to an NFL source, rather than waiting to see if White would clear waivers. If he does, Jones indicated White will be signing with another team soon.
"Me and Myles are real close," Jones said. "You hate to see times like this, you wish everybody could make it, but they can't. I was a little hurt (for him), but at the same time, my babies need food too and Daddy is the provider and Daddy has to do what's best for them, and I wish Myles the best."
Jones received a small welcome-back present Monday when second-year tight end Richard Rodgers gave his No. 89 back to him, free of charge. Rodgers instead will wear No. 82, the number he wore in high school and during his freshman year at the University of California.
Rodgers said the number didn't have any significant meaning for him, so bequeathing it to the ninth-year veteran receiver wasn't a difficult decision. Jones, who hasn't worn any other number in the NFL, would have been fine wearing a new number if 89 came with a price tag.
He still was grateful for the gesture.
"Man, whatever Rich needs, he's got from me," Jones said. "I talked to him (Sunday), he said he don't have no ties to the number, go ahead and take it, buddy. I appreciate him. Any time he wants to go to dinner, or he needs a pair of shoes or something, needs to pay for his haircut, anytime, I'm here to help him."
With the jersey issue resolved, the Packers next will have to get Jones up to speed with the offense. Packers coach Mike McCarthy doesn't expect a large learning curve given Jones' knowledge of the system and the offense's no-huddle concepts.
If any receiver was going to come in off the street and be ready to play in Sunday's opener in Chicago, it's Jones. Still, the expectation is Cobb (sprained AC joint) and rookie Ty Montgomery (hamstring) will be back to play against the Bears.
With Jordy Nelson out for the season, Cobb and rookie Davante Adams likely will handle the perimeter in two-receiver sets. Jones would be a likely candidate to enter in three-receiver packages, allowing Cobb to drop into the slot. The Packers like the long-term potential of Montgomery and Jeff Janis, but also need to immediate production.
McCarthy feels Jones gives the Packers a better chance of doing that.
"Well, he's a good football player, let's not lose sight of that," McCarthy said. "You can go watch his tape through preseason, watched his tape playing last year. He looks like James Jones. I'm glad he's back. Things happen in free agency, players move on. He's been a big part of our success in the past."
Jones understands he's the oldest active receiver on the roster by six years and he's OK with that. After a long year away from Green Bay, Jones feels back at home in the Packers' offense.
"I'm going to do whatever I can to help anybody," Jones said. "Cobb, the young guys … Cobb knows the type of player I am, the type of teammate I am. I want everybody to succeed, help everybody get better. With Jordy being down, I'm the oldest guy in the room. Even with Jordy being up, I'm the oldest guy in the room.
"I'm going to play football the way I play football, but anything the young guys need, they know I'm here to help and I'm going to help them as much as I can."
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.