GREEN BAY - The logjam the Green Bay Packers were facing at wide receiver might have taken care of itself now that Jeff Janis has a broken right hand.
PackersNews.com confirmed an ESPN.com report Saturday morning that Janis has a fracture, although the severity of the injury isn’t clear. On Wednesday, Janis said he had injured his right hand swiping down at a ball carrier during a ball security drill the Packers perform every practice.
Janis, who had a large bag of ice on his hand after practice, said he jammed his fingers during the drill and didn’t think the injury was that serious.
The injury was bad enough, however, that Janis did not play in the Packers’ 17-11 victory over the Cleveland Browns on Friday night, which was an indication it was probably more than just some jammed fingers.
If the fracture is significant, Janis still could play on special teams, the strength of his game, wearing a padded club around his hand. Often players are able to continue playing that way without risk of further injury.
If Janis is out 4-to-6 weeks, the normal recovery time for a fracture, the Packers are likely to put him on injured reserve. Such a move would cost Janis his entire third season unless the Packers chose to use the designated-to-return option on him.
Previously, the NFL required that a team planning to use its one designated-to-return benefit do it at the time the player was put on injured reserve. But during the offseason, the rule was changed so that a team may return any one injured reserve player who has been out at least eight weeks back to its 53-man roster.
The player would be eligible to practice after six weeks on injured reserve, but not eligible to play until eight weeks had passed.
Thus, the Packers could put Janis on injured reserve and if so needed have him back for the second half of the season. It also would allow them to keep all six of their other drafted receivers: Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Davante Adams, Ty Montgomery, Jared Abbrederis and Trevor Davis.
Even if the fracture is minor, it could be a way for the Packers to stash Janis on injured reserve so they can maintain the rights to their seven top receivers.
Janis, who had shown little improvement as a wide receiver in camp thus far, would be able to offer a boost to the special teams later in the season if put on injured reserve. He was dominant as a gunner on the punt cover team and very effective on kick coverage last year and had a chance to make the team just based on those skills.
The Packers would probably wait until the cutdown to 53 to make a decision on Janis, thus giving them time to see if any other receiver injuries occur or Nelson is forced to begin the season on PUP. If the timeline is 4 to 6 weeks and he were left on the 53-man roster, Janis might be able to return to playing wide receiver around Week 3 or 4.
Coach Mike McCarthy all but ruled out having seven wide receivers on his 53-man roster early in camp and wouldn’t even concede he would probably keep six. But McCarthy wants his receivers to compete like there are only five spots, so he may not have wanted to admit there would be six.
Davis, the team’s fifth-round pick, might have been the odd man out given his lack of strength and recent lull during camp. But he made several catches against the Browns and is by far the fastest receiver the Packers have.
He also has kickoff return ability and could be a factor there.
Another receiver the Packers will continue to watch is undrafted free agent Geronimo Allison, who has been extremely consistent and seems to have earned the trust of quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Allison would have to really take off in order to beat out a draft pick like Davis.
As much as some fans think Adams might be on the bubble, it’s unlikely the Packers would give up on a second-round pick at the start of his third year.
If Janis were to be put on injured reserve and remain there all year, he wouldn’t qualify for the proven performance bonus included in all four-year contracts signed by players drafted in the third through seventh rounds.
Janis would have had to play in 35% of the offensive snaps in two of his first three seasons in order to qualify for the low restricted tender offer, which was $1.671 million this year and will be more than that next year. Janis played 14.9% of the offensive snaps this year and 1.3% his rookie year.
Thus, he would be bound to his $690,000 base salary in his final year of the deal.