GREEN BAY – Jayrone Elliott had to consider the offer. In Pittsburgh, sitting across from a Super Bowl-winning coach, hearing how he could fit in the pass-rush rotation — it was impossible to ignore.
The Pittsburgh Steelers wanted Elliott to be a part of their defense. Not just “a special-teams guy,” Elliott said. A pass rusher.
Their pitch: Come take some snaps off aging veteran James Harrison.
It was a backup role, but one that included a real chance to do something Elliott has shown only flashes of with the Green Bay Packers: terrorize quarterbacks on third down. Elliott said the Steelers were ready to invest in his future.
Their offer: two years, roughly $3 million.
“I was literally 95 percent ready to sign that deal,” Elliott said.
Then Elliott made some phone calls. He mulled it over. By the time his Pittsburgh flight landed in Green Bay, Elliott knew he had an awkward phone call ahead with that Super Bowl-winning coach, Mike Tomlin.
Instead of the Steelers’ two-year deal, Elliott re-signed with the Packers for a one-year contract he said will pay $1.6 million in 2017. It’s close to the minimum tender of $1.79 million, a nonguaranteed offer the Packers declined to extend. The Packers increased their initial offer — ”there was some back and forth,” Elliott said — and likely sprinkled in some guaranteed money once his market materialized, including trips to the Steelers and Buffalo Bills.
In reality, money and security weren’t that different. Elliott said his willingness to take a lesser deal shows how he feels about the Packers, but it’s also a sign of what the Packers see in him.
No matter his relationships in Green Bay, passing on a two-year deal would’ve been hard without Elliott believing he could play a significant role for the Packers.
“I already knew what to expect coming back,” Elliott said. “Obviously, if they want me back here, they want me in the thick of things. That says a lot because they know who I am, I know who they are, and we all know what goals we have in mind. I’m just happy to be back.”
The thick of things will include special teams, as it has in Elliott’s first three seasons. Elliott quickly embraced being a core special-teams contributor with the Packers. Undrafted out of Toledo, he knows that’s how he made an NFL career for himself.
Elliott is poised to assume a leadership role with the Packers' special teams. It started last year, he said, when he became more vocal in meetings. With a young group, special teams coordinator Ron Zook expected Elliott to set an example.
“It’s something I fell in love with,” Elliott said. “I feel like my body type can help me excel because I can run past the big guys, and I can overpower the smaller guys. I try to go out there and contribute any way I can to help this team win.”
“I’m not going to go out of my way to stress about it. I know my role.”
Now, with outside linebackers Julius Peppers and Datone Jones departing via free agency, that role might have room to grow.
Elliott thought last offseason was his time to earn a role in the Packers' defense. With veterans resting, the spring started with Elliott taking first-team reps. By training camp, he was pushed down the depth chart.
“I had the same opportunity to make that big step,” Elliott said, “and I don’t think I took the step I wanted to take. But it was only more motivation.”
His goal this offseason is to even out his play. To show something more than flashes of potential. Elliott had two sacks and an interception in the first four games of 2015. Despite minimal snaps, he has four sacks in his career.
Elliott knows he’s capable of being disruptive as a pass rusher.
“I think I took a big step in the right way,” Elliott said, “as far as learning how to use my hands, leverage, aiming points, stopping the run and whatnot. It’s not where I want it to be, but that’s why we have an offseason for, to keep working. I’m excited for the future.”
NOTEWORTHY: The Packers re-signed linebacker and special-teams contributor Jordan Tripp, another restricted free agent who wasn't tendered.