GREEN BAY - A year after being released from the only NFL team he’d ever known, receiver Jordy Nelson is retiring.
Nelson’s decision to end his football career was reported in a tweet Wednesday by James Jones, his teammate of seven years with the Green Bay Packers and now a NFL Network contributor.
It was confirmed by the Packers later in the morning.
In a decade with the Packers, Nelson caught 550 passes for 7,848 yards and 69 touchdowns. His greatest season came in 2014, when Nelson was perhaps the game’s greatest deep threat, breaking off big plays on almost a weekly basis. He was a second-team All-Pro that fall, catching 98 passes for a single-season, franchise-record 1,519 yards and 13 touchdowns.
A year later, Nelson tore the ACL in his right knee during a preseason exhibition at Pittsburgh. He missed the entire 2015 season, and though he returned to win the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year in 2016, his speed had greatly diminished by his age 32-season in 2017. General manager Brian Gutekunst asked Nelson to take a steep pay cut last spring.
When he didn’t, Gutekunst released Nelson outright.
“These are tough days,” Gutekunst said then, “when you have to release a player that means so much to your organization, to your team. Jordy Nelson is one of the great Packers who have played here. He was such an excellent player on the field, an excellent player in your locker room, and obviously in the community as well. He’s everything that you want a pro to be, and he’ll be missed.”
Gutekunst echoed those sentiments in a statement Wednesday.
“We want to congratulate Jordy on an incredible career that included achievements that will result in his eventual induction in the Packers Hall of Fame,” Gutekunst said. “He is one of the greatest receivers in franchise history and played a vital role in the team’s success with not only his play on the field but also for what he provided as a great teammate and leader. We wish the best to Jordy, his wife, Emily, and the rest of their family.”
Nelson played last season with the Oakland Raiders, signing a two-year deal. He caught 63 passes for 739 yards and three touchdowns. The Raiders released him earlier this month.
His release from the Packers did not sit well with quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
“Hard to find the right words today to express what 87 means to me,” Rodgers wrote on his Instagram that day. “No teammate exemplified what it means to be a packer quite like him. From living in GB full time, his incredible contributions to the city, state, and region, to his consistent, reliable play on the field. Definitely a sad day and the toughest part of this business. There will never be another quite like white lightning.”
Over the years, Rodgers and Nelson two developed into one of the league’s top duos. Their chemistry helped maintain Nelson’s production even after reconstructive knee surgery warped his speed. Even in 2017, Nelson led the NFL with six touchdowns through the first five games when Rodgers was lost for most of the remainder of the season with a broken collarbone.
He didn’t catch another touchdown the rest of the season.
It’s unclear whether the Packers entertained re-signing Nelson this offseason for another year. Such a deal likely would have pleased their quarterback, and it wouldn’t have cost much. But the Packers are flush with young talent at receiver, players that need to get snaps to develop. So a reunion never seemed likely.
One of those young receivers, Geronimo Allison, credits Nelson for helping him learn the NFL ropes.
“I watched Jordy all the time," said Allison, who joined the Packers as an undrafted free agent in 2016. "Like before workouts, he was the last one rolling out, stretching before he even started the workout. Everybody else would roll, stretch, but it’s quick and they’re up on their feet working out. I’m guilty of it when I was a young guy. I was that young guy that was walking back looking at him like Jordy’s still laying down, stretching, rolling. Does his workout to the best, you know, and he’s not worried about anybody else that’s not focused on what he’s focused on. He’s totally into his craft.
And that showed me how to be just a mature pro and focus on my craft but at the same time still helping the young guys because it’s a team game. He helped me as a rookie, taught me some stuff. I sat in front of Jordy (in meetings). He sat behind me. And at times he used to just peek over my shoulder and see what was going down.”
Nelson retires as one of the most productive receivers in Packers history. He ranks third in career receptions with the team, fifth in yards and second in touchdowns. Even if his career ended with the Raiders, Nelson’s legacy will remain in the Packers, one day enshrined in the team’s hall of fame.
On the day he was released, Gutekunst said he wanted to keep the team’s relationship with Nelson “as strong as possible” moving forward.
“I think there was a number of things that made Jordy unique,” Gutekunst said. “I think one of the things that always stood out about Jordy to me was his preparation, his sacrifice to the game and to make himself prepared not only physically, but mentally. He had excellent eye-hand coordination, his ability to find the ball, track it and get in position to make tough catches, even when he was covered. I think was very impressive.
“Playing big at big moments, you know, I think he always came through for us. I thought in scramble plays, I thought his ability to kind of – his intuition with Aaron and finding open spots and getting open was always very impressive.”
Jim Owczarski of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel contributed.