Will Packers now turn to James Jones at WR?

Pete Dougherty
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After final cuts Saturday, the Green Bay Packers’ biggest roster issue is whether to sign receiver James Jones.

The New York Giants cut the 31-year-old Saturday. He played for the Packers from 2007-13, so he knows coach Mike McCarthy’s offense and by all appearances had good on-field chemistry with quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

With Jordy Nelson out for the season, the temptation to re-sign him has to be strong.

But the Packers should be wary.

At 31, Jones’ explosiveness must be waning. He averaged only 9.1 yards a catch with the Oakland Raiders last year. Then he failed to win a spot in the Giants’ six-man receiving corps despite leading them in receptions (15) this preseason while playing for an offensive coordinator, former Packers assistant Ben McAdoo, who surely convinced the team to bring him to camp in the first place.

So is it really worth signing Jones to take snaps away from Ty Montgomery and Jeff Janis, the Packers’ young Nos. 3 and 4 receivers? They have a lot of upside, he has none. The more playing time they get now, the better they’ll probably be by December and January.

Now, that could come with a price. Young players make more mistakes, and Rodgers might throw a few more interceptions. That could hurt the Packers’ final record. But the potential payoff late in the season still makes it the better play.

Which way will McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson go? Who knows?

No doubt the two have discussed the subject thoroughly. Rodgers’ opinion matters. too. But they'd be wise to think long and hard. One thing we’ll know is that if they bring Jones back, it will say plenty about how far the Packers think their young receivers have to go.

Green Bay Packers receiver James Jones is overwhelmed with emotion after the team's victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Sunday, Feb. 6, 2011.

Here’s a quick take on cuts and who remains, position by position:

Quarterbacks (3)

Aaron Rodgers, Scott Tolzien, Brett Hundley.

As well as Hundley played in the preseason (129.6 passer rating), it would have been tough to cut Tolzien and make the rookie the No. 2. Too much goes into the position, especially when game planning starts. But Hundley is on the fast track to the backup job next year.

Running backs (5)

Eddie Lacy, James Starks, Alonzo Harris, John Kuhn, Aaron Ripkowski.

Rajion Neal was one of the surprise cuts because in preseason games he ran well (4.1-yard average on 17 carries), showed excellent hands out of the backfield (11 receptions, 7.8-yard average) and appeared to pick up the blitz just fine. But the undrafted rookie Harris is big for a running back (237 pounds), ran well in the preseason also (4.0 yards a carry) and played through a broken finger. On the one hand, Neal was the better all-around back. On the other, was there really much difference between him, Harris and John Crockett anyway? Probably not, and the Packers went with the biggest man.

Offensive linemen (9)

David Bakhtiari, Josh Sitton, Corey Linsley, T.J. Lang, Bryan Bulaga, JC Tretter, Don Barclay, Lane Taylor, Josh Walker.

Tretter is the backup center so he’ll be one of the seven game-day actives. Barclay played better the last two preseason games after struggling early in his return from ACL surgery, so he probably has the edge on Walker for the other.

Tight ends (3)

Richard Rodgers, Andrew Quarless, Kennard Backman.

Backman, a sixth-round pick this year, beat out Justin Perillo and undrafted rookie Mitchell Henry for the No. 3 job. Backman blocked poorly, so he won because of his upside as a receiver. Whether he’s active on game days is another matter.

Wide Receivers (5)

Randall Cobb, Davante Adams, Ty Montgomery, Jeff Janis, Myles White.

It’s hard to figure out why the Packers played Jared Abbrederis for basically all but the first series in the preseason finale only to cut him. They had to know he’d be rusty after injuries cost him all of his rookie season (ACL surgery) and then 4 1/2 weeks of camp (concussion). So if the practice squad was the likely plan all along, why expose him to potential injury for 62 snaps after his long layoff? Regardless, teams can claim Abbrederis for their 53-man roster, but those odds are long because of the injury history. Look for him to end up on the Packers’ practice squad, and who knows from there? If he plays well enough, he could end up on the 53 before season's end.

Defensive line (5)

Mike Daniels, B.J. Raji, Mike Pennel, Josh Boyd, Bruce Gaston.

The big decisions come when Datone Jones (one game) and Letroy Guion (three games) return from their suspensions. Neither counts on the roster for now. When Jones comes back, the best guess is the cut will be at another position. When Guion returns, a defensive lineman (Boyd?) could be in danger.

Outside linebackers (5)

Julius Peppers, Mike Neal, Nick Perry, Andy Mulumba, Jayrone Elliott.

Mulumba (third year) and Elliott (second) have improved, and one or both eventually might work into the playing rotation as outside rushers. Both are core special teamers.

Inside linebackers (4)

Clay Matthews, Sam Barrington, Nate Palmer, Jake Ryan.

Time ran out on Carl Bradford, the 2014 fourth-round pick. He was a good college player but probably didn’t have enough quick-twitch to translate to the NFL. The rookie Ryan is pushing Palmer for the No. 3 job.

Cornerbacks (6)

Sam Shields, Casey Hayward, Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins, LaDarius Gunter, Demetri Goodson.

Goodson was and still may be on shaky ground purely for health reasons – he missed three of the last four weeks with a calf and then knee injury. Rookies Randall, Rollins and Gunter look like keepers at this early stage. That's an impressive draft-class haul at this crucial position.

Safeties (5)

Morgan Burnett, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Micah Hyde, Sean Richardson, Chris Banjo.

Richardson and Banjo are core special teamers. Richardson also might have a spot in a specialized defensive package or two because of his great size (6-foot-2, 216) for a defensive back. Hyde is the nickel corner to start the season, assuming the neck injury that sidelined him last week allows him to play in the opener.

Specialists (3)

Mason Crosby, Tim Masthay, Brett Goode.

Struggling punter Tim Masthay finished the preseason on a good note with 45.7-yard gross average and 39.8-yard net against New Orleans.

— and follow him on Twitter @PeteDougherty.

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