James Jones wants to return to the Green Bay Packers for another season in 2016, but he knows there are no guarantees.
Jones, a third-round pick in 2007, led the Packers in receiving after spending one season away from Green Bay. He was cut by the Oakland Raiders last offseason, cut by the New York Giants after training camp. Then he signed a one-year deal with the Packers one week before the regular-season opener.
From there, Jones probably exceeded expectations. He finished with 50 catches for a team-high 890 yards and eight touchdowns.
“Man, it was great to be back,” Jones said Monday morning as he cleaned out his locker. “Be back with my teammates, a lot of guys that I came in with for the first seven years of my career. It felt good. I wish it would have ended a different way. It didn’t, but it felt good to be back.”
The question is whether Jones’ time in Green Bay has ended, not just the season itself. The Packers receiver group in 2016 figures to be crowded with young players needing a healthy portion of snaps to develop, and that’s without the team using a high draft pick on the position this spring.
In their final game, 2014 fifth-round pick Jared Abbrederis and seventh-round pick Jeff Janis showed they could be significant contributors next season. The Packers will also likely be patient with 2014 second-round pick Davante Adams, who had a dismal sophomore season but still represents a primary investment from general manager Ted Thompson.
Off the field, Jones’ veteran leadership might have been as important for the Packers’ young receivers as his production. But they’ll have that veteran voice with Jordy Nelson back after missing the entire 2015 season with a torn ACL.
Nelson, unavailable to the media all season because he was on injured reserve, declined to speak with reporters Monday morning. Jones said he expects big things from Nelson next season.
“Jordy will be ready,” Jones said. “He will be ready a lot sooner than a lot of people think he will be ready. The guy has been in here, putting in a lot of work. He sleeps with his ice machine on, he takes all that stuff home, he works hard. He’ll be back. I’m proud of him.”
Jones didn’t finish the season particularly strong. After catching seven touchdowns in his first seven games, he scored just twice after October. Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson blanketed Jones during the Packers loss in the NFC divisional playoff round Saturday night, holding him without a catch on just two targets.
Clearly, Jones is not suited to be a No. 1 or No. 2 receiving threat for a contending team at this stage in his career. Jones will turn 32 years old in March, and he never was a speedster as a young receiver. Still, it might be wise for the Packers to consider re-signing him. He could provide value as a No. 3 or No. 4 option, an insurance policy if Adams’ struggles this season become something more than a fluke.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers said last month he would like Jones to return in 2016. It may be unlikely, but Jones would like to be with the Packers next season too.
“I would love to finish my career here,” Jones said. “But I said that last time. So it’s a crazy business. We’ll see want happens.”