The only veteran acquisition Ted Thompson made in 2015 turned out to be crucial.
James Jones’ return to the Green Bay Packers the day after final cuts couldn’t have come at a better time. Within the first six games of the season, the Packers’ top four receivers — Jordy Nelson (torn ACL) Randall Cobb (sprained AC joint), Ty Montgomery (ankle) and Davante Adams (ankle) — had suffered season-altering injuries.
A bargain at $870,000, the 31-year-old Jones stepped right back into the offense and looked as if he’d never left. He had one of the best six-game stretches of his career with 21 receptions for 424 yards and six touchdowns during the Packers’ 6-0 start. Once the weather turned cold, Jones also gained a cult-like following for wearing hoodies underneath his jerseys on game day.
Jones, who was coming off a lone season in Oakland, wound up leading all Packers receivers with 1,185 offensive snaps, 890 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. After Cobb bruised his lung in a playoff game in Arizona, the only receivers the Packers had available were Jones, and second-year receivers Jared Abbrederis and Jeff Janis.
While his contribution was unexpectedly significant, Jones’ season wasn’t without its doldrums. When the offensive issues started, Jones saw a decrease in his productivity after the Week 7 bye and was held to one or fewer catches in six of the Packers’ 18 games. His prolonged struggles to get open against premium cornerbacks became an issue as the season progressed.
Jones was matched against Cardinals All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson in the Packers’ 26-20 overtime playoff loss in Arizona. Two days after the loss, Jones told reporters in Green Bay’s final locker-room session that he’d “love to finish my career” with the Packers, but that future is again uncertain.
The Packers have an abundance of receivers under contract for 2016, and Nelson and Montgomery are expected to be back for training camp. Furthermore, NFL Network reported during the NFL scouting combine that the Packers could be in the market for a complementary receiver in free agency.
The free-agent pool of receivers isn’t deep, especially after Chicago placed the franchise tag on Alshon Jeffery. Jones, who’ll turn 32 at the end of March, figures to be among the top performing receivers on the market, though there are younger options such as Travis Benjamin (26), Marvin Jones (25) and Rishard Matthews (26), too.
Regardless of what happens, Jones was pleased he was able to add another chapter to his career with the Packers. In reuniting with the team that drafted him in 2007, the 10th-year receiver felt he proved he has something left after being cut twice, by Oakland and the New York Giants, last summer.
“Man, it was great to be back,” Jones said. “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. … But it felt good to be back.”
James Jones, 10th-year receiver
The skinny: Unrestricted free agent
The snaps: 1,185 total (1,185 offense)
The stats: 50 catches, 890 yards, eight touchdowns
2015 salary: $870,000