Every Packer fan is now aware of the return of wide receiver James Jones. After leaving Green Bay to play the 2014 season with the Oakland Raiders, Jones was somewhat surprisingly cut by the Raiders. Jones then went to the New York Giants this preseason, were he was cut once again. While many fans are surely happy to see James Jones’ turtle-neck adorned face back in the green and gold, others have been left wondering whether bringing Jones back is really the right move, especially at the cost of cutting young receiver Myles White. Surely the only reason to cut young talent for aging talent is to bring in an impact player that can make a significant difference in making a push for another Lombardi Trophy. But, at 31, how much does James Jones really have left in the tank if he’s been cut by two teams in the past 4 months?
While it is certainly true that Jones has likely lost a step or two since he last donned a Packers’ uniform, the tale of the tape and the statistics certainly make a powerful case for the team bringing Jones back into the fold.
The first consideration that ought to be made is that rosters are determined not just by sheer talent, but by differing schemes and methodological approaches. The situation in one franchise is often quite different than the situation in another. The Oakland Raiders made a shift this offseason toward rebuilding their wide receiver corps with younger talent. The team brought in 27 year old Michael Crabtree and used the 4th overall pick of the 2015 draft on Amari Cooper. With other young talent on the squad like Rod Streater, the 31 year old James Jones was less desirable for a team headed in a new, younger direction. Likewise in New York, the oldest receiver to make the roster is 28 year old Victor Cruz. The squad, lead by 2014’s Offensive Rookie of the Year Odell Beckham Jr., seems to be trending younger as well.
It’s not that the Packers aren’t trending younger too. General Manager Ted Thompson always fields one of the younger teams in the league, drafting and developing young players, only re-signing key pieces of the team at larger contracts.
However, the 2015 Packers find themselves in a different situation that the 2015 Raiders or Giants. The Packers are poised for a Super Bowl run, having found themselves the favorite among NFL pundits to bring home the Lombardi. The loss of Jordy Nelson put the Packers in a unique situation. Without mortgaging the future, there was a real need to bring some veteran leadership and consistency back to a suddenly very green wide receiver group. The team could not afford to let the loss of Nelson significantly impact its chance at a championship.
While Thompson does not often sign veterans in free agency, he does have a history of bringing back ex-Packers when the team is in need. In 2009, Thompson brought back Ahman Green when injuries befell the running back group. In 2013, he brought back quarterback Matt Flynn when the team was searching for a way to manage the storm of losing QB Aaron Rodgers. Both players had previously been cut from mediocre teams, and both players managed to contribute positively with the Packers, justifying their return.
And yet, a case can be made that Jones is likely to make an even larger impact for the Packers this year than either Green or Flynn did. Jones accumulated 666 yards and 6 TDs for the Raiders last season. While those aren’t exactly the Pro Bowl numbers that Jones put up with the Packers, they’re nothing to sneeze at either. Most Packer fans will, for example, admit that wide receiver Davante Adams was a key part of the passing game last season, but compare his stats last season (446 yards, 3 TDs) to those of Jones.
The best case for Jones as an impact player this year, however, may be in his returning to the outside, a place where he is more comfortable and well-suited at this point in his career. Jones had been moved from playing outside in Green Bay to the slot position in Oakland, mostly to help with the development of then rookie QB Derek Carr.
In May Jones said, “It was my first year ever playing the slot…. I do whatever the coach tells me to do and, with a young quarterback in Derek Carr, they felt like having me in the slot would best suit him.” It is clear, however, that Jones’ best fit is outside, something which he recognizes. “…I believe I’m stronger on the outside. That’s where I do all my damage, making tough catches in traffic. I learned a lot in the slot. I caught a lot of balls but, as you can see, I didn’t have a lot of long catches. When I was outside, I was really successful.”
So, while Jones is one year older, at 31, he’s far from old, even in NFL standards. He will be moving back to his position of strength, leaving 2014’s worst-ranked offense for arguably the best offensive in football. The change from rookie Derek Carr to NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers is not of little significance either. Repeating his numbers from 2014 will go along way toward patching the loss of Nelson. And, given the much more favorable situation, there is certainly reason to anticipate numbers that are even better.
So while Jones at 31 is far from a burner or an athlete with incredible elusiveness, he won’t be expected to fill that niche. What Jones will be expected to bring is veteran leadership and know-how, a reliability and toughness in picking up those late game 3rd and 7s that are crucial to win. And this is something that Jones has proven that he can still do in 2015.
— Andy Herman (@SconnieSports) September 7, 2015
— Andy Herman (@SconnieSports) September 7, 2015
Not bad. https://t.co/UsnsME8bKL
— Aaron Nagler (@AaronNagler) September 6, 2015
The Packers would like nothing better than for Ty Montgomery and Jeff Janis to ascend past Jones on the depth chart at some point in 2015. But the rapport with Rodgers, the knowledge of the game, and steady play outside certainly won’t hurt in the meantime. And, in a year that is essentially Super Bowl or bust, the insurance of a familiar, reliable target may prove invaluable if Montgomery and Janis are not yet ready.
So get out your turtlenecks and prepare for some more Aaron Rodgers to James Jones TD passes. Just pray that we don’t see this celebration again.
The last time James Jones caught a TD from Aaron Rodgers, he gave us this: https://t.co/WHkzesUv9j
— Zach Kruse (@zachkruse2) September 7, 2015
Taylor O\'Neill is a Packer fan born and raised in Oshkosh, WI. He currently lives in Florida and is pursuing his PhD. Taylor is a writer with PackersTalk.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @TaylorONeill87 for more Packer news.