First comes the inconvenient truth: Jordy Nelson turns 33 in the spring and is due to count more than $12 million against the Green Bay Packers’ salary cap in 2018. His numbers have plummeted this season, especially with Aaron Rodgers injured. Nelson has yet to surpass 79 yards receiving in a game and hasn’t had more than 35 since Week 6.
Now comes the speculation: Might the Packers consider moving on from a player who has been one of Rodgers’ most trusted targets for nearly a decade and whom his quarterback said last week still had plenty of “juice” left?
That’s a question the team has been mulling for some time. It’s one that will weigh heavier as the offseason nears closer, the first one in eight years after which the Packers will not have made the playoffs.
In the first five games of the season — all with Rodgers — Nelson caught 19 passes for 230 yards and six touchdowns, the latter number actually leading the league at the time. But Week 5 also was the last time Nelson caught a TD pass this season. Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone early in Week 6, and Nelson has virtually disappeared from the offense after being annually one of the league’s more dangerous receivers.
Some of that clearly is tied to the fact that Nelson and backup QB Brett Hundley never established a strong on-field rapport. One receiver who clearly did see an uptick in his production was Davante Adams, who is putting together his finest season despite the QB carousel.
Adams is a pending free agent who likely will command a seven-digit annual salary and must be considered a priority to re-sign in the offseason. Throw in the fact that Randall Cobb is also under contract for a big figure ($12.75 million in 2018), and you can see the team’s dilemma. Even before Adams has been taken care of, the Packers have a ton of money invested in the position already and sinking $35 million or more into Nelson, Cobb and Adams next year just isn’t financially feasible.
Rodgers has been one of Nelson’s biggest advocates, and a source with whom we spoke this season indicated that the QB’s input on Nelson could be strongly considered. But the Packers also have done business in a certain way, letting some top free agents walk in recent years, that has upset some veteran players.
With Rodgers having just turned 34 years old, the Packers’ Super Bowl window is starting to close. The team just put him back on injured reserve after a one-game return with their playoff hopes still hanging in the balance last week. It’s clear that the roster isn’t as strong as it needs to be with a loss in Week 14 with a less-than-fully-healthy Rodgers and a 3-4 record (with the three wins coming against teams with a combined 8-34 record) with Hundley at quarterback.
The Packers need to add talent before they let it walk out the door, which makes shipping out Nelson a tricky decision. The source indicated that nothing has yet been decided and that conversations of how to proceed remain ongoing and not likely to be stamped until after the season.
But watching Nelson struggle in Rodgers’ Week 15 return — especially missing on their patented back-shoulder throw early in the game against the Carolina Panthers — was not a positive development. His three-catch, 28-yard game was the eighth straight contest in which he didn’t surpass the 40-yard mark.
Granted, he’ll get more chances to redeem himself in Week 16 against the playoff-bound Minnesota Vikings, owners of one of the best pass defenses in the NFL, as Adams (concussion) has been ruled out. Even with Hundley at quarterback, Nelson could change the narrative with a strong two-game finish.
The most likely end result is that the Packers approach Nelson about a salary reduction in the offseason. If he doesn’t accept it, the Packers could walk and they’d be on the hook for only $2.3 million in dead money. Nelson also has spoken in the past about eventually walking away from the game, saying that it’s a function of health. He has not said if he’ll consider retiring after the season, even though doing so would take the burden off the Packers for having to make a move that would be unpopular with fans who have grown to respect Nelson as one of the more beloved players in recent years.