ARLINGTON TX - FEBRUARY 06: James Jones #89 of the Green Bay Packers reacts after missing a catch against the Pittsburgh Steelers during Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium on February 6 2011 in Arlington Texas. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Donald Driver is quite possibly my favorite Green Bay Packers player of all time. He is also 36 years old. After consistent year after year of 70 reception, 1000 yard seasons, Driver finally saw a dip in production last season. As Greg Jennings became a star, James Jones and Jordy Nelson got more playing time, and Driver's health suffered, the future Packers Hall of Famer caught 51 balls for 565 yards. His yards per catch average was the lowest he's posted since his rookie season.
When the lockout ends and the NFL's regular operations get underway, James Jones will have a chance to leave the Packers in free agency. Reports have painted Jones as a conflicted man who loves his team and wants to win championships, but more than anything wants to start. Hopefully, I'm not alone in feeling like Jones can have his cake and eat it too.
Though I am always a fan of letting players fight for and earn their jobs in training camp, Driver's production and age should mean that Jones, if he elects to sign a long-term contract with the Packers, enters camp as the starter. I know, he made some bad drops last season, but I don't feel like Jones is a guy that has 'bad hands.' From everything we heard last season, neither do his coaches.
Despite those drops, Jones was more productive than Driver last season. He had one less reception, but had a much better yardage total, a much better YPC average as a result, and even one more touchdown. Jones' measurables are the same as Driver's, and he's nine years younger. He's a very good route runner, and at this point in the careers of the two men, he's more productive. What's not to like?
I think the drops are an aberration, and I think they'll go away. I think that Jones, if he elects to sign a new contract, will start more games opposite Jennings than either Driver or Nelson, and I think that his numbers will be better than last season's as a result, even with the presence of a healthy Jermichael Finley in the team.
If I'm running the show at 1265, I offer Jones a contract comparable to one he would get on the open market. I tell him that he will come into training camp as the projected starter and that he will get the benefit of the doubt if his performance is similar to Nelson and Driver. If he gets significantly outplayed, he loses his job, but he has the tiebreaker at the moment. I feel like Jones would go for it, and I don't think Nelson or Driver would be offended. Everybody wins.
Donald Driver's shelf life is limited, and even though James Jones is already 27, I feel like he's still improving as a player. I'd like to see him start for the Packers for the next five or so years, and if he elects to go somewhere else, I will be sad to see him go.