Although the wide receiver corps was arguably the position group most responsible for the struggles of the Green Bay Packers' offense in 2015, hope springs up for the Packers and their fans that the group will be able to rebound from their ugly season and be a top unit again in 2016.
A large part of that hope is due to the return of Jordy Nelson, who appears on track to be full strength by the time Training Camp begins this summer. The so-called "rehab freak" has been praised heavily by both his head coach and General Manager, and should give Aaron Rodgers his favorite deep threat again.
Beyond Nelson's injury, #2 and #3 options Randall Cobb and Davante Adams dealt with injuries all season long, rookie Ty Montgomery was sidelined after six games, and Jared Abbrederis started the season on the practice squad before missing a handful of games with a rib injury following his promotion to the active roster.
In fact, only three receivers were active for all 16 regular season games in 2015: Cobb, Jeff Janis - who was mainly relegated to special teams until the playoffs - and James Jones, who was signed after final cuts.
Jones, however, was at times the unit's saving grace, as his rapport with Aaron Rodgers helped alleviate Cobb's and Adams' limitations. In fact, Jones had one of his finest seasons in the NFL, setting career highs for receiving yards and yards per catch.
However, with six talented receivers likely to fight for snaps on offense in 2016, it appears that the Packers are planning to move ahead without Jones in their plans, just as they did two years ago. Jones was on Sirius/XM Radio on Friday afternoon discussing his future:
James Jones: I was hoping I would return to GB but I don't know what is going to happen. Looks like I'm going to hit open market. #Packers— SiriusXM NFL Radio (@SiriusXMNFL) March 4, 2016
As discussed above, the Packers already have six receivers returning from a year ago, plus a pair of practice squad players in Jamel Johnson and Ed Williams. Without Jones, there is still plenty of veteran presence as well, with both Nelson and Cobb bringing a wealth of experience to the group.
Ultimately, re-signing Jones at this time would be a luxury that the Packers do not need, and if the team does not see him in their plans for 2016 or beyond, they would be doing him a disservice by offering him a contract. Jones could still find a place on an NFL roster as a possession receiver, as his strength and ability to make catches in traffic and with contact are skills that have not faded. Jones himself certainly thinks he has plenty left in the tank:
FA WR James Jones: You can put my stats up against any of these Free Agent Wide Receivers and my stats are better than them. #Packers— SiriusXM NFL Radio (@SiriusXMNFL) March 4, 2016
For the Packers, though, bringing the veteran back at this time would make little sense. The group of Nelson, Cobb, Adams, Montgomery, Janis, and Abbrederis should be one of the best units in the NFL - if all of those players can stay healthy, of course.