By many measures, James Jones had a very good season in 2015 and he should be commended for it. He was instrumental in the Green Bay Packers' early 6-game winning streak (early games count just as much as late games), he was excellent on "free plays", and he was extremely efficient with his touches. Early in the year, he briefly led all receivers in DVOA and finished a respectable 18th. His big plays were generally huge, game-changing plays, and by all accounts he is a good guy and a good locker room presence, if you put stock into such things.
That said, Jones (who turned 32 on Thursday) does have his limitations and he occasionally disappeared from games altogether. He was completely shut out twice after the initial winning streak, including a horrific no-show in a loss to the Bears where he was targeted 6 times, catching none of those passes. The Lions also took him completely out in another loss at Lambeau Field, and he had several rough games down the stretch, especially in terms of catch percentage. Jones was like a low-OBP slugger. If he made contact it was often spectacular, and he posted a career-best 17.8 yards per reception, but sometimes he simply failed to make contact. On the season, Jones caught 50 of 99 balls, meaning he actually had a lower catch % than did Davante Adams, who caught 50 of 94. Jones did much more with his receptions, but you do not want to be on the wrong side of Davante Adams for much of anything.
What you had in Jones was a useful, if imperfect receiver, which does have value, and it is not even difficult to imagine him having another productive season with Jordy Nelson back in the fold, but there are a lot of red flags about his future. Even though he would come cheap, it's probably best to say a heartfelt "thank you" and move on. Here's why.
1. Jones would be unlikely to capitalize on as many free plays.
First of all, keep in mind that Jones gained over a quarter of his yards on plays where the opponent either jumped offsides or had 12 men on the field. He should absolutely get a ton of credit for punishing opponents on free plays, but over the course of the year, opponents adjusted and the Packers stopped getting as many of them. I would wager that next year they won't see nearly as many successful free play bombs as they did this year, and Jones' numbers would suffer as a result.
2. Jones is actually a poor fit for Aaron Rodgers' style.
I have seen some people claiming that James Jones never got open. This is a vast oversimplification, and Jones actually was able to get open fairly regularly. He can still pull off a nifty double move if given the time to do so, and he's a decent enough route runner.
Where this criticism has some validity is on any route within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. Jones is very skilled at using his body to screen off defenders and fight for the ball, but receivers who have this skill are not really "open" in the eyes of Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers is famously careful with the ball, and part of the reason for this is his amazing vision and lightning quick decision-making as to whether a player is open or not. Rodgers is clearly willing to take a sack instead of making a risky throw and so a player like Jones, who is sometimes "open" even when covered closely, will not see as many passes come his way.
Rodgers is extremely skilled at anticipating when a receiver will make his move and pop open, and unfortunately, this sometimes never happens with Jones. There are a lot of WRs who have made a good living by doing this, it's just not a skill set that happens to work well in Green Bay.
3. Jones is likely to see a huge regression on a per-catch basis.
Jones averaged 17.8 yards per reception to lead the team in that category for anyone with 10 or more catches. It was also a career high for the 31-year-old, eclipsing his previous high of 16.7 yards per reception, set in 2011 at the age of 27.
Jones can be forgiven for his paltry 9 yards a catch in his season with the Raiders, but even in his vintage Packer days he was much more likely to average 13.5 yards or so. The fact is that Jones is very likely to come back down to earth as he continues into his decline phase, and that last year was actually very fluky.
4. The Packers have a lot of receivers, and a draft upcoming
Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb still provide one of the best outside/slot combos in the league, Ty Montgomery will be back from his injury at full strength (hopefully), Jared Abbrederis showed some promise down the stretch, and Jeff Janis was a playoff hero. And I hear there is still some hope for Davante Adams too. That's 6 WRs who played significant roles all back in camp before we even get to Jones, and if Ted Thompson doesn't draft at least one receiver I'll be floored. You can make an argument that Jones is still the 3rd-best of this group, but even if that's true, it probably won't be true for very long, and young receivers need to play in order to develop. They will also need a spot for Moritz Boehringer, of course.
Don't forget that Aaron Rodgers will have to throw some passes to the tight ends as well, with Richard Rodgers likely expanding his red-zone role and Jared Cook picking up a bigger target share than Andrew Quarless occupied in 2015.
5. If needed, it's entirely possible that Jones will be available
Jones was cut from the Giants last year, after all. Much in the way that Matt Flynn is always out there if you really need him, Jones can probably be had again in an emergency situation. Jones might catch on somewhere on the strength of last season, but every NFL team knows these facts as well, and Jones is probably as likely to be out of the league as he is on a team at the start of next season.
I know this all sounds very negative towards Jones, but that is not my intent at all. He has been a very productive and very important member of the Packers, and he was certainly a net positive last year. (Editor's note: that's even without mentioning the hoodie thing, which we thought was a lot of fun.) With all of that said, if 32-year-old James Jones is soaking up a significant portion of your team's receiving targets, you are probably not a Super Bowl contender.