With each side wanting something done, it stands to reason that the Green Bay Packers and receiver Jordy Nelson will eventually come to terms on a contract extension before the start of the 2014 season.
Nelson, 29, is scheduled to enter the final year of a four-year deal signed ahead of the 2011 season. He provided the Packers with production far outweighing that $12.6 million deal, and now he's ready to cash in on what could be his final major contract.
The Packers will likely back up the Brinks truck to Nelson's door sometime in the coming months.
Back in February, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reported the Packers were set on making Nelson's extension an offseason priority. Also that month, Adam Caplan of ESPN passed along word that the Packers and Nelson's representatives were already in discussions on a new deal, although no timetable was set.
At organized team activities Tuesday, Nelson told reporters he'd prefer a new deal be done before the season.
"You want it done so you and your family are comfortable, you want it done so you don't have to worry about it," he said, via the Associated Press. "I think on both sides. They get it done they can start working on someone else."
Nelson was coy about ongoing conversations with the Packers, but he appears to understand how the business of extensions work in the NFL.
"Everyone knows deals get done closer to training camp," Nelson said, via Rob Demovsky of ESPN.
When two sides of a negotiation so clearly want a deal done, and such a deal makes so much sense for both parties, it almost always gets done. Expect Nelson's extension to come before September and possibly even before training camp, which begins in late July.
Working out the financials is the hurdle needing clearing for both Nelson and the Packers.
There are essentially three tiers of upper-level receiver contracts currently in the NFL.
Nelson won't touch the top tier, which is rightfully occupied by Calvin Johnson ($16.2 million per year average) and Larry Fitzgerald ($16.1 million). And his value is almost certainly higher than the third tier, which can be loosely defined at the top by Victor Cruz ($8.6 million) and at the bottom by receivers making in the $6-7 million a year range.
That leaves Nelson somewhere in the second tier.
Behind Johnson and Fitzgerald and above Cruz sit seven receivers making between $9 and $12 million per year.
The seven receivers, in descending order by highest average value: Mike Wallace ($12 million), Dwayne Bowe ($11.2 million), Vincent Jackson ($11.1 million), Percy Harvin ($10.7 million), Brandon Marshall ($10 million), Andre Johnson ($9.7 million) and Greg Jennings ($9.0 million).
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Wallace, one of the prized free agents of the 2013 class, signed a five-year, $60 million deal (with $30 million guaranteed) with the Miami Dolphins. He was 26. The Dolphins probably overpaid—unless you think Wallace is the third-best receiver in the game—for a straight-line track star, but Nelson still won't come close to matching his deal. It's an outlier better served as a baseline for the likes of Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas.
Wallace's big payday definitely got an assist from Bowe, who before free agency agreed to a five-year deal worth $56 million, with $15 million guaranteed, from the Kansas City Chiefs. Then 28 years old and just days away from entering unrestricted free agency with Wallace, Bowe leveraged the receiver-needy Chiefs into a big deal.
Kansas City's accepted offer in 2013 trumped the one signed by Vincent Jackson a year early. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers gave Jackson, an unrestricted free agent, five years and $55.5 million, with $26 million guaranteed. He was 29 years old when he jumped from San Diego to Tampa Bay.
A very good haul for Nelson will likely look something like the deals for Bowe and Jackson, two comparable receivers. A four-year extension worth $52 million total would push Nelson's five-year earnings into the $56 million-range (including his 2014 cap hit of $4.4 million), right in line with both aforementioned receivers.
The Packers will look to other second-tier receivers to help gauge Nelson's value.
Harvin's deal with Seattle is worth $67 million over six years, with $25.5 million guaranteed. But his skill set is unique and mostly unlike Nelson's. He's a poor comparison in this situation (but maybe not for Randall Cobb, another priority for the Packers).
Marshall, 30, just recently helped reset the market. He signed a three-year extension worth $30 million with the Chicago Bears. The deal was heavy with guarantees, as $22.3 million of the contract is fully guaranteed.
Johnson's seven-year deal signed in 2010 contained $48 million in guarantees. He earned the money after back-to-back 1,500-yard seasons in which he solidified himself as one of the game's very best receivers. His average salary makes that deal now look like a relative bargain.
Finally, you have to wonder how much the Packers will value the deal signed by Greg Jennings in negotiations with Nelson. At 29 years old, Jennings left Green Bay and agreed to a five-year, $45 million deal with the Minnesota Vikings. It included $17.8 million guaranteed.
Overall, the seven receivers averaged five years, $53.7 million total and $26.4 million guaranteed over their respective deals.
And if we take out Wallace (outlier), Harvin (different kind of receiver) and Johnson (aged deal), the numbers come down to 4.5 years, $46.6 million total and $20.3 million guaranteed.
Nelson's eventual extension will almost certainly fall between Bowe and Jennings.
He has produced at an elite level, going over 1,000 yards in both 2011 and 2013 (an injury cost him four games in 2012). His 30 touchdown receptions rank fourth since 2011, and only five receivers have a higher yards-per-catch average (16.5).
Just as importantly, Nelson has developed a strong rapport with Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who looks as comfortable throwing to Nelson as any receiver he's worked with over his six years as Green Bay's starter. The two have an innate connection, whether it's on a back-shoulder throw, in a scramble situation or when the game's on the line. Most remember Cobb's long touchdown to beat the Bears in Week 17 last season, but it was Rodgers' high-pressure completion to Nelson on fourth down that extended the Packers' final drive. No play better demonstrates the trust level between the two players.
Overall, Nelson has averaged 67 catches for 1,107 yards and 10 touchdowns per season since 2011. Those numbers trump the three-year averages for Bowe, Jackson and Jennings ahead of their deals.
Nelson benefits from a great quarterback, and the Packers invested draft picks into the position last month. But the Packers are likely just months away from putting Nelson firmly into the second tier of receiver money, which is right where he belongs.
Predicted Extension: Four years, $45.5 million total and $24 million guaranteed (Five years, $50.9 million overall)
In this scenario, Nelson receives $11.3 million per year in new money, and over half the new money is guaranteed. In total, his new five-year deal averages roughly $10.2 million and runs out when Nelson is 34. It's a significant price to pay for the Packers, but Nelson is a top-level receiver who will be projected to produce over the course of the entire deal.
All contract information provided by Spotrac.com.
Zach Kruse covers the NFC North for Bleacher Report.
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