For a team that's not known for handing out big contracts, at least in free agency, the Green Bay Packers have looked like the New York Yankees this year. Their latest move, though, is a clear sign of where the franchise is going in the future and who will be next in line for a big contract.
Packers and Jordy Nelson have struck a deal. It’s a 4-year extension worth $39M, source says. Huge. $14.2M guaranteed.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) July 26, 2014
#Packers WR Jordy Nelson averages $9.76M on his new deal, which is a large upgrade. He gets an $11.5M signing bonus. Well-deserved— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) July 26, 2014
By all statistical measures, Nelson is certainly deserving of this extension. He was a second-round pick in 2008 and had three decent years before emerging as Aaron Rodgers' favorite target in 2011 with three consecutive seasons averaging at least 15.2 yards per catch and catching 30 touchdowns during that span.
However, the one person with a wider smile than Nelson on Saturday is Randall Cobb. Like Nelson, prior to signing his extension, Cobb is due to become a free agent at the end of this season. His rookie contract is paying him $812,648 in base salary for 2014.
Also like Nelson, Cobb has outplayed his current deal. After a decent rookie season with 25 catches for 375 yards, he took off in 2012 with 80 receptions for 954 yards and eight touchdowns.
The 2013 season was disappointing for Cobb, who played in just six regular-season games after breaking his leg against the Baltimore Ravens, but he did make the biggest play of the year for the Packers with a 48-yard touchdown catch on fourth down with less than 40 seconds to play against that Chicago Bears to clinch the NFC North title.
Those numbers and clutch performances put Cobb in line to cash in on the success he's had with Rodgers. He's also better suited to get a big deal because he's only going to be 24 years old next offseason, five years younger than Nelson and former Packer Greg Jennings, who signed a five-year deal with the Minnesota Vikings last year that includes $18 million in guarantees.
Unfortunately for Packers fans, Cobb's long-term future isn't likely to be in Green Bay. According to Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com, as of April 22, the Packers had $114,262,013 in salary commitments for next season, which was the eighth-most at the time.
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That obviously doesn't include Nelson's new salary figure, so it will go up. The Packers also have impending free agents B.J. Raji and Bryan Bulaga to worry about signing.
The big knock for Cobb, even more than missing 10 games last season, is that he's "only" a slot receiver.
ESPN.com's Mike Sando (subscription required) polled NFL executives and coaches about next year's deep free-agent wide receiver class. Cobb came in fifth, ahead of names like Torrey Smith, Wes Welker, Roddy White (who recently signed an extension with the Atlanta Falcons) and Hakeem Nicks.
Cobb is the model person and will always show up on time. Crabtree comes off whinier, and the guy from Seattle [Richard Sherman] got in his head. Cobb is coming from the right program with Mike McCarthy, one with structure and discipline and doing the right things. Crabtree does play outside more, but I'd rather coach Cobb.
While that is just one man's opinion, if you assume that Crabtree can get a deal in line with what Nelson got—Crabtree ranked third on Sando's list, ahead of both Nelson and Cobb—the fact that Cobb is getting pumped up that high suggests there will be big money available to him.
Signing Cobb to an extension should be a priority for the Packers now with Nelson locked up. Given his lack of track record, especially compared to Nelson, Cobb might get a low-ball offer, if one comes, with the Packers hoping he accepts based on fear of another big injury like he had last year.
There's certainly some validity to that, but if Cobb plays out the season and bets on himself, like Joe Flacco did in Baltimore two years ago, it has the potential to pay off for the better of his career and wallet.
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