It’s about time. Per Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, the Green Bay Packers extended top wide receiver Jordy Nelson for four years and $39 million, with $14.2 million guaranteed. Nelson is one of the league’s top wideouts and Aaron Rodgers’ favorite target—his extension is a brilliant move by Green Bay, and one that should give the team an advantage competitively and cap-wise for the next several years.
“One of the league’s top wideouts” does not mean top 15—Nelson is a top-seven wide receiver, if not top-five. Despite missing four games in 2012, Nelson has compiled 3,322 receiving yards, 30 receiving touchdowns and 16.4 yards per reception since 2011. He is also one of the league’s premier deep threats, as noted by John Buccigross of ESPN.
Advanced metrics also favor Nelson. Last season, he was eighth in the NFL with a 70.8 catch percentage, according to Pro Football Focus. The players in front of him either played in the slot, where passes are much easier to catch (Lance Moore, Julian Edelman), or played a significantly lower amount of snaps (Julio Jones).
Nelson has also provided the highest passer rating when targeted with 135.0, per Bleacher Report’s Zach Kruse. Along the sideline, no one is a safer bet to come down with the ball than Nelson, and no one is a safer bet to make good things happen with it.
On film, Nelson doesn’t lose any of his impressiveness. At 6’3” and 215 pounds with a 4.51 40-yard dash time, he compares favorably to emerging Chicago Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery (6’3”, 216 lbs), who ran a 4.48 40-yard dash. Nelson has the requisite athleticism and excellent focus to be the No. 1 target on Green Bay’s offense for years to come. For proof, look at these catches against the 49ers and Giants:
Nelson dominates the boundary on a team where the back-shoulder fade is a vital weapon in its arsenal and in a league where the back-shoulder fade is a defensive back’s worst nightmare.
NFL.com’s Chris Wesseling called Nelson the NFL’s most underrated player, saying that only Calvin Johnson has better game tape at wide receiver than him.
Jordy Nelson is my favorite NFL litmus test. Those who actually watch the games realize the Green Bay Packers vet is one of the league's elite wide receivers, consistently making spectacular plays with a huge catch radius. He's taken the baton from Hall of Famer Cris Carter as the NFL's premier boundary receiver, specializing in sideline and end-zone acrobatics.
The Packers simply could not let a player with that kind of impact go.
Aaron Rodgers makes a lot of average talents look like Pro Bowlers, but Nelson is not one of them—he could thrive in any system with any quarterback. Including the Chicago game where he only played seven snaps, Rodgers was out for eight games in 2013. During his star quarterback’s absence, Nelson managed to compile 504 receiving yards with the likes of Seneca Wallace and Scott Tolzien throwing to him.
Rodgers obviously makes the most of Nelson’s ability, but Nelson isn’t an Eric Decker-type that the Packers feel is expendable.
Nelson’s new contract runs through 2018, while Rodgers’ contract runs through 2019. Green Bay now has its top wide receiver and top quarterback signed for the foreseeable future, which should make general manager Ted Thompson rest much easier at night.
The combination of Nelson and Rodgers alone should put the Packers safely in the league’s top 10 offenses, especially because the two think very highly of each other. According to Packers beat reporter Paul Imig, Rodgers said Nelson has been the team’s best receiver for the past three years.
That shouldn’t change going forward, despite the excellence of fellow receiver Randall Cobb. In fact, Nelson has a good chance to speed past his 2013 statistics this season. With James Jones in Oakland and Jermichael Finley a free agent, Rodgers will need to rely on him more than ever. A thinner receiving corps and a healthy Rodgers mean Nelson could have over 90 receiving yards per game.
That’s another reason the Packers were smart to get an extension with Nelson done—the 29-year-old has an excellent shot at hitting 1,500 receiving yards this season, which would be a career high. On the open market, that would command significantly more than the $9.75 million Nelson is now getting.
It’s a brilliant move, but no surprise in Packerland. Thompson always operates like this—he pays the high-end talent the team already has and knows will fit into the offense or defense. Green Bay signing a player like Julius Peppers happens only once in a blue moon.
The Packers’ history of conservative spending allowed them to get deals done with Rodgers and Nelson without much fuss. If they were desperate to re-sign average starting center Evan Dietrich-Smith, then that would make them feel much less comfortable with giving Nelson nearly $10 million a year.
Thompson’s philosophy is to trust the scouting department to replace marginal talent, and to only extend the players the team cannot live without. Nelson is one of those players.
The Packers' extension of Nelson puts the team in a great position on the field and in the front office. Nelson is easily one of the league’s top players—a huge, fast boundary receiver with excellent hands who can thrive with any quarterback. Now, he is signed to a deal that is worthy of his talents, yet comes across as a bargain for Green Bay’s front office.
Another day in the Packers organization, another smart move.