While the Packers under the watchful eye of GM Ted Thompson have historically been quiet during NFL free agency, the heavily-scrutinized general manager hasn't been afraid to spend money to keep his own players.
Earlier in his term as GM, Thompson had been criticized for throwing out money to keep his own players, while letting other guys from the previous administration leave via free agency fairly easily.
The case now isn't very much different. Thompson likes his guys during the draft, and if all goes to plan, he'll still like them four or five years down the road.
In comes James Jones, the talented young wide receiver who has played each of his four NFL seasons with Green Bay. Jones was drafted in the third round of the 2007 NFL Draft; the same year that wideouts such as Ted Ginn Jr. (San Francisco) and Buster Davis (San Diego) went in the first round.
While Jones may not be in the same breath athletically as Detroit's Calvin Johnson, the second overall pick in the 2007 draft, he has worked his way up to becoming one of the most effective wide receivers of this class.
In Green Bay, the size and raw physicality of Jones has been compared to former Packer great, Sterling Sharpe. Playing amongst such a deep group of wide receivers, Jones has failed to stand out within Green Bay's offense.
To no fault of his own, it's hard to stand out when you're just another piece to a plethora of Packer weapons. Green Bay features high profile, veteran wideouts Greg Jennings and Donald Driver, as well as budding superstar Jermichael Finley at tight end.
Jones and Jordy Nelson have been the third and fourth wide receivers for both of the past two seasons. The Packers have been able to find mismatches with Nelson and Jones against most teams because, generally, Green Bay's third and fourth guys are better than the defense's third and fourth corners.
Many believe that both Jones and Nelson could be starters for many NFL teams, but in Green Bay, they're overshadowed by higher profile players. In fact, most figured Jones would leave the WR-heavy Packers for a starting job, and perhaps more importantly, starting WR money.
The biggest knock on Jones has been his consistency catching the football. He has been the subject of criticism for his TD-costing drops at key times in the 2010 season.
Most thought that with the selection of Kentucky WR Randall Cobb in the second round of this year's draft, Jones would be elsewhere in 2011. However, if it were up to his quarterback, Jones would be back in a Green Bay uniform next season.
On the Homer and Thunder radio show on ESPN Milwaukee, QB Aaron Rodgers was open about his love for Jones.
“James is extremely talented and he’s a guy that I think we have to bring back without a doubt,” the Super Bowl MVP said. “He should be priority No. 1. And I mean that with all my heart. He really should be priority No. 1. We don’t win the Super Bowl without him. And we need him...I think he’s a valuable asset that we don’t want to get rid of.”
Former Packers QB Brett Favre was open about his desire for the team to pursue Randy Moss several years ago, and thus, GM Ted Thompson was criticized for his lack of serious pursuit. It remains to be seen whether or not Thompson values Rodgers' opinion enough to make a personnel move based on the views of his quarterback.
It may be an instance where Rodgers is simply showing support to a WR he's played with for as long as he took over as starter for Favre. However, his comments suggest a true desire for the team to keep Jones around.
It's possible that Thompson saw what he wanted to see during the team's Super Bowl run, and now he's attempting to lock up the core of his team. We've seen it with linebackers Desmond Bishop and A.J. Hawk receiving new contracts based heavily on their play during the Super Bowl season.
Thompson may see a window in which he has an elite quarterback, and he's surrounding Rodgers with as many weapons as possible in order to make multiple Super Bowl runs.
It seems like the market for Jones hasn't been as hot as many may have assumed. Though he's surely received calls, there haven't been any specific teams leaked to the public regarding interest in Jones. You have to figure Ted Thompson will have interest in of one of his own guys at the right price.
The Packers top five targets at wide receiver last year during their Super Bowl XLV run were Jones, Jennings, Driver, Jordy Nelson and seldom used Brett Swain. With Jones back in the fold, Green Bay would enter 2011 with the same top four wideouts, except talented second-round WR Randall Cobb figures to replace Swain.
Along with the addition of TE Jermichael Finley, the aerial attack for the Packers appears to be ready for an attempt to repeat as Super Bowl champs.
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