GREEN BAY, Wis. — This won’t be James Jones’ first trip into free agency, but it should be a better experience this time around for the Green Bay Packers’ wide receiver.
In 2011, Jones was coming off the euphoria of winning a Super Bowl. He had also just had his best statistical season of his four-year career, catching 50 passes for 679 yards and five touchdowns. Not turning 27 years old until March of that year, Jones seemed to have room to continue growing as a receiver, as well.
Unfortunately for Jones, the NFL lockout hit and he waited around all summer with no contract. Once the league returned to normal in late July, teams weren’t exactly fighting over each other for Jones’ services. It took a lot of campaigning from Aaron Rodgers to even convince the Packers’ front office that it was worth their time to negotiate a new deal with Jones.
Three seasons later, Jones is a significantly better receiver and has become a valuable piece of Green Bay’s receiving corp. But he’s also realistic about the type of money he might command in free agency.
"I’m not one of those guys who sits at home and says ‘I’m worth 30, 40 million,’" Jones said. "We’ll see what happens when the market comes and guys start making offers — if they start making offers. We don’t even know. We’re sitting here talking about free agency. I could be going to Canada, you never know."
With Jones’ next career step unlikely to be in the Canadian Football League, the question is whether the seven years he’s spent with the Packers will add an eighth year — and perhaps more — onto his resume.
"I would love to be back here," Jones said. "I’ve been here for seven years and would love to be back. You know, you’ve got to go into the offseason, they make decisions up top, I’ll go into the offseason and talk with my agent and we’ll go from there."
In negotiations this offseason, Jones’ representatives can point to how he led the NFL in 2012 with 14 touchdowns and how he is coming off a career-high 817 receiving yards in 2013. Jones also proved some toughness when, as he said in an interview with two Milwaukee media outlets, he played the final two games this season with two broken ribs.
All things considered, there should be a lot of factors working into Jones’ favor as a free agent this offseason.
"Last time I was a free agent, number one, I didn’t come off my best season," Jones said. "People really considered me, Jones drops balls and all that stuff, so it was different. Number two, it was the lockout. You drafted receivers if you needed one with the ballclub, so it was after that. Everybody my year that was a free-agent receiver besides Santonio Holmes really didn’t get a deal.
"It’s different (now). I made some more plays. People know what I can do. I’m excited about it."
Working against Jones now, which was not the case three years ago, is his age. He’ll be 30 in a couple months, which isn’t exactly the age at which most receivers get paid big money. While Jones will certainly garner some interest across the league as a second or third receiver, the best route for both parties may be to reach an agreement on a new deal in Green Bay.
"A-Rod’s my guy," Jones said. "We’ve got a great group of receivers and I would love to come back and play with those dudes. I’ve been here for seven years, it’s not like I’ve only been here for three years and now I’m a free agent. Shoot, I dang near spent my whole career here, so I would love to finish here."
Those decisions are still two months away, though. Free agency doesn’t begin until March 11, giving Jones and the Packers plenty of time to think about what the best course of action should be.
"(Getting) far, far away from the game," Jones said of his immediate offseason plans. "Probably take some vacations with my wife, spend some time with her. You dedicate so much of your time to this, and they’re kind of on the back end once football seasons starts, so I’ll go home and spend some time with her and get away from football."
However, if Jones’ wife has her way, James won’t be playing anywhere else next season.
"I know my wife wants to be here, she loves it here in the cold, but we’ll see," Jones said. "I’ll talk to my wife, talk to my agent and hopefully we make a good decision."