Free-agent-to-be Cobb about to find out his worth to Packers

Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb posted career highs this season with 91 receptions, 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Elaine Thompson/Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

GREEN BAY, Wis. — The aftermath of the Green Bay Packers’ NFC championship game loss was still fresh in the mind of Randall Cobb. He was thinking about the past, not the future.

In less than seven weeks, though, Cobb will headline a group of 14 players from the Packers’ 2014 roster who will be free agents. Cobb is one of 11 who have unrestricted free-agent status, with three others restricted.

Cobb’s importance to Green Bay’s offensive success is unquestioned. He’s coming off his best season, a year in which he posted career highs with 91 receptions, 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns. Across the NFL, those numbers were good enough for Cobb to rank 11th in yards, ninth in catches and fourth in receiving touchdowns.

As is often the case with Cobb, not even finishing in those spots was good enough for him.

"I’ve always been my biggest critic," Cobb said. "I feel like there was still more out there to accomplish. Obviously when you look at how close we were to Arizona (Super Bowl 49), that was my one and primary goal, and not to be able to accomplish that, it definitely hurts. It definitely hurts the way that we went out."

To make Cobb an even more enticing prospect, he’s just 24 years old. He won’t turn 25 until late in the 2015 training camp. That’s the advantage for a player entering the league at age 20 like Cobb did. By playing well, he’s already able to negotiate his first contract extension at an age younger than some rookies who are first entering the NFL. For example, Cobb is younger than two Packers 2014 draft picks, Khyri Thornton and Demetri Goodson. He’s also just four months older than rookie wide receiver Jared Abbrederis.

As far as Cobb was aware, there were no negotiations between his agent and Green Bay’s front office during the season. But staying with the organization that selected him 64th overall in the 2011 draft has been Cobb’s stated preference all along.

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"I mean, of course; I think I’ve made that obvious," Cobb said when asked if he wanted to return to the Packers. "But like I’ve said before, this is a business. You don’t know how it’s going to go, what direction it’s going to go in. So you just have to sit around.

"Hopefully I’ve put myself in position where it will handle itself. But only time can tell."

Perhaps working in Green Bay’s negotiating favor is that the 2015 free-agent pool is loaded with talent. Just at the wide receiver position alone there’s Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas, Torrey Smith and Jeremy Maclin, to name a few. There’s also players at other positions who will take up huge chunks of a team’s cap space, including defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh, outside linebacker Justin Houston and tight end Julius Thomas.

If Cobb is looking for a new deal in the range of what Jordy Nelson signed for in July 2014, that would be four years and $39 million. Nelson’s average annual salary of $9.75 million has him as the league’s eighth-highest paid receiver.

Narrowing the search to comparable slot receivers like Cobb, perhaps the extension Victor Cruz signed two years ago with the New York Giants will be noted. Cruz was coming off a 2012 season with 86 catches, 1,092 yards and 10 touchdowns when he was rewarded with a five-year, $43 million deal. However, Cobb’s 2014 statistics were better than Cruz’s 2012 stats in each of those categories.

"I haven’t signed on the dotted line yet, so I can’t be for certain on anything," Cobb said. "I can only take it day by day. That’s pretty much it."

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The Packers project to have about $30 million in cap space this offseason. In addition to Cobb, Green Bay also has to decide whether to re-sign right tackle Bryan Bulaga (who was part of the team’s best offensive line in a long time and might have made himself into a core player), cornerbacks Tramon Williams and Davon House, defensive tackles Letroy Guion and B.J. Raji, quarterbacks Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien, fullback John Kuhn, special-teamer Jarrett Bush and inside linebacker Jamari Lattimore.

Assuming the Packers retain either Williams or House, Guion or Raji, and Flynn or Tolzien, it won’t be easy for general manager Ted Thompson to spread the money around. That’s especially true if Cobb’s performance this season has driven his own price tag higher than what Nelson got.

Being part of one of the NFL’s best wide-receiver duos, Cobb might be too valuable for Green Bay to let walk, no matter how much it takes.

"It’s a business, so we’ll have to wait and see," Cobb said.

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