GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers may have let receiver James Jones walk no matter what, but having an up-and-comer like Jarrett Boykin made it easier for them to watch one of their veteran receives sign with the Oakland Raiders in free agency.
Although coach Mike McCarthy said this week that one didn't necessarily have to do with the other, Jones' relatively modest price ($10 million over three years with $3.65 million guaranteed) suggested the Packers weren't interested in the soon-to-be-30-year-old receiver anymore.
"I wouldn't say we were looking to move on from him," McCarthy told reporters earlier this week at the NFL annual meetings. "It's the business part of it. There's going to be one or two individuals every year, if you're doing your job right, [if] your roster is built the right way, you're bringing a young class in, there are players that are going to move on.”
A year ago, McCarthy and receivers coach Edgar Bennett probably weren't sure what they had in Boykin, who was cut by the Jacksonville Jaguars and then came to the Packers' rookie camp on a tryout basis in 2012. He made the roster his first season but saw little action, catching only five passes for 27 yards.
The start of last season was more of the same for the 6-foot-2, 218-pounder who left Virginia Tech as the school's career leader in catches (184) and receiving yards (2,884). He did not catch a pass the first four games of 2013. In fact, he played only 10 snaps on offense combined in those first four games.
It's easy to say it now, but Bennett insisted even during that time, he felt Boykin would be ready to contribute if needed.
"It goes back to preparation," Bennett said shortly after the season. "That's really the starting point, but then also the man. You look at his character, his approach; it matters to him. Regardless of what was said in some areas, you can't really measure the heart of the man and his passion and his desire, along with his skill set. I think he's done a phenomenal job."
Once he got his chance after both Jones and Randall Cobb were injured against the Baltimore Ravens on Oct. 13, Boykin showed that. Getting starter-type playing time over the final 12 games, Boykin delivered with 49 catches for 681 yards and three touchdowns. Over 16 games, those numbers would equate to 65 catches for 908 yards, both of which are totals Jones never produced in any of his seven seasons.
"As far as our receiver group, you've got to be excited about obviously Jordy [Nelson] and Randall and Boykin," McCarthy said. "I can't say enough about Boykin. The young man is a heck of a player. He's done it the right way, [starting with] special teams. He's performed [in] every opportunity he's given."