GREEN BAY, Wis. -- All available evidence suggested that the Green Bay Packers and receiver James Jones would amicably separate this summer. Jones was no doubt seeking a market-level second contract, and the Packers already have a full house of established pass-catchers and added a high draft choice to the mix this spring.
It made sense that Jones would sign elsewhere and the Packers would roll with Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson and rookie Randall Cobb at receiver, with a fully healed Jermichael Finley at tight end. But two things happened on the way to what the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Tom Silverstein first reported was a three-year contract agreement between the Packers and Jones. (ESPN's John Clayton has confirmed the deal.)
First, quarterback Aaron Rodgers began publicly lobbying for Jones' return, saying Jones should be the Packers' No. 1 offseason priority. (Clearly he was not, because their first move was to re-sign place-kicker Mason Crosby.) Jones confirmed to Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com that Rodgers, as well as Driver and Jennings, went to bat for him.
"Having your teammates push for you and want you back, not a lot of guys would do that, two high-profile guys like them, two dudes," Jones said. "And for Greg and Donald [to] want me back on that team, that shows how unselfish we are."
Speaking in the Packers' locker room shortly before Sunday's agreement, Rodgers said the Packers "need" to re-sign both Jones and running back John Kuhn, another unrestricted free agent. (The countdown for Kuhn's new deal begins in 3, 2, 1 ...)
"Those are two guys out there that are important to us," Rodgers said. "It's not my decision, but I'm definitely pulling for those guys to come back."
Why was Rodgers so adamant about Jones, whose otherwise productive seasons with the Packers have been marred by some high-profile drops? Ultimately, I think it comes down to human nature. People like what they know and they worry about what's next. Rodgers has devoted four years to developing a level of chemistry with Jones. Why not continue capitalizing on that experience for as long as possible?
Second, a number of teams that originally expressed interest in Jones went in different directions. As we discussed Saturday, the Minnesota Vikings agreed to terms with receiver Michael Jenkins. On Sunday morning, coach Leslie Frazier said he had the group "we're going to roll with," indicating Jones was no longer a possibility.
Ultimately, I think the Packers were by far the best situation for Jones. We've all cringed at free-agent moves that seem destined to fail from the start. Is James Jones ready to be another team's No. 2 receiver? The fresh start of free agency sometimes jump-starts a career, but my guess is that Jones didn't need that. What he needs is to continue growing in an established system with one of the NFL's top quarterbacks while in the relative comfort zone of one of the league's deepest receiving corps.
If he one day succeeds Driver as the Packers' No. 2 receiver alongside Jennings, then so be it. He'll be better suited than he would have been with another team right now.