In a recent article for the Houston Chronicle Lance Zierlein reported rumors from around the National Football League that the Green Bay Packers were willing to trade wide receiver James Jones, the sixth-year player, who is coming off his best NFL season.
Jones, who selected in the third round of the 2007 NFL Draft by Green Bay, has the talent of a starter but due to the immense depth the Packers posses at the wide receiver, he has been relegated to a backup role.
Yet, even in a limited role, Jones produced some impressive numbers in 2011, hauling in 38 passes for 635 yards (16.7 Yds/Rec) to go along with seven touchdown receptions.
At times in his career, Jones has struggled with consistency and in particular with the drops. But that appears to have dissipated and the proof is in the pudding. Jones caught a career-high 69.1 percent of his targets last season (6th in NFL), while also posting an impressive yards per target average of 11.5 (3rd in NFL).
Those numbers show that even though they were limited, Jones made the most of his opportunities, evident by the fact that he scored a touchdown once every 7.8 targets.
It is obvious why the Packers would look to trade Jones. They are loaded at receiver with Pro Bowler Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Donald Driver, 2011 second-rounder Randall Cobb and other promising youngsters on the roster such as Tori Gurley, Dale Moss, Diondre Borel and Shaky Smithson.
Green Bay recently restructured Driver’s contract, which essentially ensured his spot on the 53-man opening day roster. Therefore, if the Packers kept Jones, along with Nelson, Jennings and Cobb that would fill the five spots normally reserved on the roster for receivers.
However, the team is really high on Gurley, who spent last season on the practice squad. At one point he was offered a spot on the Vikings active roster at the end of the season but declined the offer to say in Green Bay. Showing that other NFL teams know his talent, making it highly unlikely that the Packers could stash him on the practice squad for another year.
So if the Packers hang onto Jones, then they must decide on whether or not Gurley or any of the other receivers are good enough to justify keeping six wide outs on the 53-man roster.
Now that we have laid out the basic information surrounding the potential trade of Jones, here are the pros and cons of the trade from a Packers perspective:
In order for a trade to occur, the Packers would certainly need to get compensated reasonably well for Jones and Even though he does not a start for the Packers, he clearly has the skill set to be a starter and any compensation must reflect that.
It is my feeling that Green Bay would not accept anything less than a third-round pick in return for Jones. If the Packers could get that high a pick or a starting caliber player in return, then it would be a win because the team is so loaded with depth at receiver; trading Jones would be a nice way to re-allocate resources to a different part of the roster.
A trade would also open the door for the continued development of both Cobb and Gurley. Cobb was targeted by quarterback Aaron Rodgers just 31 times last season but posted an 80 percent catch rate and averaged 12 yards a target. Proving that he’s an explosive playmaker that has earned the right to more targets in 2012.
Gurley on the other hand, did not see any game action last season but the 6’4″ 232-pound wide receiver, who signed with the Packers as an undrafted free agent from South Carolina in 2011, has tons of untapped potential.
Surprisingly, Gurley left South Carolina after playing just two seasons in which he notched 75 receptions for 905 yards and six touchdowns; thus he was very raw when he came to Green Bay but after a year of developing on the practice squad he appears ready to contribute in 2012.
So if the Packers were to trade Jones for the right price, they could get a quality player or draft pick in return. It would also give Cobb and Gurley the chance to take the next step in their development, which makes giving the idea due consideration well worth it.
Even though it seems like the Packers have incredible depth at receiver, depth can melt away quickly. Jones is a quality player, who is under contract for two more seasons at a reasonable rate. He will earn $3.1 million in 2012 and close to the same in 2013.
But more than depth, one of the things that makes the Packers offense so effective is their incredible wealth of pass-catchers. When they can trot out Jennings, Nelson, Jones, Finley, Driver and Cobb, no defense in the NFL can possibly match up with all of those guys.
Teams can still find ways to slow down the Green Bay offense, as we saw in the Giants game but when Jones, Cobb and Driver are the fourth, fifth and sixth receiving options, it makes it very tough for defenses to matchup.
Furthermore, if something were to happen to Jennings or Nelson, Jones is more than capable of stepping into a starter’s role and producing solid numbers. The Packers are a spread it out type of team and to play that way, you need good receivers and Jones is better than most people realize.
Another thing to consider is the long-term ramifications of trading Jones, as Jennings, the Packers no.1 receiver will be an unrestricted free agent after the season.
The Packers will likely apply the Franchise tag to Jennings to ensure he stays in Green Bay at least through the 2013 season if a long-term deal cannot be worked out but if for some reason Jennings were to leave Green Bay via free agency, then the Packers strength at the receiver could fall off quickly.
Without Jennings and Driver, who is probably entering his final season in Green Bay, the Packers would be left with Nelson, Cobb and a young guy like Gurley in the event of a Jones trade. Still a solid group but nowhere near as powerful as the it is with Jones in the mix.
If the Packers do not make a trade and Jennings somehow is not re-signed (highly unlikely), Green Bay would still boast at least Nelson, Jones and Cobb, which in itself is a very promising trio.
As you can see, there are a number of potential benefits to trading Jones and if the price ends up being right, the Packers may end up pulling the trigger.
After all, they have a ridiculous amount of depth at wide receiver and keeping Jones could potentially impede the development of Cobb and the other young wide outs.
Nevertheless, at the end of the day, Jones is a very good player, who is under appreciated because he does not get enough opportunities to produce big numbers. However, as he enters his sixth NFL season and the prime of his career, the Packers would be wise to keep him, lest they run the risk of watching him turn into a superstar somewhere else.
Remember sometimes the best trades are the ones that never get made.