GREEN BAY — James Jones doesn’t know with absolute certainty.
But knowing Jordy Nelson and Aaron Rodgers the way he does — having played most of his NFL career with them and been friends with each of them for more than a decade — Jones felt very confident about the educated guess he made Wednesday morning.
An hour or so after breaking the news that Nelson, his former Green Bay Packers teammate and fellow wide receiver, had decided to retire after 11 NFL seasons — including 10 with the Packers — Jones was asked if he thought Nelson would be retiring if the Packers had been among the teams interested in signing him for the 2019 season.
“I did not ask him that question. Now, me being his friend, him being extremely close with Aaron, I think if they would have offered him that opportunity, I think he would’ve took it,” Jones replied during an interview on ESPN Wisconsin. “I think he would have said, ‘OK, I don’t care how much I play, I don’t care what my stats are, I would love to finish back at home.’ I think that would have been his thing.”
🚨After more than a decade in the NFL, my brother, former #Packers & #Raiders WR @JordyRNelson is calling it a career. He’s stepping away from the game with more than 8,500 yards...72+ TD’s and as a SB Champion! I’m proud of him and happy for him and his family! #Ese’ #Respect— James Jones (@89JonesNTAF) March 27, 2019
Jones said he spoke with Nelson and that Nelson had offers from multiple teams to play this season but ultimately decided it wasn’t worth it. Nelson spent his first 10 seasons with the Packers before being cut in March 2018 and signing a two-year, $15 million deal with the Oakland Raiders after his release. The Raiders released him on March 14 following their acquisition of all-pro receiver Antonio Brown.
“Just talking to him, he said he went to (visit) a couple teams and he was offered some very good money,” said Jones, who was Nelson’s teammate from 2008 through 2013 and returned to the Packers in 2015 after Nelson suffered a season-ending knee injury during an exhibition game.
Jones also said Nelson made the decision to retire in part because he’s healthy enough to play in 2019. Nelson reportedly visited the Seattle Seahawks last week and had also drawn interest from the Kansas City Chiefs and other teams.
“He said he went into a physical with a team and they were like, ‘Dang, Jordy, you’re very healthy,’” Jones recounted. “And he said that was kind of an eye-opener for him, because he was like, ‘I played 11 seasons in the National Football League, and I’m perfectly healthy. I can get out of the game perfectly healthy. I’ve accomplished a lot, and now I can spend some time with my family.’
“And then the other thing was, he didn’t want to move his family again. He just moved them to Oakland out of Green Bay, he didn’t want to move them again — Kansas City, Seattle, wherever it might be. I told him when I retired, I had a very good peace about it. I felt very good about my decision. When I went back to Green Bay for training camp (in the summer of 2016), I was like, ‘Yep, I do not miss this.’ So I asked him if he was at peace with this decision, and he said, ‘Right now, I absolutely am. I think this is the right decision.’”
Nelson, who will turn 34 on May 31, entered the league as a second-round pick out from Kansas State in 2008. He played in 136 regular-season games with 88 starts during his 10 seasons with Green Bay, missing the 2015 season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. At the time, he was coming off the best season of his career (98 receptions, 1,519 yards, 13 touchdowns) and came back in 2016 to put up huge numbers again (97 receptions, 1,257 yards, 14 TDs) and win the NFL’s comeback player of the year award.
Nelson ranks third in franchise history in receptions (550), fifth in receiving yards (7,848), second in touchdown receptions (69) and third in 100-yard receiving games (25).
“In a perfect world, I would have played a couple more years in Green Bay and then went home. But obviously there’s someone who made a different decision and we’re out here,” Nelson said in an interview on ESPN Wisconsin last month. “I don’t think about it daily or anything. Do I wish it went a different way? Absolutely. I don’t think anyone would argue with that. No one would believe me if I said, ‘Nah, I’m glad I got released and had to move across the country for the last couple years of my career.’”
Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst, who made the call on releasing Nelson after the 2017 season, praised him in a statement released by the team Wednesday morning.
“We want to congratulate Jordy on an incredible career that included achievements that will result in his eventual induction in the Packers Hall of Fame,” Gutekunst said. “He is one of the greatest receivers in franchise history and played a vital role in the team’s success with not only his play on the field but also for what he provided as a great teammate and leader. We wish the best to Jordy, his wife, Emily, and the rest of their family.”
Asked at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis last month if he regretted cutting Nelson last offseason, Gutekunst replied, “I think there’s always times you look back and (question yourself), but in that particular instance, no, I don’t regret that at all. I think obviously Davante (Adams) was an emerging player that the offense needed to go through, and I think you saw what he was able to do last year.
“Those are tough decisions. Those are really tough decisions. But I think for our football team at that moment, it was the right decision. There’ll be other ones, and there’ll be ones I screw up. That’s just part of this. You’re going to have misses.”
In his one season with the Raiders, Nelson caught 63 passes for 739 yards and three touchdowns last year.
During that ESPN Wisconsin interview last month before the Raiders cut him, Nelson was clear that he intended to play out the second year of his two-year deal with the Raiders and hinted that he’d likely retire before that franchise’s 2020 move to Las Vegas.
“I think I learned last year there’s no reason to have a plan because it’s not up to you,” Nelson said. “Even though 12 years coming up is a very long NFL career, it’s a short amount of time in our lives, so you want to enjoy it as much as possible before you do go home and live on a farm and get to do the fun stuff.
“It’ll be a tough decision whenever it is, but it’ll definitely be in conversation this year with the team moving and the contract being up and everything. But we’ll make that decision next year and enjoy another football season.”
In his last season with the Packers in 2017, Nelson had finished with 53 receptions for 482 yards and six touchdowns — numbers impacted by Rodgers’ broken right collarbone, which cost Rodgers almost 10 games. Nelson caught 23 passes for 268 yards and six TDs in six games with Rodgers; in the almost 10 games with backup Brett Hundley, Nelson caught 30 passes for 214 yards and no TDs.
With Nelson in Oakland, Rodgers had a down statistical season while Geronimo Allison, who was supposed to fill Nelson’s spot in the offense, missed most of the year after surgery for a core muscle injury, and veteran Randall Cobb missed seven games with a severe hamstring injury and a concussion. That left Rodgers with No. 1 receiver Davante Adams and a group of youngsters at the position.
Cobb joined the Dallas Cowboys on a one-year, $5 million free-agent deal last week, while Allison re-signed with the Packers on a one-year, $2.8 million deal for 2018. He credits Nelson with teaching him how to be a pro and being generous with his insights to a little-known, undrafted rookie free agent in 2016.
“I really clung to Jordy when he was here,” Allison explained in an interview last summer. “I actually sat in front of him in meetings so everything he said was drilled into the back of my head (as) I’m listening. Sometimes we didn’t even make eye contact, but I’m hearing everything he’s saying and everything he’s doing when he’s out on the field.
“He really showed me — not so much with words, but with action — how to be a pro. And how to go about it day by day, how to go out there and work.“He knew he was one of the best but he wasn’t going to sit there and tell you that. He just goes out there and shows you. And that’s kind of how my personality is.”