GREEN BAY — Jordy Nelson likes to joke that even his wife, Emily, got over his release from the Green Bay Packers faster than his quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, did.
“I was probably the shortest,” Nelson said with a chuckle during an interview on ESPN Wisconsin earlier this week. “I would say Aaron was the longest.”
But even as he moved on last year and made plans to play another year with the Oakland Raiders in 2019 after catching 63 passes for 739 yards and three touchdowns last season — and joked that others should move on, too — Nelson admitted that joining the Raiders was very difficult after a record-setting 10-year career in Green Bay with Rodgers as his quarterback.
“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. “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.’”
Nelson had one year remaining on a four-year, $39 million extension he signed in 2014 and was scheduled to make $10.25 million in salary and bonuses with the Packers in 2018. Instead, the Packers offered him what one league source said was a one-year, $2 million deal with zero guaranteed money — an offer some of Nelson’s ex-teammates termed “insulting” and “disrespectful” — and while Nelson considered the low-ball offer, he eventually signed a two-year, $14 million deal with Oakland.
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.
Asked if he believed he and Rodgers both would have benefitted from another year together in Green Bay, Nelson said they would have. Despite connecting with Raiders quarterback Derek Carr late in the year — Nelson caught 38 of the 48 passes thrown his way for 386 yards in the final five games — their connection wasn’t the same as the telepathy he and Rodgers shared.
Rodgers, meanwhile, had a poor 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’s severe hamstring injury that cost him seven full games and parts of several others. That left Rodgers with No. 1 receiver Davante Adams and a group of youngsters at the position.
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“When I got here, they asked, ‘How long do you think it will take until you and Derek get on the same page as you and Aaron (were)?’ I said, ‘We won’t — ever. Because Aaron and I had 10 years together, and Derek and I will not have 10 years together.’ So that’s impossible,” Nelson said, adding that he kept close tabs on his former team throughout the year. “I think it goes both ways. (Rodgers) had to figure out — especially with Geronimo and Randall going down and (being) in and out of the lineup — he had to figure those guys out and they had to figure him out. And it takes time.
“Receiver is a position very rarely can you come into this league and have an impact week-in and week-out. Can you have splash games here and there? Absolutely. But to be able to sustain it week-in and week-out, it’s very hard.”
Asked late in the season if he thought Rodgers' struggles could be traced in part to not having Nelson anymore, Adams replied, "My answer would be yes, for sure. That’s not to take anything away from (the rookie receivers). But where they are in their careers compared to where he is — especially with his connection with 12? I mean, obviously that’s a favorable matchup.
“You know, they say Jordy’s lost a step or whatever, but you can’t take back what they’ve put in for years at this point. So that speaks for itself.”
Nelson, who’ll turn 34 in May, said he will play in 2019 — “This is something I’ve never understood: Why do people have to come out and say they’re going to continue to do something that’s already their job?” he said — and that he enjoyed playing for colorful head coach Jon Gruden. He also said his family got comfortable in the Bay Area with the help of a Green Bay-area friend who had grown up near San Francisco, but he implied that continuing his career in 2020 when the Raiders are slated to move to Las Vegas is a longshot.
“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.”
Nelson got to see his former teammates in the preseason last summer when the Packers played at Oakland, and he said he’s looking forward to the Raiders’ game at Lambeau Field in the 2019 regular season — even though he’s not sure when that’ll be since the schedule doesn’t come out until April. Because they’re in California, Nelson said the Raiders travel for Sunday games on Fridays, meaning he’ll have some extra time in his adopted home of Green Bay.
“We do get to come to Lambeau this year, so that’s a positive,” Nelson said. “We’ll definitely some of the guys and friends on (that) Saturday. It’ll be interesting. It’ll definitely be different walking out the different tunnel and wearing a different uniform in there. But it’ll be good to be back.”