GREEN BAY – James Jones is probably going to owe his wife Tamika 20 push-ups if she reads this – that’s assuming Jones’ injured knee doesn’t prevent him from fulfilling his obligation – but perhaps he’ll get off on a technicality.
After all, the Green Bay Packers wide receiver didn’t really talk about his next contract. All he talked about is how he’s not talking about his next contract.
Nevertheless, as Jones limped to the visitors’ locker room at M&T Bank Stadium last Sunday, having suffered a sprained knee in the first quarter, his words from two days earlier resonated about how he was approaching this year as opposed to the 2010 season, the last time he was in a contract year.
“The last time, to be honest with you, every time I took the field, I took the field saying, ‘Man, I’ve got to make some plays, this is my contract year,’” Jones admitted in an interview last Friday in the Packers’ locker room at Lambeau Field. “Eventually, if you drop a ball or you let a play go, you’re thinking, ‘Dang, I’m not going to get paid. I’m out here messing up.’ This year, I came in and said, ‘Whatever happens, happens. I’m just going to play football.’ And that’s what I started doing.
“You get so built up in going out there and fighting for a contract, playing for a contract, wanting money, thinking about injury and all that stuff – I said, ‘This year, I’m just playing football. This is what you started doing in Pop Warner, when you didn’t care about money, just wanted to wake up and put your helmet on and go play football.’ Whatever happens, happens.”
The bad news for Jones is, an injury happened, and his status for Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns is uncertain. He has not been ruled out despite suffering the injury, reportedly a sprained posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, on his eighth snap against the Ravens, but he did not practice Wednesday or Thursday and coach Mike McCarthy said it will be “close” if Jones is able to practice Friday.
Asked during his weekly radio show on 101.1 FM WIXX in Green Bay Thursday evening if he will play against the Browns, Jones replied: “I don't know. I'm going to try running tomorrow.” On film, Jones can be seen looking to block on a running play to Eddie Lacy when his left knee twists awkwardly and gives out on him.
But whether he plays or not against the Browns, don’t expect Jones’ approach to change. Unlike fellow wide receiver Randall Cobb, who suffered a broken fibula against the Ravens and is out at least eight games after being placed on injured reserve with the designation to return, Jones knows his injury is a short-term setback. Although he wasn’t in the locker room Wednesday or Thursday to talk about how he feels, it’s hard to imagine Jones panicking now after the lessons he learned both firsthand during the 2010 season, and while watching ex-teammate Greg Jennings last season, when he was set to become a free agent.
“During the season last year? Oh yeah. Especially when he got hurt. You could see that,” Jones said when asked if Jennings thought about or worried about his next contract during last season. “Even, he talked to me about it. And who wouldn’t? When you get hurt, you’re not able to go out there and produce, or really show what you’ve got. That hurts. It’s going to show in your face.
“But I just took the mindset from Day 1 in the offseason when I was training, I’m not caring about money. Whether they talk to be before the season, during the season, in free agency, it doesn’t matter. I’m just going out, having fun and playing football.”
Through five games, Jones has caught 20 passes for 349 yards and two touchdowns. For the record, he said the Packers have not spoken to his agent, Frank Bauer, about an extension, and Jones said not worrying about it has been liberating.
“You’re just relaxed out there. You understand, you’re not playing for the money. Whatever happens, happens,” Jones replied. “Make the most of your opportunities, and if at the end of the year or during the year they talk to you, they do. If they don’t, they don’t.”
During the 2010 season, with his first bite at the free-agency apple looming, Jones’ worry showed. He dropped at least four would-be long touchdown passes: A potential 72-yard touchdown from Aaron Rodgers in a win over the New York Jets; a possible 29-yard touchdown in the Packers’ victory over the New York Giants on Dec. 26; a likely 63-yard touchdown in the Packers’ NFC Wild Card victory at Philadelphia; and a potential 75-yard touchdown in the Packers’ victory over Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XLV.
So far this season, Jones hasn’t been charged with a single drop by Pro Football Focus and has caught 20 of the 27 passes thrown his direction. According to wide receivers coach Edgar Bennett, Jones is as focused as ever.
“He's just been extremely consistent. I think that's the starting point, his preparation,” Bennett said. “He goes about doing his job, and that's the bottom line. He knows what's expected, our standards, but in the same sense, the success that unit has had. With James, a big part of it is making the most of his opportunities. Talent-wise, the talent has always been there, and he's just putting it on his display as far as when he gets those opportunities, he makes the most of them.”
Even though he finished the 2010 season with at-the-time career bests in receptions (50), yards (679) and touchdown catches (five) – all of which he surpassed last year with 64 receptions for 784 yards and an NFL-best 14 touchdowns – he garnered little interest on the truncated 2011 free-agent market that opened shortly before training camp when the lockout ended.
He wound up returning to the Packers on a three-year, $9.4 million deal that included a $1.5 million signing bonus and first-year roster bonus of $950,000. His base salary for this year is $2.95 million, and for a guy who spent a portion of his childhood in and out of homeless shelters, the exact amount of money in his next contract matters little.
“At the end of the day, you want to put your family in the position where they’re set for the rest of their lives,” said Jones, who with his wife has 1-year-old son James. “I don’t ever want my son to ever have to go through anything I went through. That’s why I play, that’s why I go so hard. That’s what I told my wife. ‘I’m just going to have fun, I’m just going to play football and whatever happens, happens. God will put me in position.’”
But with a number of other high-profile free-agents-to-be on the roster – including defensive tackle B.J. Raji, tight end Jermichael Finley, cornerback Sam Shields, center Evan Dietrich-Smith, hybrid end/outside linebacker Mike Neal and defensive linemen Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly – it’s hard to tell what his position might be on the Packers’ priority list.
Which is why Tamika decided on the push-up punishment, which seems to be working. Or was working, anyway.
“If I even discuss contract talks, I owe her 20 push-ups on sight,” Jones said with a laugh. “If she finds out I’m talking to you or she reads this, I owe her 20 pushups. So say you didn’t talk to me.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.