GREEN BAY – On the opening day of the weekly Wednesday farmers market on Broadway last month, the tall, athletic guy in shorts, t-shirt and sunglasses made his way through the crowd, undetected. His son was on his shoulders, and his wife was by his side. He looked like just another Green Bay dad, enjoying a rare afternoon off from work, spending it with his family picking up fresh veggies.
No one stopped him to pose for a selfie. No one asked for an autograph. And the one man who felt it was absolutely imperative he share his thoughts on the upcoming season was met with polite nods and a friendly, conversation-ending thank-you.
Yes, Jordy Nelson fits this place perfectly.
“My wife (Emily) and I, three years ago when we signed our extension, we were happy with what we got,” the Green Bay Packers veteran wide receiver had just said on June 3, the day before buying his locally grown produce. “We knew it’d be great for us. We wanted to be here. We’ll see how this one goes, as well.
“They know everything about me, they know we don’t want to leave, so I’m not worried about saying it. You just want to make sure you get it done.”
And if it’s going to take a contract that averages $10 million a year, as ESPN.com’s Rob Demovsky reported Thursday, to get it done, then Packers chief contract negotiator Russ Ball should go to Nelson’s dorm room at St. Norbert College ASAP with the paperwork.
OK, maybe it’s not that simple. But given his production, the point he’s at in his career, his durability, his experience in the offense and the connection he has with his quarterback and his community, getting an extension done with Nelson should be the easiest decision general manager Ted Thompson has ever made, even with fellow wide receiver Randall Cobb also needing a new deal.
Nelson, who caught a career-high 85 passes for a career-best 1,314 yards with eight touchdowns last season, is entering the final year of the three-year extension he signed in October 2011. That deal, which added $12.6 million in new money and contained $5 million guaranteed ($3.5 million signing bonus) was basically a four-year, $13.989 million deal. Now, he is 29 years old, has been durable throughout his NFL career (he’s played in 89 of a possible 96 games) and has reached his prime as a wide receiver after playing quarterback in high school and starting his college career at Kansas State as a walk-on safety.
It’s unclear just where talks between his agent, Vann McElroy, and the Packers stand, but if Nelson wants a deal commensurate with the four-year, $39.3 million extension ($22.3 million guaranteed) Chicago wide receiver Brandon Marshall signed with the Bears on May 19, or the four-year, $30 million extension ($18 million over the next two years) that Atlanta’s Roddy White signed Thursday, then that’s a completely reasonable starting point for negotiations.
As with all deals in the non-guaranteed world of the NFL, total values and annual values don’t tell the whole story. It’s the guaranteed money and the payouts in the first couple of years that matter most.
The 33-year-old White had his streak of six consecutive 1,000-yard seasons snapped last year, when he missed three games because of injuries, but he’s still caught 255 passes for 3,358 yards and 18 touchdowns over the past three seasons.
Compare that to Nelson, who over the same period has put up caught 202 passes for 3,322 yards and 30 touchdowns. Not only has Nelson averaged more yards per reception and caught more touchdown passes, but he’s also four years younger and truly in the sweet spot of his career.
Marshall may be a more apt comparison, although in his case, he has always been the clear-cut No. 1 receiver and hasn’t spent time in a spread-it-around operation like the Packers’ offense. That said, Marshall is coming off a year in which he caught 100 passes for 1,295 yards and 12 touchdowns, and his production since 2011 – one year in Miami and two in Chicago – is 299 catches for 4,017 yards and 29 touchdowns. He turned 30 years old in March.
As of Thursday, Nelson’s average annual salary for his current deal ($4.367 million) ranked him 34th on the wide receiver pay scale league-wide, according to Spotrac. The 10 highest-paid wide receivers, as measured by annual average salary, are Detroit’s Calvin Johnson ($16.2 million); Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald ($16.1 million); Miami’s Mike Wallace ($12 million); Kansas City’s Dwayne Bowe ($11.2 million); Tampa Bay’s Vincent Jackson ($11.1 million); Seattle’s Percy Harvin ($10.7 million); Marshall ($10 million); Houston’s Andre Johnson ($9.7 million); Minnesota’s Greg Jennings ($9 million) and the New York Giants’ Victor Cruz ($8.6 million).
The other three wide receivers in the league whose deals average more than $8 million per year are Washington’s Pierre Garcon ($8.5 million), Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown ($8.39 million) and Washington’s DeSean Jackson ($8 milllion).
With more than $13 million in cap room, the Packers have the wherewithal to get a deal done. While they have Cobb, cornerback Tramon Williams and tackle Bryan Bulaga, among others, who are in the final years of their deals, they should resist the temptation to lowball Nelson, given his stated desire to stay, and just get the deal done.
Even if Nelson himself is probably better at haggling over the price of cucumbers and sugar snap peas at the farmers market than he is at negotiating a new contract.
“You’ve just got to make sure you and your family are happy, whatever decision, you’ve got to be able to handle that. My wife and I are fine with what we did [on the last contract] and are excited with what we did. It’s more than enough,” Nelson said last month. “Trust me. What I got in that last deal I'll never spend it all anyway. So I'm not worried about it.”
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.