The Green Bay Packers have 11 free agents — six of whom are unrestricted and five of whom may or may not be restricted, depending on the verbiage of the NFL's 2011 rules.
In this series, we will look at those players and tell you who should stay and who should go. We continue with the fourth of the players who are in restricted/unrestricted limbo — probably unrestricted judging by the leaks coming from negotiations — receiver James Jones.
Jones is coming off the best statistical year of his four professional seasons, with career highs of 50 catches and 679 yards and a career-high-matching five touchdowns. His 304 yards after the catch ranked third on the team, according to STATS, but his 6.1 yards of YAC per reception topped the receiver corps.
Certainly, his inconsistent hands are a well-known problem. Officially according to STATS, Jones dropped six passes during the regular season. Only Donald Driver (seven) had more on the team, but those blunders were magnified by circumstances. He dropped five passes that likely would have been turned into long touchdowns, including the Eagles in the playoffs and the Steelers in the Super Bowl. His late fumble due to sloppy fundamentals wound up costing the Packers a Week 3 game at Chicago, and he irked the coaches by making no effort to break up a pass that resulted in an interception against Miami a couple weeks later.
Still, the upside is there and will taunt several would-be suitors if he indeed becomes an unrestricted free agent. For his gaffes, he made two tremendous touchdown catches in the playoffs, with his low cradle in the end zone giving the Packers a 14-0 lead at Philadelphia and his memorable, leaping grab resulting in a 30-yard touchdown that put the Packers ahead for good late in the first half at Atlanta. Those catches showed the nation what observers at practice saw on a daily basis: that Jones has the skills to be a big, physical receiver who can catch anything in the ZIP code.
Question is, what has held him back? Was he trying "too hard" — an all-time ridiculous phrase — to earn No. 1-receiver money during free agency or break out of the shadows cast by Driver and Greg Jennings? Are his lapses in concentration a chronic problem or something that can be solved either with a change of scenery or with a new coach?
If he re-signs with the Packers, he'd get that new coach. Jimmy Robinson is one of the more respected assistant coaches in the league but drops had been a relatively big problem considering the talent level at the position. With Robinson having jumped ship to become Dallas' receivers coach/assistant head coach, Edgar Bennett was moved from running backs coach to receivers coach. Bennett was a stickler for fundamentals with the backs, a group of players who almost never fumbled.
Perhaps Bennett is that fresh face that Jones needs to reach his potential. Given Driver's advancing age and the unknown quantity that is second-round pick Randall Cobb, the Packers would be wise to bring Jones back — assuming the price isn't out of line and Jones wants to return.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport.