“You want to be respected in this league,” Nelson said after signing a four-year contract extension worth $39 million on Saturday. “People think we’re greedy, we should be playing this game for $100,000 or whatever. It’s like any other business. You’re going to be paid what your value is to this team and in your business. It’s no different than any other job.”
Nelson was a star in the Super Bowl. He put up monster numbers in 2011 and 2013. Still, he hasn’t been selected to a Pro Bowl and he’s rarely mentioned among the league’s top receivers. Maybe it’s because of his middle-of-the-road personality. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t have a cool nickname. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t have an outlandish touchdown dance. Maybe, to dredge up a silly topic from the past, it’s because he’s white and, therefore, must be some slow possession receiver.
Whatever it is, Nelson has come a long way since being a walk-on safety at Kansas State and a player with just 100 receptions to his credit in his first three NFL seasons.
“I think if you look at him in Year 1, you didn’t see maybe the way that Randall (Cobb) jumped out or Greg (Jennings) or even Davante (Adams) with a real confidence about him,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said on Saturday. “Jordy was a confident guy but he was trying to feel his way around. I remember I threw him a fade route against the Texans (as a rookie in 2008) and that was kind of his only mark that season. But then as guys got injured over the years, he continued to get opportunities and make the most of it. A big game for him was the Super Bowl; he had nine catches, I believe, and a lot of yards. A couple drops, but he made up for it with some big-time plays. He comes out the next season and has an incredible year, and he’s been our best receiver since then.”
No doubt about that. During the eight games that Rodgers started and finished, Nelson caught 49 passes for 810 yards and seven touchdowns. Put those numbers together over the course of 16 games — 98 receptions for 1,620 yards, a 16.5-yard average and 14 touchdowns — and he was on pace to have one of the best receiving seasons in NFL history.
“If you look at what I did before I did my first extension, I mean, I had a good playoff run and that was pretty much it,” Nelson said. “Now, it’s a different situation because the numbers I had the last three years, compared to the numbers I had three years prior, completely different. I think that’s what changed. My mind-set of how the business works or the approach of it, hasn’t. It’s the numbers and where you stand.”
Over the last three seasons, Nelson and Calvin Johnson are the only receivers in the NFL with at least 200 receptions, 30 receiving touchdowns and an average of 15.0 yards per reception. His 16.4-yard average ranks fifth in the league among players who have at least 125 receptions over that span.
“Still continuing to grow as a receiver,” was Nelson’s not-so-magical explanation of his rise to stardom. “When I got here, I had only played receiver for three years, so I was developing, no doubt about it. But it comes down to opportunities. ... When you get the opportunity, you’ve got to make the most of it. If it’s five plays and you get three balls, you’ve got to do something with those three balls; that way, you’ll get more plays. I think a lot of it is just continuing to grow as a receiver and the chemistry with Aaron has been incredible.”
Last season, despite four quarterbacks starting games, Nelson had a league-high 19 receptions of 25-plus yards. Only Johnson (21 in 2012), Jerry Rice (21 in 1995), Rob Moore (19 in 1997) and Marvin Harrison (19 in 1999) can top that number since STATS began tracking that number in 1994.
“I think he’s got the best instincts of a receiver I’ve ever played with,” Rodgers said. “He has incredible reactions; second, third reactions. He knows where he needs to get to, what spot on the field to make the proper play. He has a very wide margin of error as a receiver. He can go up and get the ball at the high point, he can catch the ball on his toes. He’s made one-handed catches around here, he’s made big-time plays in the Super Bowl, he’s made plays in big games to get us victories. He’s a very consistent, reliable guy who has really extended himself as a leader in this locker room and in the receiver room, and it’s really exciting to see him get a new deal.”
“Through the whole process, you don’t talk much numbers. You talk about people and where your stats and numbers compare to other guys at your position,” Nelson said. “And then once you get guys that are comparable to you, you look and see what they’re paid and you want to be paid somewhere in that ballpark. It’s a lot of money, it’s a big business and it takes time to make sure everyone is uncomfortable at the end of it but happy at the end of it.”
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.