When new general manager Brian Gutekunst was hired, he said free agency would be one of the tools he would use to help improve the Green Bay Packers. When the free agent legal tampering period opened on Monday, Gutekunst hit the ground running.
By the end of the day on Tuesday, the Packers had agreements with tight end Jimmy Graham and defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson.
Of course those deals, which can officially be signed when the free agent signing period opens on Wednesday afternoon, came with a price. That price was the release of “fan favorite” Jordy Nelson, clearing $10.25 million from the cap. The move put the Packers just over $30 million in cap space before the signings of Graham and Wilkerson.
The Packers also have a strong need at cornerback, but the top players at that position already had deals worked out with NFL teams. It means the Packers will most likely deal with the defensive backfield in the draft.
The excitement of the Packers diving into free agency head first is diminished somewhat by the release of Nelson.
“These are tough days when you have to release a player that means so much to your organization, to your team,” Gutekunst said in a Tuesday evening news conference. “Jordy Nelson is one of the great Packers to have played here. He was such an excellent player on the field, an excellent player in your locker room, and obviously in the community as well. He’s everything that you want a pro to be and he’ll be missed.”
Nelson will turn 33 in May and was entering the final year of a four-year, $39.05 million contract. According to reports, Nelson was offered an opportunity to come back at a significantly lower salary, which Nelson turned down.
Nelson was the 36th overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. He leaves Green Bay with 550 career receptions, third in franchise history. Nelson is second in touchdown receptions with 69, third in 100-yard games with 25 and fifth in receiving yards with 7,848 yards.
Nelson is the only player in franchise history to have three seasons with 13 or more touchdown receptions and 1,250-plus receiving yards. That ranks fourth in the NFL, behind Hall of Famers Jerry Rice (six), Randy Moss (five) and Terrell Owens (four).
In his 10 years with the Packers, Nelson started eight of the 13 postseason games he appeared in. Nelson is the franchise postseason leader with 54 receptions, ranks number four in receiving yards (668) and is tied with Randall Cobb for third in receiving touchdowns (five).
Nelson led the Packers with nine receptions for 140 yards (15.6 avg.) and a touchdown in the Super Bowl XLV victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was just the fourth receiver in Super Bowl history with nine-plus receptions for at least 140 yards and a touchdown.
Nelson’s numbers weren’t the only numbers that were down last season. Randall Cobb caught 66 passes for 653 yards and four touchdowns last season. Cobb is also entering the final year of a four-year ($40 Million) extension that he signed after the 2014 season. He is due $8.6 million in base salary for the coming season and Gutekunst indicated that the Packers had no plans to release Cobb, or ask him to take a pay cut.
The difference at this point between Cobb and Nelson is age. Cobb is 27-years-old, nearly six years younger than Nelson.
Nelson reportedly wants to continue his career elsewhere. Now we’ll see where that place will be.