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The new brain trust of the Green Bay Packers will probably have to make a difficult decision regarding two veteran wide receivers in the next few months.
Jordy Nelson or Randall Cobb?
It’s hard to envision both being back in 2018.
Both are entering the final year of their deals and both will count over $12 million on the salary cap next season. Maybe most importantly, it appears both are best suited for playing primarily from the slot – making it even more likely that the Packers will have to pick one or the other.
Nelson turns 33 in May and is coming off his worst statistical season since he became a full-time starter. He averaged 9.1 yards per catch and finished with nine straight games under 40 yards receiving. Losing Aaron Rodgers hurt his numbers, but it’s clear he’s lost speed and his ability to consistently get open as a perimeter receiver. Maximizing his value might require a full-time move to the slot. It worked for Larry Fitzgerald, and it can work for Nelson, who will count $12.5 million on the cap in 2018.
Cobb is much younger — he turns 28 in August — but his last three years have been underwhelming. Since the beginning of the 2015 season, Cobb has averaged 10.2 yards per catch, 4.7 catches per game and 47.5 receiving yards per game. That’s not quite the return on investment the Packers were hoping when he returned to Green Bay on a four-year, $40 million deal after his impressive 2014 season. At 5-foot-10, Cobb operates almost solely from the slot. He’s scheduled to take up $12.7 million on the cap next season.
New general manager Brian Gutekunst, cap manager Russ Ball and coach Mike McCarthy will have to figure out what to do with the two receivers for 2018.
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Nelson was productive in the slot down the stretch in 2016 and remains a top target in the red zone when Rodgers is healthy. However, he offered little after the catch in 2017, and his age suggests he’s only going to get easier to cover and easier to bring down in future years, cutting into his potential value in the slot.
Cobb is younger than Nelson by several years, but he’s played a lot of football and absorbed plenty of big hits over his first seven seasons. He’s an old 27. Then again, his quickness and ability to make tacklers miss fit the traditional mold of a slot receiver. Good things often happen when the ball is consistently finding No. 18.
It’s possible Nelson or Cobb could agree to restructure and make the Packers more comfortable with keeping the other at his current price. Maybe both receivers are willing to restructure to stay with Rodgers. Reworking Nelson’s deal would seem to be the more likely option, as Cobb is younger and likely capable of securing another decent contract on the open market.
In the end, McCarthy has to determine the better fit for his offense, Ball will crunch the numbers for the salary cap, and Gutekunst will make the final call. More than likely, the result will be one receiver taking a pay cut and the other finding a new home.