ORLANDO, Fla. – While Dennis Allen is excited about what wide receiver James Jones’ veteran leadership will do for team dynamics, the Oakland Raiders head coach wanted to make something very clear Sunday afternoon in the lobby of The Ritz-Carlton Orlando Grande Lakes resort:
The Raiders didn’t sign the former Green Bay Packers wide receiver – or outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley or defensive end Justin Tuck for that matter – to simply deliver veteran leadership to their young, rebuilding team.
“A lot of people ask me about veteran leadership – let’s not confuse it. I want guys that can play,” Allen said as coaches and NFL executives arrived Sunday for the annual NFL Meetings, which kick off Monday morning. “We’re not bringing in guys just for leadership roles. We’re bringing in guys that can still play but can also have a leadership role. We’re not looking for hood ornaments or mascots or whatever.”
Jones certainly was productive during his seven seasons in Green Bay. Although he never had a 1,000-yard season, he led the NFL in touchdown receptions in 2012 with 14 and had a career-high 64 receptions, and last season, despite missing two games with a knee injury and playing the final weeks of the season with broken ribs, he set a career high in receiving yards (817).
Jones, who turns 30 next week, signed a three-year deal worth $10 million with the Raiders last week. It included a guaranteed roster bonus of $2 million and a guaranteed base salary this season of $1.65 million. It was essentially the same deal Jones got the last time he was a free agent, in 2011, when he returned to the Packers on a three-year, $9.6 million deal.
A league source at the NFL Meetings said Jones, a native of San Jose, Calif., who played at San Jose State, wanted to get back to California and made that his priority once the Packers decided not to immediately try to re-sign him. The source said Jones also drew interest from the San Francisco 49ers and San Diego Chargers, and that by the time the Packers contacted agent Frank Bauer about trying to re-sign him, Jones had already agreed to the deal with the Raiders.
The Raiders, with ex-Packers personnel executive Reggie McKenzie as their general manager, have been extremely active this offseason, signing Jones, Woodley and Tuck and trading for ex-Houston Texans quarterback Matt Schaub. They also re-signed ex-Packers defensive back Charles Woodson on Friday.
“I think [Jones] is a guy that’s proven he can be successful in this league and done it at a high level, has been on a championship team, and that was one of the things we wanted to do going into this offseason was bring in some guys that have that championship pedigree, that knew how to win,” Allen said. “So I think he’s going to be an outstanding addition. I think he’ll be a favorite of Matt Schaub’s.”
Allen, a former defensive coach, admitted he knew little about Jones at the start of the free-agent process.
“I’d heard a lot about him and obviously Reggie was very familiar with him. But when you do your homework and you ask around, there’s not a lot of negative things being said about James Jones – as a person and as a worker and as a player,” Allen said. “I think having a guy like that, specifically in that wide receiver room, is really a positive for us. Because we’ve got a lot of young players in that room, and really since I’ve been there, we haven’t had that real veteran presence in there that can really help them learn how to do it the right way. And that’s one of the things that, when you look at James Jones, even if you didn’t know anything else about him, you know that he’s an extremely hard worker. And that’s what’s allowed him to be so successful.”
Jones will be entering his eighth NFL season, and none of the receivers currently under contract with the Raiders has played more than three NFL seasons. Their depth chart includes Denarius Moore, Rod Streater, Greg Jenkins, Andre Holmes, Jared Green, Juron Criner and Brice Butler. Jacob Ford is a free agent.
Meanwhile, Allen again had positive things to say about Woodson, who returned on a one-year deal.
“Obviously he can still play,” Allen said of Woodson, who played all but seven of the Raiders’ defensive snaps last season. “I think he proved that last year. For a 37-year-old guy, that’s a lot of snaps. And he played well for us. I think anytime you’ve got a guy that you feel like can still play, you bring him back. And he does provide a good veteran presence, veteran leadership.”
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