Packers miss ex-teammate Jordy Nelson but know ‘it’s time to move on’
GREEN BAY — When Aaron Rodgers spoke with Jordy Nelson on the phone earlier this week, the new Oakland Raiders wide receiver delivered some bad news to his longtime friend, quarterback and ex-Green Bay Packers teammate.
“He said he has his own pregame routine now, so we can’t play catch before the game. So I’m a little disappointed by that, which means I won’t be spinning any type of football with him in an end zone,” Rodgers said in advance of Friday night’s preseason game between the Packers and Raiders at the Oakland Coliseum.
For most of their 10-year tenure together in Green Bay, Rodgers and Nelson would end their pregame routine by each spinning a ball in the end zone, competing to see whose ball would keep rotating longer.
“He’s changed,” Rodgers said with a sly smile. “He’s a new guy.”
That’s not true, of course. And after spinning the ball in the end zone by himself before Family Night on Aug. 4, Rodgers and another of his close friends and longtime targets, Randall Cobb, continued the tradition before last week’s preseason game against Pittsburgh.
Life goes on. At least on the field, where Rodgers has spent the summer breaking in veteran tight ends Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis, three rookie wide receivers (J’Mon Moore, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown) and unexpected training camp star Jake Kumerow.
Off the field, Rodgers and Nelson still talk regularly. They saw each other at several get-togethers during the offseason — at ex-teammate James Jones’ retirement party, at current No. 1 wideout Davante Adams’ wedding — and their friendship remains unchanged. Rodgers made his disappointment and frustration very clear when the Packers cut Nelson in March, but while time might not have healed that wound, reality dictated that at some point, he had to stop moping about it.
“(Nelson) is a fantastic guy and still a dear friend, but it’s time to move on from a football standpoint,″ said Rodgers, who is not expected to play against the Raiders. “The friendship will always remain. But he’s not here. We’ve got a lot of guys we’ve got to get ready to play and get on the same page with. ... You’ve got to move on.”
That’s what Nelson has tried to do, too. Raiders coach Jon Gruden and quarterback Derek Carr have been impressed with how Nelson has assimilated into the team’s culture and offense while also showing that, at age 33, he still has something left, according to Gruden.
“He’s been a playmaker on the field,” Gruden said. “He’s been a consistent, reliable target at a couple positions. He’s been a real good influence behind the scenes. We’ve been really, really happy with his addition to this team.”
Said Carr: “Everything that you hear about him is what you get. He helps the receiver room raise their level. ... It’s not only with the way that he practices and works out and the way he takes care of his body and those things, but the way he goes after it mentally. He wants to think like the quarterback. If we throw a ball, we’re always communicating. We’ll say, ‘Hey, if they play it this way, I like it like this.’ Just the way he communicates, it rubs off on those young guys, too.”
Nelson finished last season with 53 catches for 482 yards and six TDs — all before Rodgers broke his collarbone Oct. 15 at Minnesota — and finished the year with a career-low 9.1 yards per catch while playing primarily with backup Brett Hundley. The Packers, in turn, decided to move on from Nelson, who went to the Pro Bowl after setting career highs in 2014, missed all of 2015 with a torn ACL in his right knee and then won the NFL comeback player of the year award in 2016.
“When we talk it’s more about life than it is about football,” said Cobb, whose wife Aiyda gave birth to the couple’s first child earlier this month. “It’ll be really weird. I look forward to seeing him. It’s definitely going to be a little different, but that’s part of it. “I talked to him last week, he was asking about the baby, and we’re still friends. It’s not like he leaves and we ghost each other.”
“But it is really weird seeing Jordy in (No.) 82, black and silver. It’s mind-blowing to me. It’s always very difficult. Obviously, it’s part of the business. There’s change every year in the locker room. Every team is different every single year. That’s the nature of the business. You take it for what it is and move forward.”
Adams, who makes his offseason home in the Bay Area and lives in the same neighborhood as Nelson and Carr outside of Oakland, said he hasn’t adjusted to Nelson’s color change, either.
“I’ve been seeing it on social media and I don’t know if I like it. He looks kind of different in that black and silver. I’m happy for him, but I don’t know if I like it though,” Adams said. “You start to become numb to (guys leaving) by this point. But it’s definitely a little different when you’ve got a guy who has been here showing you the way since you first got in the league. So it’s going to be a little different.
“But seeing him, spending some time with him and training and just kind of hanging out this offseason, prepared me for it a little bit.”
For his part, Nelson is looking forward to not only seeing his former teammates, but many of the other, lesser-known Packers staffers who made his decade in Green Bay special.
“It’ll be fun to see those guys, not only the players but the trainers, equipment staff, weight staff, all those guys I was with for 10 years,” Nelson said. “Those are the guys you miss that you see day-to-day, that you don’t get to talk to as much as you’re used to. It’ll be fun to see them. It’s kind of enjoyable as a preseason game, so we can have some fun and get in and get out.”