GREEN BAY — Perhaps, if everything was hunky-dory with his three-time NFL MVP quarterback, Green Bay Packers star wide receiver Davante Adams’ contract situation would have garnered more public attention this offseason.
As it was, the fact Adams — coming off a first-team All-Pro season in which he caught 115 passes for 1,374 yards and 18 touchdowns last season despite missing 2½ games with a hamstring injury — is entering the final year of his contract did make some headlines, with a helping hand from Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr. Carr, who was Adams’ quarterback in college at Fresno State and remains one of his closest friends, made it very clear he intended to recruit Adams — hard — if the Packers don’t lock him up with a long-term extension before free agency hits next March.
Of course, given the current soap opera involving Adams’ other quarterbacking BFF, Aaron Rodgers, it’s possible Adams might not want to stay in the only place he’s ever called home in the NFL after the late Ted Thompson selected him in the second round of the 2014 NFL draft. Adams acknowledged multiple times during interviews to promote a nutrition company he’s partnered with that the uncertainty involving Rodgers could influence whether he would re-up with the Packers.
“Potentially. Potentially. That’s my guy,” Adams told FOX Sports Radio. “Other than that 2017 season, when he (broke his collarbone), that’s the only guy that I’ve played with.
“We’ve built up a special connection over the years that has put us both in really good positions in our career. Not that he needed me to come along for it, because he was already in that spot, but we’ve established a lot together. So, it would change a lot. Doesn’t mean potentially I’d be gone, but I’d definitely have to do some extra thinking if my guy wasn’t here.”
There is no doubting Adams’ immense talent. Set to turn 29 on Dec. 24, Adams broke Sterling Sharpe’s franchise single-season reception record (112 in 1993) and tied Sharpe’s 1994 club record for touchdown catches in a single season. Adams came up 145 yards shy of Jordy Nelson’s single-season team yardage record (1,519 in 2014).
At the same time, the Packers have an onerous salary-cap situation for 2022 staring them in the face. While Adams’ new deal could be structured to minimize the up-front costs and push those into future years when the salary cap is set to skyrocket with an enormous influx of new money from lucrative new TV deals, it’s not out of the realm of possibility the Packers might decide they don’t want to make a market-setting deal with Adams.
Adams is at the end of the four-year, $58 million extension he signed at the end of 2017 and is entering his eighth NFL season. For comparison, Nelson signed two extensions but was cut by GM Brian Gutekunst in March 2018 after 10 seasons in Green Bay with one year left on his contract.
A year later, Gutekunst made no effort to re-sign another of Rodgers’ favorite targets, Randall Cobb, who played eight seasons in Green Bay and signed one extension before leaving in free agency in March 2019.
Before them, Thompson opted not to re-sign James Jones in March 2014 after seven seasons and one extension (the team brought Jones back in 2015 when Nelson suffered a torn ACL in an exhibition game that ended his season before it began) and tried to sign Greg Jennings to a second extension before the 2012 season, then offered him another deal in March 2013 before Jennings chose to sign with the Minnesota Vikings.
Complicating matters? None of the other receivers at the top of the Packers’ rotation — Allen Lazard, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Devin Funchess, Equanimeous St. Brown — are under contract beyond this season. And while one would think he’d have a deal before camp opens, wide receiver Amari Rodgers, a third-round pick from Clemson, was the only unsigned draft pick to start the week.
Asked in March if he wanted to get an extension done with Adams, Gutekunst was non-committal.
“He’s obviously an extremely core part of our team, and he’s such an important part of what we’re doing on offense,” Gutekunst said. “He had an incredible year and I think he’s just at the top of his game — not only physically but just the way he sees the game. It’s obviously really slow for him. He sees it. He’s one of the best in the league right now. We’ll kind of work toward those things as all these things come together with the different things we’re going to have to do, but that’s certainly an option.”
Here’s a closer look at the wide receiver position as the Packers prepare for training camp, which is set to kick off with the first full-squad practice on July 28:
17 Davante Adams: 6-foot-1, 215 pounds, 28 years old, eighth year from Fresno State.
13 Allen Lazard: 6-5, 227, 25, third year from Iowa State.
83 Marquez Valdes-Scantling: 6-4, 206, 26, fourth year from South Florida.
11 Devin Funchess: 6-4, 225, 27, sixth year from Michigan.
19 Equanimeous St. Brown: 6-5, 214, 24, fourth year from Notre Dame.
8 Amari Rodgers: 5-9, 212, 21, rookie from Clemson.
84 Reggie Begelton: 6-0, 200, 27, first year from Lamar.
86 Malik Taylor: 6-1, 220, 25, second year from Ferris State.
88 Juwann Winfree: 6-1, 210, 24, second year from Colorado.
16 Chris Blair: 6-2, 198, 23, rookie from Alcorn State.
80 Bailey Gaither: 6-0, 188, 24, rookie from San Jose St.
6 DeAndre Thompkins: 5-11, 188, 25, rookie from Penn State.
Adams is great. But who else will elevate their games?
Although Gutekunst did add Amari Rodgers in the third round, he eschewed taking a wide receiver in Round 1 and instead opted for speedy Georgia cornerback Eric Stokes. Amari Rodgers fills a glaring need as a true slot receiver — something the Packers haven’t had since letting Cobb walk after the 2018 season — but otherwise it’s status quo at wideout.
To a degree, that’s perfectly understandable given the way Lazard stepped up when healthy last season and how Valdes-Scantling resurrected his career after disappearing from the rotation almost altogether down the stretch of 2019. The return of Funchess, who opted out of last season due to COVID-19 concerns, bolsters the group, but it’s still odd that virtually an entire position group is in a contract year.
“Obviously, going into 2022 we have some holes,” Gutekunst acknowledged after the draft. “I do think there’s some guys we’re certainly going to try to bring back that are with our group now. We’ll kind of see how that unfolds. We had some guys later in the draft that we were hopeful might still be there, but the draft kind of moves at its own speed and they weren’t there when we were ready to pick.”
On the rise
Lazard and Valdes-Scantling
While Adams was sidelined with that hamstring injury, Lazard had a monster game at New Orleans, setting career single-game highs for receptions (six) and yards (146). But he suffered a core muscle injury during that game, and he wasn’t quite the same the rest of the year after that. Valdes-Scantling, meanwhile, went the other direction, rebounding from his late-season disappearing act in 2019 (one snap in the NFC Championship Game after starting the year as the No. 2 receiver opposite Adams) and early-season ball security issues (drops, one costly fumble) to become a big-time playmaker in the second half of the year.
With defenses geared to limit the damage Adams does, both will have to keep that arrow pointing up and deliver on an even higher plane in 2021.
“I definitely think the continuity’s there with our guys — and the confidence,” wide receivers coach Jason Vrable said. “It’s more just understanding the ins and outs of our system. I think we’re there. Our guys understand what needs to get done and they’re locked in.”
Player to watch
With multiple family members affected by COVID-19, Funchess, after signing a one-year prove-it deal with the Packers in free agency, opted out of the 2020 season. Having only played in one game in 2019 before a broken collarbone ended his season with the Indianapolis Colts, Funchess is eager to get back on the field. While he only attended the mandatory minicamp, he certainly looked the part in helmets and shorts. Now, he’ll have to get his groove back after essentially two lost seasons.
“Last year, we were virtual before he opted out, so I never met him in person (until this year),” Vrable said. “He’s had basically a year and a half to understand our playbook, so I think from that standpoint, he should be great. I’m excited about obviously his physical attributes, but also just kind of his intensity and toughness that I think he will bring to the room.”
Receivers vs. a (potential) new QB
Skipping virtually all of the non-mandatory on-field work this offseason, the receivers at the top of the depth chart didn’t get much work with second-year quarterback Jordan Love, who would apparently take over if Aaron Rodgers no-shows for camp and his distaste for the front office bleeds into regular-season play. While they surely have nothing against Love, no doubt it would have benefited all of them to catch more passes from him this offseason, even given the light workload of those practices.
If Rodgers stays away, that group will have to get acclimated to the kid in a hurry, though passing game coordinator Luke Getsy downplayed the impact the receivers’ offseason absence might have on their connection with Love.
“It doesn’t matter as much because mostly everything you do is without interruption (in offseason practices). Most of the stuff you do is on air or (soft coverage),” Getsy said. “It’s still important to get that chemistry, to feel a receiver the way that they drop or the way that they’re going to move. Those nuances are huge for a quarterback, so I don’t want to downplay that in any regard. But (Love) is in the phase of identifying the footwork that matches a concept that matches a route. The more comfortable he gets with that, then now the next step would be then to let me get more comfortable with the way that I throw the ball to a particular person.”
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