For years, Green Bay Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson has been one of the biggest bargains in all of professional football.
Coming on the heels of his big Super Bowl performance in which he had nine catches for 140 yards a touchdown, Nelson received a contract extension in the midst of his breakout 2011 season.
At the time, Nelson was awarded a four-year extension worth $12.6 million, good for an average of $3.15 million per season. It made him the league's 27th highest paid wide receiver in the NFL, according to an article at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Nelson has far out-performed his pay grade, averaging 67 catches for 1,108 yards and 10 touchdowns in each of the past three seasons.
His latest campaign was capped off with a career-high 85 catches for 1,314 yards in 2013, and all this despite quarterback Aaron Rodgers missing half the season due to injury. Nelson also led the NFL with 19 catches of 25-plus yards this past season.
Despite impressive numbers, Nelson was only named an second alternate to the Pro Bowl this season and probably wasn't helped by playing in the same division as two of the best wideouts in the NFL––Calvin Johnson of the Detroit Lions and Brandon Marshall of the Chicago Bears.
At the time of his last extension, Nelson accepted the security of four-year deal before reaching free agency in return for lower payday than he probably deserved. But at the same time, Nelson was also part of a receiving corps that still included Greg Jennings, Donald Driver and James Jones, considered to be perhaps the best in the NFL.
All the while, Nelson has never publicly complained of being underpaid, playing the part of good soldier as well as a visible ambassador of the team, and indeed, the state of Wisconsin.
Nelson gained publicity this past season for being featured in a Wisconsin tourism television commercial produced by Jerry Zucker that was a spoof on the Wizard of Oz, a nod to Nelson's Kansas heritage.
With Nelson a year away from free agency in 2014, it's very likely the Packers will reward Nelson's loyalty and goodwill in the form of yet another contract extension this offseason, one much more handsome than his last.
By doing so a year before he's set to become a free agent, the Packers will be locking up Nelson at a time when he's still relatively young at 28 years old and conceivably saving money by not waiting until he hits the open market.
What Nelson deserves and will eventually get is open to debate, but it wouldn't be surprising if makes somewhere in the neighborhood of double what he's making now, or a deal averaging approximately $6 million per year, give or take.
Factoring into the decision about how much to give Nelson are the Packers' many other decisions to make this upcoming offseason with 20 players scheduled to become free agents, including cornerback Sam Shields, defensive lineman B.J. Raji and center Evan Dietrich-Smith.
One other candidate for a contract extension is fellow wide receiver Randall Cobb, whose rookie contract is also set to expire following the 2014 season.
With receiving targets like James Jones and Jermichael Finley expected to hit free agency in March, the Packers can ill afford to allow core players like Nelson and Cobb get away.
There's always the ever-present challenge of fitting all new contracts into the team's salary-cap structure, eaten up in large part by big-time deals for quarterback Aaron Rodgers and linebacker Clay Matthews.
Thanks to being able to carry over nearly $10 million in unused salary-cap space from 2013 to 2014, however, there's plenty of room under the cap for the time being, although it will be gobbled up quickly once free agency starts.
And it wouldn't be surprising if the Packers extend Nelson in the next month, so they have a clearer picture of how much money they'll have left over to sign their own player, and potentially those from other teams.
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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