GREEN BAY — So this is what passes for offseason drama with the Green Bay Packers.
In recent months, two of the NFL’s biggest stars — running back Le’Veon Bell and wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. — forced their way out of the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants organizations, respectively, after engaging in bitter, very public feuds with their teams.
With the Packers, a team that historically avoids contentious relationships with its players, a second-stringer missing three weeks of voluntary OTA practices in May and June is about as inflammatory as it gets. And even that budding controversy was diffused when third-year safety Josh Jones, who had skipped all of the team’s voluntary offseason program, reported for the three-day mandatory minicamp that began Tuesday.
Jones won’t practice this week due to a slight hamstring injury he said he suffered two weeks ago in workouts with his personal trainer, but the fact he was in attendance Tuesday after reportedly asking the Packers to trade him showed he was only willing to push the issue so far.
“I’m here, so obviously I’m a part of this team, correct?” said Jones, who could have been fined had he not shown up. “I had my jersey on today at practice. Obviously, I’m dealing with a hamstring injury, so I wasn’t able to practice. That’s why I wasn’t out there, but I’m here at mandatory minicamp. I’m just not able to practice.”
Jones gave short, vague and often-testy responses to questions about his future from several waves of reporters. However, he did say he would report for training camp in July — “Why wouldn’t I?” — and that his ploy of firing a shot across the Packers’ bow by skipping voluntary workouts wouldn’t backfire on him because he is protected by the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
“What harm can be done from missing, not coming to voluntary workouts?” Jones asked.
Actually, there is plenty of potential for harm because Jones stayed in Florida while first-year coach Matt LaFleur put his program in place. Despite the relative lack of drama, Jones’ absence could be a setback — both for him and for the team.
Although he has failed to secure a starting spot after being a second-round draft pick in 2017, Jones oozes athletic potential and positional versatility — two attributes the Packers like in coordinator Mike Pettine’s defense. And while it’s true the Packers added two likely starters at safety — free agent Adrian Amos and first-round draft pick Darnell Savage — it also is true Jones can’t compete with them or carve out a part-time role for himself if he’s not on the field.
As for the team, safety has been a thin position for years and still has no proven commodities behind Amos and Savage, putting Jones one injury away from a possible starting spot. The Packers have other options such as Raven Greene, Mike Tyson and Natrell Jamerson, but none has Jones’ experience or potential.
That’s one reason the Packers haven’t given up on him. General manager Brian Gutekunst indicated Tuesday he’s keeping his options open, saying there has been constant communication between the Packers and Jones’ agent, Drew Rosenhaus. He added he wouldn’t trade Jones just because the latter wants out.
“I think it’s more about what our team desire is, and right now we’re kind of working through that,” Gutekunst said. “But he’s a very talented player. He’s shown that on the field at times. We’ll go along and see where it goes.”
LaFleur said the same thing, only more forcefully.
“We’ve been in constant communication,” he said. “I think we’re on the same page in terms of what the expectations are and where he fits with us. We certainly want him a part of what we’re doing moving forward. ... I think he’s a versatile guy. He can fill a lot of roles, especially in Pettine’s defense where we’re going to play multiple defensive backs and put these guys all over the place. I think he’s a talented young player that can help us.”
People assumed Jones’ desire to escape Green Bay had to do with the additions of Amos and Savage, which seemingly blocked him from a starting spot. He denied that, saying he wanted to spend time with his family because his second child, a daughter, was born “not too long ago.”
Clearly, however, Jones’ nose is out of joint. Although he has played more snaps at linebacker than at safety during his first two seasons, he bristled at the suggestion he would become even more of a linebacker this season.
“I’m not a linebacker,” he said. “Y’all can get that out of your head. You can stop writing about that. That’s not going to happen.”
So what is he?
“I’m a fantastic player that can do a lot of things that can help a defense,” Jones said. “But, obviously, that comes down to a number of things. But I’m confident in my abilities and what I can do despite what any of you guys may say or what anybody may say. I stand 10 toes on what the good Lord blessed me with.”
Apparently, that doesn’t include a steady diet of linebacker.
“Listen, I’m here,” Jones said. “However the coaches perceive you, however the personnel (department) perceive(s) you, they drafted you so that’s what you’ve got to live with for the time being.”
Which has kept the drama at a minimum — for the time being, anyway.