ALAMEDA -- Jordy Nelson doesn’t plan on playing until he’s 40. The veteran wide receiver won’t be one of those guys who plays until his body cries uncle, finding instead a proper time and place to walk away from the NFL game that has given him so much.
That time isn’t now. Nelson plans to return for a 12th season and his second in silver and black.
He’s under contract to do so, as he's owed $7.2 million in base salary and bonuses, though none of it is guaranteed until March 2019.
So, the Raiders could release Nelson without penalty, but that’s seeming less likely, given his quality production rate and leadership down this season’s stretch.
"I plan to (return),” Nelson said Wednesday. “It’s not always the player’s decision. Yeah, that’s the plan. We’ve enjoyed our time out here so far, enjoyed being with the team and starting the rebuilding process and being a part of that."
Nelson was acquired by the Raiders shortly after being released by the Green Bay Packers, and Michael Crabtree was sent out. The swap has gleaned similar production but a better locker-room presence.
Nelson and quarterback Derek Carr recently have been in great sync, connecting 29 times for 308 yards on 34 targets over the past four games. According to analytics site Pro Football Focus, Nelson has caught every catchable ball during that span, and he hasn’t had a drop since Week 3.
Reliability is a real asset in Raiders coach Jon Gruden’s offense, where receivers must be smart, adjust on the fly and catch most everything throw their way.
“He’s a good player, as good as you’ll ever get the chance to coach,” Gruden said. "He is so instinctive, so smart, so versatile and so team oriented. That’s why he is here. I think he’s got close to 30 catches in the last four games. He’s healthy, he’s learned our offense, and he’s learned how to play anywhere on the line. Third down or any down, he is still a really good quality wide receiver.”
While the Raiders certainly could let Nelson go this offseason (or ask him to take a pay cut), he could provide stability during what’s expected to be a positional overhaul this offseason. He isn’t cheap, but the Raiders easily can afford his freight, which is worthy of a quality possession receiver.
Nelson had a midseason lull, when a bone bruise slowed him down and the ball rarely went his way. He had three catches for 30 yards on nine targets (over four games!), leading some to consider him washed up. While he doesn’t have blazing speed, Nelson can find separation when healthy and is a friendly target when yards are must-have.
It has taken some time to get rolling, but Carr and Nelson have found a groove likely (though ultimately uncertain) to continue next season.
“Anytime you get new receivers and they’re going to be a focal point, it does take some time,” Carr said. “I would say that, especially when he came off his injury, he was healthy and we had a lot of time on task. Obviously, I trust him. He’s a great receiver.
"It was really that Colts game [on Oct. 28] where I felt like we were ready to hit it rolling. Then he ended up hitting his knee or whatever, and he was out. When he got healthy, just ever since then, he’s a trustworthy guy that does things the right way. Usually guys like that, the ball ends up finding them.”