James Jones didn’t expect bad news when Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie called him last week. The receiver and GM go way back, to their Green Bay days, and the Raiders reunion was supposed to last more than one season.
Jones signed a three-year contract, and expected to play out more than the first third. He didn’t. McKenzie made a tough phone call and told the San Jose native he was getting cut to make room for younger blood.
The Raiders signed Michael Crabtree, drafted Amari Cooper and have a healthy Rod Streater, which made Jones expendable. Even with those upgrades, Jones didn’t believe he was on the chopping block.
“I was extremely surprised, because I thought I was one of the bright spots on our team last year and I helped us win some ball games,” Jones said Monday on CSN Bay Area’s Yahoo! Sports Talk Live. “At the same time, I came into this league with Charles Woodson and Donald Driver and they told me from the get-go that the NFL is a business. You can’t hold any grudges. I love everybody over there.”
Before that Sunday call, McKenzie was part of positive moments in Jones’ life. He was part of a Packers personnel department that took the San Jose State receiver in the third round of the 2007 NFL draft. Nearly seven years later, McKenzie helped bring Jones home with a free-agent contract. That’s what made the latest news so tough.
“When he called me, it was a difficult conversation,” Jones said. “I told him I understood the decision. At the end of the day, they’re doing what’s best for their football team. As a player, you have to do what’s best for your family. Nobody ever wants to get cut, but it happened. They have a plan in mind, and I think it’s a good one. I think I could’ve helped them.”
Jones was an integral part of last year’s offense, collecting 73 receptions for 666 yards and six touchdowns. There was disappointment in his stats, with a career-worst 9.1 yards per catch.
He averaged well over 13 yards per catch during seven seasons with Green Bay, and believes there’s a reason for last year’s decline.
“It was my first year ever playing the slot,” Jones told Sirius XM Radio. “That’s not where my strengths are at. I do whatever the coach tells me to do and, with a young quarterback in Derek Carr, they felt like having me in the slot would best suit him. I did what they wanted me to do.
“…I believe I’m stronger on the outside. That’s where I do all my damage, making tough catches in traffic. I learned a lot in the slot. I caught a lot of balls but, as you can see, I didn’t have a lot of long catches. When I was outside, I was really successful.”
Jones said his agent has talked to several teams and that he could sign a new contract in the near future. He’s training hard without an employer and, even at age 31, Jones believes he can contribute in a big way.
“I’m hungry and I’m in the best shape of my life,” Jones said. “I’m ready to play.”