This should all be over and done with already. Randall Cobb knows it could have been.
Had the Green Bay Packers fourth-year receiver had the kind of season last year that he was expecting – and the kind of season he was on pace to have – then maybe Jordy Nelson would be the one whose teammates keep coming up to him telling him he’s next. Or maybe Nelson and Cobb both would have shiny new contract extensions. Maybe they both would have had monster seasons last year and the organization would have gotten deals done with both of them.
“Woulda, coulda, shoulda,” Cobb said Sunday, as he faced a steady stream of questions about his chances of getting a new contract after Nelson’s four-year, $39 million deal was finalized the day before.
That is Cobb’s reality. After leading the team in receptions (80) and receiving yards (954) in 2012, he suffered a fracture at the top of the tibia in his right leg on a low hit by Baltimore safety Matt Elam in an Oct. 13 victory over the Ravens and was placed on injured reserve with the designation to return. And he did return, catching a game-winning, last-minute 48-yard touchdown from quarterback Aaron Rodgers to beat Chicago in the regular-season finale and send the Packers to the playoffs. He finished the regular season with only 31 receptions for 433 yards and four touchdowns.
At the time of his injury, Cobb had caught 29 passes for 378 yards and two touchdowns through 4 1 /2 games – his injury happened just before halftime against the Ravens – putting him on pace for 103 receptions for 1,344 yards and seven touchdowns over 16 games. With Cobb sidelined, Nelson stayed healthy for all 16 games and went on to catch 85 passes for 1,314 yards and eight TDs.
“There’s no doubt in my mind. I know what I could’ve done,” Cobb said. “But I didn’t do it. At the end of the day, I didn’t do it.”
Now healthy, he’ll get that chance to do it this year, which is why he knows he can’t allow the contract uncertainty to be a distraction. And because he’s one of the intelligent players on the team, Cobb is smart enough to know that if he doesn’t make a conscious effort to avoid the topic, it will seep into his head.
“I’m literally trying my hardest to focus on day-to-day,” Cobb said. “The only time I think about it is when I’m asked questions – whenever I have the media asking questions, or I have teammates come up, ‘Oh, you’re next! You’re next!’ But I’m trying not to think about it.
“It’s hard. I’m not going to lie and say it’s not hard when that’s all you hear about. Of course. But I’ve been trying to read more, to try to take my mind off it. [I’m] doing everything I can to keep my mind away from it, because with an idle mind, that’s what’s going to come in. But I’m doing everything in my power to not worry about it. I’ll handle what I can handle and control what I can control.”
While part of what he can control is on-field performance, he can also control his attitude. Cobb was only in his second NFL season when ex-Packers wideout Greg Jennings was entering a contract year, and after seeing Jennings turn down the Packers’ offer in training camp in 2012 – an offer that averaged $11 million a year, according to a league source at the time – he saw Jennings’ concerns about a deal consume him and his personality change as he struggled through an injury-plagued season. Jennings eventually signed with Minnesota.
Last year, he watched one of his mentors, wide receiver James Jones, go through the same scenario. And while the easy-going Jones seemed to handle the uncertainty well, he still ended up departing, signing with the Oakland Raiders.
And he also saw Donald Driver, the franchise’s all-time leading receiver, sign a restructured deal to return for the 2012 season, only to see his role in the offense drastically limited.
“I’ve been here to see things happen in my room alone with Donald and Greg and James. So I know the business, I understand that,” Cobb said. “. So I’m trying to focus on day-to-day and handling what I can and letting the business side of it, letting my agent handle that.”
Cobb said that to his knowledge, no contract talks with the Packers have taken place, although he also said he’s told his agent, Jimmy Sexton, not to discuss it with him unless discussions get serious. He is entering the final year of the four-year, $3.209 million deal he signed as a second-round pick in 2011, and his base salary for 2014 is just $812,648.
Nelson, who signed a three-year extension in October 2011 while in the last year of his rookie deal, said he sees Cobb as being in the same position he was in a few years ago.
“I think he’s going to be in a situation somewhat similar to what I was [in 2011], especially with the unfortunate part of him getting hurt last year,” Nelson said. “Like I’ve told a lot of guys in here – whatever your decision is, you’ve got to be happy with it, no matter what the outcome. If you become underpaid [after signing an extension] or if you get hurt, either way, you have to be happy with your decision and know that you’ll have to live with it one way or another.
“I think he’s in a good situation. He’s a smart kid. But you don’t ever know when it’s going to happen. We’ll see.”
Nelson suggested that Cobb might end up signing a three-year deal, just as Jennings did when his rookie contract came up after the 2009 season, as Jones did before the 2011 season and Nelson did a few weeks into the 2011 season. That would give Cobb another bite at the free-agency apple at a young age – he’s just 23 – and give the Packers more time to
“The main thing with my [first] extension was that it was a three-year deal. So I knew I’d be back in that situation if I performed,” said Nelson, who’s now 29. “And he’s even younger than I was. He’s so stinkin’ young, it’s ridiculous. I think that plays into his hands.
“Three years, it’s a good mix because it gives the organization [time] to really see who you are and what you can do, and it gives you a chance to get back up in the [negotiating] room again before you’re too old.”
But Cobb insists he isn’t worrying about that yet. When the idea of a three-year extension was brought up to him in the locker room Sunday, he quickly brushed it off. When it comes to trying to avoid this conversation, Cobb means business.
“I feel I have a lot to prove. I know the player I’m capable of being. And it’s just going out and showing that on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “The time will come. If it’s meant to be, if it’s supposed to be, if I’m supposed to get an extension, if I’m meant to get an extension, it’ll come whenever it’s supposed to. I can’t worry about that, I can control what I can control, and that’s my work ethic, that’s the way I go about my business and going out and doing what I’m supposed to do.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.