Jordy Nelson kept looking at the clock.
8:05 … 8:06 … 8:07 …
The Green Bay Packers’ locker room was empty, except for him.
8:08 … 8:09 … 8:10 …
Here Nelson was Saturday, on the first day of training camp, and he was going to be late for practice. He had a good reason, of course: The veteran wide receiver was waiting for his new four-year, $39 million contract extension to be finalized, so Packers vice president and contract negotiator Russ Ball could get his autograph on it and the down-to-earth, money-won’t-change-him Nelson could go do what he always does: Work.
It wasn’t as though Nelson had set some arbitrary deadline that the extension had to be done before the start of camp, either. He knew his agent and the team were close, but being a punctual sort, he didn’t want to cut it that close for practice, either.
“I was afraid I wasn’t going to get it signed, I’d be late for practice and they’d fine me,” he said, only half-kidding.
8:11 … 8:12 … 8:13 …
“A lot of guys had to be out there by 8 o’clock for special teams, and I wasn’t a part of our special teams today, so I didn’t have to be out there until 8:20,” Nelson explained after practice, which – spoiler alert! – he did eventually attend. “So, I was like the last one in the locker room and waiting on the paperwork to come down to get it done. That way, I had some security when I went out to practice.”
Finally, he signed on the dotted line. The deal includes an $11.5 million signing bonus, more than $14 million in guaranteed money and keeps him under contract with the Packers through the 2018 season.
“That was a little bit different,” Nelson confessed. “Knowing no one knew but me the whole time I’m riding down there.”
Once Nelson arrived at Ray Nitschke Field, though, he started spreading the news. And by the end of practice, one of the neater scenes was playing out on the practice field: One by one, his teammates learned of Nelson’s new deal. And as one of the team’s well-liked, respected good guys, everyone seemed thrilled for him.
With the offense working inside the Don Hutson Center for the first portion of practice, Nelson informed his fellow wide receivers and the quarterbacks, including his pal Aaron Rodgers, that the deal was done.
From there, Rodgers clued in the rest of the offensive players in the first huddle in drills. That’s how running back Eddie Lacy found out.
“A-Rod will always give a little speech before we break the huddle on [the first] play,” Lacy recounted. “And A-Rod’s speech was, ‘Everybody, congratulations to Jordy.’ That’s pretty much how I found out about it. It was all in good fun.”
Fullback John Kuhn, who wasn’t in that first-snap huddle, learned from one of the tight ends. Packers coach Mike McCarthy found out from general manager Ted Thompson midway through practice. Then guards Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang – the team’s resident blabbermouths – got the word out from there.
“It spread quick,” cornerback Sam Shields said with a laugh.
And when the full squad lined up for its ball security drill with about a half hour left in practice, if players hadn’t gotten the news by then, Lang and Sitton made sure they did.
That’s how defensive tackle B.J. Raji, who was at the end of the fumble-forcing gauntlet heard about it.
And that’s when something remarkable happened: Raji left his spot in line, extended his hand, and followed his handshake with Nelson with a hug. Here was Raji, whose own contract situation – he’s back in Green Bay on a one-year, $4 million prove-it deal after failing to strike it rich on the open market this spring -- hadn’t gone nearly the way he’d hoped, delivering sincere congratulations
“I felt like it was long overdue for Jordy. I mean, he’s been a very productive player for a while now, and I was happy to see him get, in my opinion, his just due,” Raji explained. “So I just went up to him afterward and told him, ‘Congratulations.’
“He, in my opinion, has been a big reason for our success for years. So I was happy to see him get his.”
Players love to say that it’s not about the money. And in some cases, maybe that’s the truth. But plenty of teams have endured locker-room strife over contract envy. And while you can never truly know what’s in someone’s heart, it certainly appeared that all of Nelson’s teammates were genuinely happy for him.
“In other locker rooms, on other teams, you see guys trying to get paid and there’s turmoil,” said Kuhn, who is entering his ninth season in Green Bay, tying him with Jarrett Bush and A.J. Hawk for No. 2 on the team’s service list behind Rodgers. “In this locker room, we’re happy for one another when that happens and we try as much as possible not to let it be a distraction if it doesn’t.”
And while it might have been a distraction to Nelson in the final minutes before practice, it certainly wasn’t once practice began. Nelson caught just about every ball thrown his way, including a phenomenal over-the-shoulder catch on a deep corner route for a 40-yard completion behind Shields.