Raiders quarterback Derek Carr picked up Jordy Nelson from Oakland airport. That was well publicized as the receiver’s Wednesday free-agent visit was happening.
Carr wasn’t just a chauffer. He was a tour guide.
“We spent pretty much the whole day together, in the building here,” Nelson said Thursday. “He was the one who drove me around some of the area. I was actually about to meet his wife and two boys. I got a feel for the area and obviously a feel for him. I knew a lot about him from James Jones who played here and Davante Adams who he played with at Fresno State. I knew a lot about him before I even came out here. It was great to get to know him a little bit more. I think it’s a great fit to be with him for the next couple of years.”
A two-year, $15 million contract, with $13 million guaranteed, signed Thursday evening paired quarterback with new receiver. It also sent Michael Crabtree packing, with a sure-handed locker-room leader in his place.
Carr took him Nelson the East Bay. He was at a Wednesday evening dinner with Gruden and Nelson. The recruiting pitch, and a pretty decent sum, convinced Nelson to join the Silver and Black after a decade in Green Bay.
The Packers wanted him to take a massive pay cut, with no certainty beyond the 2018 season. That request eventually led to Nelson getting cut on Tuesday, ending a long-held hope of playing his entire career in Green Bay.
“That was a little shock to the system and not what you want to hear after you’ve been somewhere for 10 years, but we know it’s part of the business,” Nelson said. “Once that happened and the news broke, people started reaching out.”
Raiders receivers coach Edgar Bennett was among the first. He was Nelson’s position coach from 2011-14 and his offensive coordinator, though head coach Mike Mularkey called plays, from 2015-17. That relationship remains strong, and he knows general manager Reggie McKenzie from Green Bay.
Carr was an obvious attraction, strengthened by a thumb’s up from Adams and Jones. Jon Gruden’s “creative mind” will help him thrive in a new environment.
Nelson has some doubters, especially after a down year featuring just 53 catches for 482 yards and 6 touchdowns. They’ll say the statistical slide shows he’s lost a step, — those numbers were largely compiled without Aaron Rodgers — that he won’t return to vintage form. He did in 2016 after an ACL tear the year before, recording 1,257 yards and 14 touchdowns to earn NFL Comeback Player of the Year honors.
What will he do with a new team, at 33 years old, replacing Crabtree’s steady production?
“I can still run. I can still catch,” Nelson said. “I think football at this level a lot of people focus on speed, but I mean I ran a 4.5 coming out of college. I wasn’t blazing then either. It’s different when you get helmet and shoulder pads on. I think I can do that. I can make plays. Any play is a big play or just catch in the slant. I look forward to just getting out, getting in rhythm with Derek and start forming that chemistry with him that I’ve had with Aaron for the last 10 years. Continue to build off that. Just see what happens. I’m going to go out there and play my role in this offense, and make the plays that are available.”
He’ll be doing it in a different uniform, in a different environment. Nelson admits each phases of this next chapter will be weird, from putting on a different practice helmet to playing in a different stadium. He will be comfortable leading an otherwise young receiver corps into a pivotal season. Football is the same everywhere, and he’ll be comfortable playing the game.
The densely packed Bay Area could some who grew up on a Kansas farm and played in northeast Wisconsin a fish out of water, but Carr showed him East Bay areas where city and country combine. That, and some advice on traffic patterns should ease the transition. Nothing can ease the sticker shock of this housing market.
“That’s what I told my wife. I said, ‘When we sell our house in Green Bay, I don’t think it’s going to make it very far out here in Wisconsin,'” Nelson said. “That honestly will be an adjustment. You know that coming into it and you know what you’re getting out of it. The weather is going to be great, and all that other stuff. It’s one of those things that will be an adjustment as well, but it’ll be a great experience. I guess I won’t buy as many movies or something to make up for the lost money in between.”
That last part was said in jest. Nelson’s confident in his decision, and believes this move will be a productive chapter of his life and career.
“It’s also going to be exciting,” Nelson said. “My wife and I were excited when we got drafted to Green Bay because we were starting our life together. We both grew up together in a small town, so we hadn’t really been anywhere else besides Kansas. To be able to get away and form our family now this is another opportunity for us to be in a different part of the country, and experience something that’s completely different than rural Kansas or even rural Wisconsin. We look forward to that.
“Also, I mean, the Oakland Raiders is a great organization, historic organization. It’s exciting to come and be a part of that, an opportunity to so some great things and leave your mark on this organization like I was in (Green Bay).”