GREEN BAY – There are times it behooves a veteran player to feel entitled, and there are times it doesn’t.
Jahri Evans is walking the line pretty well.
A free agent this past offseason after 11 years with the Saints, Evans wanted to keep playing football and was very confident he could.
But he wasn’t going to sign with just anybody.
“I didn’t want to play for a team that didn’t have a chance to win, no,” Evans said this past week. “I would rather just wait until somebody that had a chance to win needed me.”
When that call came from the Packers prior to the draft, Evans was on board. He was getting exactly what he wanted – a starting job for a team that was one game away from the Super Bowl a season ago and lost Pro Bowl guard T.J. Lang in free agency.
Since arriving in Green Bay, though, Evans has shed any airs of veteran privilege that might have directed his foray into free agency.
Upon meeting Packers offensive line coach James Campen, the six-time Pro Bowl guard didn’t come across as an I’ll-let-you-know-when-I-need-you kind of player. Just the opposite, in fact.
“He said, ‘Look, I want to be coached. I want to be coached like the rest of the guys. What I did in the past is what I did in the past,’” Campen said. “It makes it a lot easier to coach someone like that.”
Evans has seen it all heading into his 12th NFL season. He’s been named All-Pro a handful of times, won a Super Bowl, and blocked for a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Drew Brees.
He’s also been cut, which occurred last summer at the end of training camp with the Seahawks, who were perhaps concerned about his late-career durability after playing in only 11 games in 2015.
But Evans wasn’t interested in taking the supposed hint. He promptly re-signed for another year in New Orleans and started every game for the ninth time in his career. Other than 2015, his only missed starts were in 2013, when he played in 14 games.
“That’s the good thing about our profession – we don’t have to listen to the outsiders,” Evans said. “It’s about how we feel. I felt good.
“I played all 16 games last year on the No. 1 offense, so I feel I’m still playing at an elite level.”
So do the Packers, who appeared they’d be staging a three-way competition in training camp for Lang’s old spot until Evans showed up.
A massive man at 6-4, 318, Evans was described as having a “presence” by both Campen and quarterback Aaron Rodgers. His way of adopting the right approach for the situation is evident to his next future Hall of Fame QB, too.
“I appreciate his attitude,” Rodgers said. “He’s just a laid-back, easygoing guy, but I know he gets on the field he’s a mauler. He gets after guys and competes.
“I think he’s kind of got a little bit of a chip on his shoulder at this point in his career, knowing he can still play and feeling like he didn’t get a lot of love and respect last year.”
Evans brings another potential leader to an offensive line room whose other elder statesman will be his neighbor up front, right tackle Bryan Bulaga, an eight-year veteran.
The nine players currently in Campen’s charge with a year or less of NFL experience now have an additional resource to tap into, another brain to pick as they learn what it takes.
But Evans also has no desire to “step on anyone’s toes” leadership-wise, and he admits it’ll take some time to adjust to Green Bay’s offense, Rodgers’ cadence, and all the other little things after playing more than a decade for the same team.
It’s just another fine line he’ll walk, and here’s betting he’ll do it successfully.
“I told the guys, listen, as long as we’re on the same page, we can get the job done,” Evans said. “That’s the whole key. I’m listening to the guys, they’ve been in this system longer than me, and I’ll pick it up one day at a time.”