They were in denial.
Nelson deserves to be in the conversation with the best receivers in team history -- and it's an illustrious group that starts with Don Hutson and includes James Lofton, Sterling Sharpe, Antonio Freeman and Donald Driver. But the old NFL adage that it's better to get rid of a player a year too early than a year too late held true, especially considering Nelson was owed $10.25 million if he were on the roster this season.
The Packers reportedly gave him a low-ball pay cut offer, but it was probably a deal they knew he wouldn't accept.
Take nothing away from Nelson's stellar career, but the man who once played with the best body control of perhaps any receiver in recent team history clearly wasn't in the Packers' plans.
They must have felt that the tape from late last season showed what they thought he had become -- a receiver who, despite remarkable chemistry with quarterback Aaron Rodgers, lacked explosiveness. Nelson averaged just 2.45 yards after the catch, the lowest of his career, according to ESPN Stats & Information. And that had little or nothing to do with Rodgers' injury that cost Nelson his quarterback for half of the season.
This will take some getting used to: Nelson will no longer catch passes from Rodgers. By definition, the Packers haven't signed anyone to replace Nelson, although new tight end Jimmy Graham will give Rodgers a new option from another position. Still, the Packers might have to use one of their early round draft picks on another receiver.
"We'll start looking at a number of options," general manager Brian Gutekunst said after cutting Nelson. "He's a good player, and those shoes will be hard to fill. But we're going to work really hard to try to do that."
Here's a look at the Packers’ receivers:
Davante Adams: The former second-round draft pick is the next Nelson. In fact, coach Mike McCarthy acknowledged last season that Adams had supplanted Nelson as the team's "best perimeter player." Days later, Adams signed a four-year, $58 million contract extension that put him among the highest-paid receivers in the league. Adams was the only receiver whose production remained high after Rodgers' collarbone injury. He tied for second in the league with 10 touchdowns and led the team with 74 catches and 885 yards, despite missing the final two games of the season because of his second concussion of the year. His concussion history is about the only concern the Packers could have.
Randall Cobb: With a salary of $9.5 million and a salary-cap charge of $12,718,750, Cobb -- and not Nelson -- could have been the one to go. But the Packers decided that there's more left in Cobb, who will turn 28 in August, than there was in the soon-to-be 33-year-old Nelson. The more versatile Cobb -- a slot receiver who also can play outside and in the backfield -- hasn't come close to replicating his career year of 2014, when he caught 91 passes for 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns. He's in the final season of a four-year, $40 million deal.
Geronimo Allison: The former undrafted free agent enters his third season but didn't take as big of a jump as expected last season. He caught 23 passes for 253 yards without a touchdown after 12 catches for 202 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie. He ranked fourth among Packers receivers in snaps played last season (343). The Packers gave him the minimum salary for a third-year player as an exclusive rights free agents.
Trevor Davis: The fifth-round pick in 2015 hasn’t been able to move ahead of Allison on the depth chart. He played in every game last season but played just 103 snaps on offense. He might be the fastest receiver on the roster, but he hasn't been able to put that to use on offense. However, he ranked third in the NFL in punt return average (12.0) last season with a long return of 65 yards.
Michael Clark: The undrafted free agent might be the most intriguing prospect on the roster. At 6-foot-6, he's a former college basketball player who played only one season of college football before entering the NFL. He wasn't promoted from the practice squad until Dec. 1 and played in only the final two games. He made an impact with four catches for 41 yards in 75 snaps but needs to clean up his drops. That should come with more experience.
Jeff Janis: An unrestricted free agent, the former seventh-round draft pick played just 50 snaps on offense last season. He never built on his two-touchdown performance against the Cardinals in the playoff loss in January 2016. However, he carved out a role as one of the core special teams players, which could be a reason the Packers bring him back.
DeAngelo Yancey: The fifth-round pick last year spent his entire rookie season on the practice squad in 2017. He has decent size (6-1, 220) but started slowly in training camp last summer.
Colby Pearson: He was an undrafted free agent who was in training camp with the Packers last summer and then signed to the practice squad for the final three weeks of the season.
Jake Kumerow: Signed to the practice squad in Week 17, the former UW-Whitewater standout spent parts of two seasons on the Bengals practice squad (with a week on the roster as well) but has never appeared in a game.