GREEN BAY, Wis. – Jaire Alexander, nicknamed “Alexander Island” while at Louisville, now goes by “Ja Money.” It’s an appropriate name for the Green Bay Packers’ lockdown cornerback.
Great players play great in big games. That was Alexander in 2020, who took the next step in his career by earning second-team All-Pro honors. Early in the season, there were primetime masterpieces against the New Orleans Saints (1-of-2 passing for minus-2 yards, according to Pro Football Focus) and Atlanta Falcons (zero catches allowed in 23 individual matchups against Calvin Ridley, who entered the game tied for the NFL lead in touchdown receptions and receptions on passes thrown 20-plus yards downfield).
“‘Prime Jaire is a real thing,” Alexander said after the Atlanta game. “I call it ‘Prime Time Ja Money.’ That’s like an alter ego. When the lights come on, it reminds me of Friday night lights in high school. That was my time to shine.”
Critically, it was total domination down the stretch. According to PFF, Alexander allowed 1-of-5 passing for 10 yards against Tennessee in Week 16, 3-of-5 passing for 7 yards against Chicago in Week 17, 1-of-3 passing for minus-3 yards in the divisional win over the Rams and 1-of-5 passing for 19 yards and two interceptions in the NFC Championship against Tampa Bay.
“I don’t get caught in the hype of players,” Alexander said. “I think the first battle starts within and it starts with myself. If I focus on myself more, I will ultimately be able to (beat) my opponent because I’ll know what I need to do. Just know what I have to do and know where I need to improve and know where my strengths are, that allows me to be dominant with no hesitation. I don’t even look that way during warmups because I don’t care. It starts with me and that’s just the mentality I have to approach the game.”
According to PFF, 78 corners played at least half of the passing snaps. He ranked sixth with 15.1 snaps per reception, third with 0.64 yards per snap and fifth with a 68.3 passer rating, according to PFF. He intercepted one pass and broke up 13, down from two picks and 17 passes defensed in 2019, but quarterbacks were much less willing to throw his way this year. Sports Info Solutions had Alexander giving up a paltry 40.6 percent completion rate. That was the lowest in the NFL among starters, according to SIS. In his 17 games, he allowed 10 yards or less seven times.
Oh, and he won’t turn 25 until four days before Super Bowl LVI.
Having gone from all-rookie as the team’s first-round pick in 2018 to Pro Bowl alternate in 2019 to Pro Bowler and All-Pro in 2020, Alexander is about to become a big-money player. The 2021 season is the final year of his four-year rookie deal. His cap number for the upcoming season of $3.834 million ranks just 38th in the NFL at the position. The Packers have flipped the switch on the fifth-year team option for 2022, which is a guaranteed sum of almost $13.3 million. Presumably, the team will want to work out a lucrative long-term extension sometime before next season to lessen that cap charge while locking up one of the NFL’s best defenders for the long haul.
Before that happens, Alexander will face quite a gauntlet of receivers in 2021. Among receivers, Arizona’s DeAndre Hopkins ranked second in the NFL in receiving yards, Minnesota’s Justin Jefferson (two games) finished third, Seattle’s DK Metcalf ranked sixth, Kansas City’s Tyreek Hill ranked seventh and Chicago’s Allen Robinson (two games) ranked eighth and Washington’s Terry McLaurin ranked 11th.
“The biggest thing that he has to do is, No. 1, I will look and say ‘OK, where do you want to compete and where do you want to be?’” defensive backs coach Jerry Gray said during OTAs. “We’ve communicated a couple of times about his goals also, and the thing I’ve told him is his biggest problem is going to be him. Right now, you’re sitting on the top of the mountain, you’re one of the top corners in this league. How do you get back there?
“There’s going to be steps that you have to take to get back there. It’s not easy because everybody is going to be go at you now. They may not throw the ball at you early, but I think with Kevin (King) doing what he’s supposed to do, and the other guys doing what they’re supposed to do, the ball’s going to come back there and you have to be ready to go because, if not, if they see any kink in your game, then they will start throwing back you. He has to be ready. He has to fight being an All-Pro right now. And that means, ‘Can I go out there and do it again?’ Then people will say it’s not luck; he actually knows how to become an All-Pro football player and do it more than one time.”