OPINION: Jones Decision Easier for Packers Than Fans
When it comes to production Aaron Jones is coming off of two of the most dynamic seasons in Green Bay Packers history, but the team may have decided to move on a year ago.
Jones is already the 11th-leading rusher in franchise history, his 5.2 yards per carry tops the list and his 37 touchdowns are fourth — three ahead of him all having played in Green Bay for at least eight seasons to Jones’ four. Over the past two years, Jones has 3,017 yards from scrimmage and 30 touchdowns, the best stretch since Ahman Green put up 3,733 yards and 28 touchdowns, but Green also had 177 more carries.
There is no denying that Jones is a star and has been great for the Packers, but when it comes to contacts, the Packers know they won’t be paying for past production and future production is all but guaranteed.
Brian Gutekunst was with the Packers during Eddie Lacy’s two years stretch in which he had 3,001 yards and 24 touchdowns and when Ryan Grant had 2,769 yards and 16 touchdowns. Both were out of the league within five years.
While he wasn’t still with the LA Rams, Matt LaFleur saw what happened when the team decided to pay Todd Gurley roughly $20 million per season following the 2017 campaign. Gurley had a phenomenal 2018 season and hasn’t averaged four yards per carry since.
Those are just a handful of cautionary tales, but all are worth sharing. While Jones is just 26, Grant, Lacy and Gurley saw their primes well before their 30th birthday. And, like many running backs who haven’t lasted in the NFL, Jones has numerous knee injuries in his past.
Predicting the future is impossible, especially without medical records, but when the Packers used a second round pick on A.J. Dillon, they likely were forecasting what was coming.
The nearly 250-pound rookie looked like the real deal too, averaging 5.3 yards per carry, despite missing a chunk of time due to COVID-19.
Keeping Jones would likely cost the Packers somewhere around $16 million per season with the first two years guaranteed. The Packers are tight against the cap, so keeping their star running back would likely cost them somewhere else — perhaps a defense that really can’t afford many cuts.
The team might be able to use the franchise tag to keep Jones around for a year, but they’ve never used it before. That would still leave Jones with a hefty 2021 contract that they don’t really have a way to afford. Many other teams restructure contracts to push money into the future, but the Packers have always been a team that likes to pay guaranteed money upfront so they can move on from veterans later in their deals — even Aaron Rodgers’ deal was structured that way.
They picked Dillon in the second round for a reason. When teams use those picks on players it’s because they expect them to be starters early in their careers, Dillon is no different.
While fans may be debating if the Packers should keep Jones, it seems like the team may have already made the decision.