Instant Analysis: Aaron Jones Signing
Tuesday’s deadline came and went. The Green Bay Packers elected not to use the franchise tag on free agent Aaron Jones. Setting the stage for Jones’s departure. However, Sunday afternoon, Aaron Jones dropped the mic on Twitter by announcing his re-signing with the organization. Minutes later, it was reported Jones had inked a four-year deal for $48 million. At $12 million per year, Jones will be the sixth highest-paid back in the league. The impact the signing has remains the question.
There is no doubt Jones has deserved every penny of his new deal. After all, he did lead all running backs in touchdowns in 2019 with 19. Jones followed up this performance with a career-high 1,104 yards in 2020. He has also averaged 5.2 yards per carry in four seasons, which would currently place him sixth in the all-time yards per rushing attempt. Jones additionally provided an 8.1 yards per reception, providing Aaron Rodgers a key weapon in the passing game. On top of that Jones, undoubtedly has the home run ability. Over one-third of his 1,104 rushing yards in 2020, came on rushes of fifteen yards or plus. Combined with his durability, as he has missed two games in his last two seasons, it’s a no-brainer to see why the Packers elected to extend him.
Is it really though?
The concept that running backs are expendable seems to be legit. After all, there truly is no position where your past history is more irrelevant. Each year we have seen a running back take a massive dip in their production. David Johnson and Todd Gurley are the first to come to mind. One would point to the vast amount of hits and wear a tear a RB takes on as a possible cause for the decline. Add in the fact that you are playing next to Aaron Rodgers and behind a top o-line unit; it seems any running back would fit the bill for Matt LaFleur. All these factors combined could make it awfully hard to justify a big-time contract on a running back.
Rewind to week 16 against the Tennessee Titans. It seems as if a second-round pick on running back A.J. Dillon was finally worth the investment. Dillon had a breakout game and rushed for 124 yards along with a pair of touchdowns. Fast forward to the NFCCG, and the writing appeared to be on the wall for a potential Jones departure. Mustering all of 27 yards to go along with two fumbles (one lost), the Packers looked ready to move on. After all, Jones had only played 22 out of 71 possible snaps in the NFCCG. From that moment, it was clear that the future was now, and A.J. Dillon will move into the starting role. Fast forward to today, Dillon will no longer be in that starting role. You don’t pay a RB $12 million to not see the bulk of the snaps. Expect Dillon to move into Jamaal William’s part, as he too is a free agent set to find a new home. However, it could potentially turn into an additional year down the drain for their second-round pick. Given his young age, it’d seemed more likely the Packers would have turned to Dillon to be their workhorse and take advantage of an up-and-coming back on a rookie deal. How this will affect Dillon’s development remains a mystery. Will that second-round pick be justified, or will it be the big-money contract? It is undoubtedly a development to monitor throughout future seasons.
Salary Cap and Team Implications
As of today, the Packers are estimated to be at $185.1 million, while the official details of Jones’ contract yet to be released, this number will most certainly be lower. This presents two issues. One, the Packers will have to create additional space just to sign their draft class. Two, they would also need to make significant moves to be an active player in free agency. The issue with this signing is that the Packers let Christian Kirksey, Corey Linsley, and Rick Wagner walk to make room for Aaron Jones. It really is a simple economics question. Is the potential gain better than the expected losses? In this case, the Packers clearly value the services of Jones more than two starting offensive linemen and a starting linebacker. After what the Buccaneers did to the Packers and Chiefs o-lines, it appears that money could have been better spent elsewhere. Specifically on retaining and adding protection for Rodgers. The Packers’ current cap situation, and desire to retain Jones, also called for numerous contract restructures. In essence, a restructure just kicks the can down the road. It makes today’s problem tomorrow’s. In order to sign Jones, the Packers may have just set them up for a tricky cap situation in the following years. All in all, expect the team to rely heavily on Jones in the first few games to prove their investment in him. But by the end of the season, don’t be surprised if we see more two running back packages with Jones and Dillon, or perhaps even a 50-50 split between the two. Indeed, only time will tell all.