The Aaron Jones Question
Recently reports came out that Aaron Jones of the Green Bay Packers would not get the Franchise Tag. He will be allowed to test Free Agency, and the Packers hope to resign him before it gets to that point. How much running backs matter and whether or not you should pay them has been a long argued debate, but as long as stars like Jones are in the league, it is a debate that likely will never get resolved. Aaron Jones is likely looking for top running back money, and the Packers must think hard before deciding to give him that.
Last offseason, the running back market was reset, with Christian McCaffery, Alvin Kamara, Dalvin Cook, and Joe Mixon all getting extensions. All these players are in the same stratosphere as Jones, in the conversation for the best running backs in the league right now, and so it is only natural to think that Jones has similar worth as those players.
Here we can see the current contract situation for the current top 10 running back salaries, per overthecap.com, and this is a base point for what Aaron Jones is looking at. Looking at the market value, it is unlikely he will get the 15 million per year or more, the contract that McCaffery, Kamara, and Elliot all received, with his current production levels. However, right below them, we have Dalvin Cook and Derrick Henry, the latter who is coming off a 2000 yd rushing season and back-to-back rushing titles. Along with Joe Mixon, who got paid after a productive 2019 campaign, they all are making roughly the same, 12-13 million dollars per year on average. With over 1000 rushing yds and 350 receiving yds per year the last two seasons, along with his 25 combined TDs, Jones has every right to ask for a contract in the 12-13 million per year range, just like Cook, Henry, and Mixon. So now we have a general idea of what Aaron Jones should be worth. Now it’s time to look at what the Packers’ situation is, and see if paying him is indeed the correct choice.
The argument for not paying running backs boils down to the belief that they are easily replaceable by cheap options, and thus, spending valuable salary-cap space on a top-tier running back contract is inadvisable. The question is, should the Packers think that they have the future already on their team. First off, we must start with AJ Dillon, the running back they drafted in the 2nd round of the 2020 draft. He spent most of this season as the 2nd-3rd string running back behind Jones and Jamaal Williams, but during week 16 against the Titans, with both Jones and Williams injured, Dillon got the bulk of the workload and showed off exactly why he got drafted in the 2nd round. With 124 rushing yards off 21 carries and 2 TDs, he showed promise that he could be an every-down back in this league. There is also the fact that finding running backs in the later rounds of the draft has been surprisingly easy for many teams. Just last season, undrafted James Robinson rushed for 1070 yards for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Aaron Jones himself was a 5th round pick in the 2017 draft. David Montgomery for the Chicago Bears was a 3rd round pick in 2019, Chris Carson for the Seahawks was a 7th round pick in 2017, the list goes on. The Packers could easily spend a late-round pick on another running back in this year’s draft, and would likely get solid production.
We can also look at the Packers’ offensive line. Just last season, the Packers’ finished 1st in ESPN’s Run-Block Win Rate at 74%. The Packers have consistently produced a top o-line over the past few years, meaning that a running back in the Packers’ offense will have an easier path to success. Combined with the fact that the Packers’ passing attack will be great as usual with Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams, the Packers’ offensive system should be perfect for any running back to step in and produce.
So now, looking at everything at once, it is time to decide for the Packers. Per overthecap.com, the Packers are currently 11 million dollars over the cap for 2021. The Packers also have other free agents, such as center Corey Linsley to consider. The Packers have other holes on defense as well, and as such, cannot pay Aaron Jones the money he expects. Jones is absolutely worth 12-13 million dollars per year, but the Packers cannot afford to spend money on him right now, with other more pressing needs on their roster. So after considering everything, the Packers should let Aaron Jones walk and focus their salary cap elsewhere, which could help them win in 2021.