As both the Jacksonville Jaguars and their star running back, Maurice Jones-Drew, prepare for a protracted contract spat, fans are left wondering what will happen if Jones-Drew's holdout lasts into the season.
Can Jacksonville's offense survive the hit if it loses MJD for an extended period of time?
Since 2000, there have been nine 1,500-yard running backs who have followed up their banner season by missing at least four games the next year. Here's how their teams fared.
Before I get to some notes on the data, let me just say that it's a gruesome list.
Now, there are some flaws with the sample size. A couple of the teams like the Jets suffered other injuries that helped make things worse for the offense. There's obviously some arbitrary end-points and natural regression thrown in too.
I selected points per game and total offensive DVOA as my primary measures of offensive effectiveness. But we know that there are other factors that play into both of those measures. Rushing yards is a metric of limited use in measuring offensive effectiveness.
Still, the limitations of the data aside, it's pretty clear that losing a hyper-productive running back, even for a few games, can have a drastic impact on an offense. It's very rarely a good thing.
Should Jones-Drew choose to carry his holdout into the regular season, there's little chance it won't hurt the Jaguars in 2012.
As much as I believe the NFL is quarterback driven, there's ample precedent showing that losing an elite rusher does wound an offense, at least for the next year.
Two of the three offenses that became more efficient were teams that consciously chose to part with their super-back. The 2004 Broncos traded Clinton Portis and the 2006 Colts willingly let Edgerrin James walk in free agency.
If MJD's holdout persists even one week into the season, he'll likely miss a couple of other games as he rounds into shape and gets caught up in the swing of the offense.
The Jaguars' best hope in this no-win situation is to offer Jones-Drew some token that allows him to save face. Many have suggested guaranteeing some of his 2013 money as a compromise. The net effect is likely zero, but it could offer some security.
There's little question that even though the Jaguars are justified in sticking to their guns over the long haul, they will struggle in 2012 if Jones-Drew misses any significant amount of time.
The team will be tempted to stick to its guns and take the hard line, not giving an inch. Fans, angered by the hold out, may even back the play.
Such a stance would be unwise. While they shouldn't give up any money they weren't already ready to part with, giving Maurice Jones-Drew room to maneuver could well save the season in Jacksonville.