The Jacksonville Jaguars' star running back Maurice Jones-Drew is one of three NFL players who are continuing holdouts as their teammates endure the struggles of training camps across the nation. Jones-Drew, Mike Wallace of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dwayne Bowe of the Kansas City Chiefs are all withholding their services to attain long-term deals.
While Bowe and Wallace are unhappy with their respective tenders, Wallace is a restricted free agent and Bowe is restricted under the franchise tag, Jones Drew is currently playing under a long-term deal he received in 2009.
The 27-year-old back signed a five-year deal worth $30.95 million with $17.5 million guaranteed that year, but is only set to earn just over $9 million on the remaining two seasons of the deal. After seeing Matt Forte, Ray Rice and Arian Foster get big deals this offseason, Jones-Drew is unwilling to play for those terms.
Compared to Jones-Drew's $9 million potential earnings, Ray Rice is set to earn up to $25 million over the next two seasons, Foster could get $22.75 million and Forte can earn up to $16 million. Each of those backs is younger than Jones-Drew, but each also finished behind him in the rushing standings last year.
Jones-Drew led the league with 1,606 rushing yards despite the Jaguars' constant issues on the offensive line and a poor complementary passing game. Essentially, Jones-Drew was exactly what the Jaguars expected him to be. Exactly the player the Jaguars paid him to eventually become.
When Jones-Drew was given his contract, he was not a superstar back. In fact, he wasn't even a starter. Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor had shared the load during the first three seasons of his career. Taylor started 13 games for the Jaguars in 2008 before moving on to play for the New England Patriots. With Jones-Drew becoming the team's feature back, the Jaguars decided to redo his rookie deal and sign him to his current contract.
That contract paid Jones-Drew over $20 million during the first three seasons. Jones-Drew in turn produced over 1,300 yards rushing every season, with a career high last season, and scored 34 total touchdowns. Whether you judge him statistically, contextually or simply by watching his game tape, the consensus on Jones-Drew is that he is a superstar and one of the best backs in the NFL. For him to be paid less than players like Reggie Bush, Michael Turner, DeAngelo Williams and Frank Gore this year is just unfair.
From Jones-Drew's point of view, the Jaguars are underpaying him for the production he has given them and figures to give them this year.
However, from the Jaguars' point of view, Jones-Drew's best years are behind him and he was given a big deal without proving much in the past. Jones-Drew agreed to that deal at the time and should see it through. That is, if he was loyal to the faith that the team showed in him.
The issue in this case is loyalty. Loyalty shouldn't exist in the NFL because it doesn't actually exist in 99 percent of business deals/decisions. The Jaguars appear to want Jones-Drew to be loyal to the commitment they made to him originally. Jones-Drew rightfully shouldn't be.
Fans often cannot see it, because football is a passion or hobby to most, and they are only passionate about their own team. For NFL players, they understand that one injury or one bad season, sometimes one bad practice, will see them fired. It is said so often that it often appears cliche, but players literally are risking their careers every single day, especially at the running back position. While they are handsomely paid during their careers, their careers are very short and that money more often than not has to last a life-time.
Often fans will berate their players for not taking home-town discounts or for going elsewhere to earn more money. NFL players are drafted. They do not choose where they play. They are not fans like most observers. Most players see each of the 32 NFL teams as the same. Some have better lifestyle qualities on offer while others have better potential teammates or coaches, but the loyalty to one franchise over another rarely ever comes into the equation.
Even when it does, it still makes no sense for a player to play for less than he deserves.
When Ray Lewis was entering free agency in 2009, he was repeatedly asked about giving the Baltimore Ravens a home-town discount. Lewis replied by implying that there would be no home-town discount on the field so there shouldn't be one off of it.
The definition of loyalty is "a strong feeling of support or allegiance." If Maurice Jones-Drew were to play under his current contract, he would be showing great loyalty to the Jaguars. However, if he repeated his production from this year over the next two seasons, and then tore up his knee before getting a new deal, would the Jaguars give him another big deal? Consider at that stage Jones-Drew would be 29, which is very old for a running back.
Loyalty would tell you that the Jaguars have to pay him in that situation; business would tell you to cut him loose.
In this instance, the smart business decision for the Jaguars is to pay Jones-Drew. They made the initial mistake by paying Jones-Drew the bulk of his contract upfront and expecting him to be happily underpaid over the last two years of his deal. Jones-Drew has much greater market value than $4 million for a year and isn't tied to the Jaguars for any real reason.
Chastising Jones-Drew for holding out is not fair to him. He has held up his side of his contract to this point and deserves to be paid more than he is. The Jaguars made a business mistake in the past by treating Jones-Drew like a fan.
Successful franchises don't buy into fandom or relationships to determine their actions regarding personnel. If they did the New England Patriots would have paid Wes Welker and the Steelers would have paid Mike Wallace as a reward for their past achievements.
It is arguable whether Jones-Drew is as good as Ray Rice or Arian Foster, but there is no debate that he should be paid similarly. Saying that he "has been paid similarly" means nothing. Does that mean he should just play to $4 million worth of production on the field then shut down?
Think about it for a second—in the reverse situation, the Jaguars would make that kind of move.