The Jacksonville Jaguars' nightmarish camp season got a lot brighter on Monday night when the agreed to terms with first-round pick Justin Blackmon. Unfortunately for the Jags, inking Blackmon only took care of half their problems.
Maurice Jones-Drew is still holding out.
While all indications are that the Jaguars caved completely (hat tip to Gene Frenette of the Florida Times-Union) on Blackmon, and ultimately gained little for their ill-conceived efforts at gaining protection against future missteps, nothing that happened to Blackmon has any bearing on the Jones-Drew drama.
The temptation is to assume the Blackmon deal portends an end to hostilities with Jones-Drew, but that is simply not the case.
Despite the fact that the media uses the term "hold out" to describe the actions of both Blackmon and Jones-Drew, they are two very different things, and the team must treat them in two very different ways.
Contract versus No Contract
Blackmon was not under contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He had no obligation to the team. He was assigned to work for the Jaguars based on the draft system, but owed the franchise nothing. He had no relationship with the players or staff beyond what little he may have formed during OTAs.
Technically speaking, Blackmon wasn't "holding out". He and the team simply had not agreed on terms of employment yet. He didn't work for the Jaguars until he signed his deal.
Jones-Drew has a valid contract that he signed. He wants to renegotiate an existing deal. While I don't believe that should be held against him, it would be a mistake to compare it to what Blackmon did. Jones-Drew has already been paid millions of dollars by the organization. Blackmon hadn't received anything but per diem money during OTAs.
Long-Term Implications Differ
Ultimately, the Jaguars lost nothing by caving to Blackmon. They signed him for an at-slot deal. These negotiations have no long-term implications for the franchise. They'll never have their decision to sign Blackmon thrown back in their face by another first-round pick unless they make the mistake of drafting another guy with a DUI problem.
Something tells me that's not a mistake they are likely to make next time.
If they cave to Jones-Drew, it threatens the future of the team. They simply can't reward his decision, no matter how justified, with a new deal. When players realize the front office can be bullied into handing out new deals, the team faces a continual threat of having to renegotiate contracts.
Age of the Players
Blackmon is a young player and the Jaguars needed him to be in camp. If he has future DUI problems, recouping the money will be the least of the team's concerns. The Jaguars traded up for Blackmon, showing they are willing to invest in him as a player and a person.
Jones-Drew is hitting the trailing edge of his prime. He doesn't necessarily fit in the long-term plans for the franchise. Additionally, he's a veteran, so if he misses some training camp, the hope has to be that he'll get up to speed fairly quickly.
Importance of the Position
Running backs don't matter like they used to. Despite all Jones-Drew's heroics, the Jaguars won just five games last year, and a big part of the problem was terrible play from the wideouts.
Simply put, the Jaguars need Blackmon integrated into the offense much more than they need Jones-Drew.
It Takes Two
Blackmon was asking appropriate compensation based on his draft slot.
When it came down to it, the only question was how much, if any, penalty should he pay for his DUI. There was no real debate as to the value of the player. His agent took a hard line, but showed flexibility.
The difference of opinion is much greater when it comes to Jones-Drew's opinion of his own worth and how the team values him.
The Jaguars can afford to offer him two things. They can erase his fines for holding out, and they can offer to advance some salary money from 2013 to 2012. That gives Jones-Drew a little more security, while not actually costing the Jaguars money they weren't otherwise going to spend.
Short of those very modest face-saving gestures, there isn't much the Jaguars can do for Jones-Drew. He has to decide he wants to come back for what they can offer him. They obviously can't make him agree.
Whether or not you think the Jaguars' spat with Blackmon was worth the time they lost is beside the point. They took the stand off as far as they were willing to take it, and that was about 11 days.
Because the circumstances with Jones-Drew are so very different, don't be surprised if the Jaguars are willing to take it much, much further.