Jacksonville Jaguars Running Back, Maurice Jones-Drew
I can tell you without any hesitation that Jones-Drew has none.
He has rushed for more than 4,300 yards over the past three years, the second-most among NFL running backs, trailing only Chris Johnson, with Adrian Peterson, who rushed for almost 700 fewer yards than Jones-Drew, third.
So there is no question that Jones-Drew is among the top running backs in the league. But while Peterson and Johnson have turned their success into an increased paycheck, Jones-Drew has not.
In April of 2009, entering the final year of his rookie contract, Jones-Drew signed a five-year, $31 million extension. The deal put Jones-Drew ahead of both Johnson and Peterson in income and secured him as a Jaguar until after the 2013 season. At that point, he would be 29, approaching the age when running backs traditionally show a significant loss of production.
That year, Johnson had one of the greatest seasons in NFL history, rushing for 2,006 yards to become who we know today as CJ2K.
After another productive season in 2010, Johnson held out of Titans camp and earned a four-year, $53.5 million contract extension. The deal made him the highest-paid running back in the league. Days later and just before the 2011 season, Peterson used the Johnson deal as a price point for his seven-year, $100 million contract.
Should the Jaguars pay Maurice Jones-Drew
That year, both saw their production decrease by more than 300 yards. Jones-Drew, on the other hand, continued his solid production. Then during the offseason and continuing to today, Jones-Drew has held out, as Johnson and Peterson did before him. But the Jaguars have refused to budge on his contract demands.
In that time, the NFL has turned into a passing league. Rules have been changed to protect quarterbacks and receivers, and in 2011 we saw league highs in several passing categories.
To put that in context, the six most recent Super Bowl-winning teams had top-level quarterbacks leading them; Manning the younger (twice), Rodgers, Brees, Roethlisberger and Manning the elder. Even the losing team during those Super Bowls were led by one of those quarterbacks, except the most recent, Tom Brady.
Don’t worry about him though; his bust is being built for Canton as you read this.
Who were the running backs on those teams? Joseph Addai, Brandon Jacobs (and Ahmad Bradshaw), Willie Parker, Pierre Thomas (et al), Brandon Jackson and then the Jacobs-Bradshaw duo, again. Not Johnson. Not Peterson. And not Jones-Drew.
In fact, the running back with the most rushing yards during the year their team won the Super Bowl was Joseph Addai, who rushed for 1,081 yards in 2006. That year, LaDainian Tomlinson rushed for 1,815 yards. Tomlinson is the fifth all-time rushing leader. He played 10 seasons, between 2001 and 2011, and his teams never appeared in a Super Bowl.
Back in Jacksonville, in the years leading up to and including the 2011 season, the offensive scheme was run-oriented. It was the way of the old NFL. Jones-Drew was leading the league in rushing and leading the Jaguars in pretty much every other offensive category, even though he left a ton of yards on the field.
The coaching staff entered the 2011 season with a “playoffs or bust” mentality, and when the "bust'' started looking like an inevitability, the staff was fired. Oh, and on top of that, the team was sold.
Enter a new owner and a new coaching staff. The new owner, Shahid Khan, brought with him the sense of a new era. The new coach, Mike Mularkey, brought with him the reality of a new era. Neither man had experience working with Jones-Drew or any of the other players. Halfway through the preseason, they can only judge the players they have.
One of those players, and the most relevant to this conversation, is Rashad Jennings.
Jennings was originally drafted by the Jaguars in 2009 to serve as Jones-Drew’s backup. He did so before being sidelined by an injury just before the 2011 season.
During Jones-Drew’s recent absence, Jennings has stepped into the role of starting running back. If Jennings were to struggle, the Jaguars would be more likely to succumb to Jones-Drew's contract demands.
Jennings, however, did not get the memo. In two preseason games, he has run for 118 yards on 23 attempts, a 5.1 average. When Jennings played more regularly, he was just as productive.
In 123 career rushing attempts, Jennings has rushed for an average of 5.4 yards per carry. Through his rookie season, Jones-Drew rushed 166 times for 941 yards and a 5.7 average; a difference of three-tenths of a yard per carry.
I’m not saying that Jennings is as good a running back as Jones-Drew. But, in a limited number of carries, he has been almost as productive.
So a number of factors are working against Jones-Drew. From the way his contract was written, to when it will expire, to the trend in the NFL toward a passing-oriented offense, to a second year top-10 draft selection at quarterback, to a top-five draft selection rookie at wide receiver, to an almost equally productive replacement.
Add all that up and you have a team that will not look to restructure Jones-Drew's current contract.
Jones-Drew needs to realize this, or else he may not see the field this season. If that happens, his productivity will surely decrease next season. He would be returning to football after a year of inactivity while playing for a new contract with possibly a new team at the old age of 30.