Fantasy aficionados (of whom I am not one), are gnashing their teeth over Jones-Drew’s prolonged absence, as evidenced by the Fantasy Roundtable guys at SI.com.
But as Matt Soergel of the Florida Times-Union reported on Wednesday, Jags owner Shad Khan is definitely winning the public relations battle over the holdout. Khan definitely isn’t pussy-footing around on the topic, as evidenced when he said recently to Jones-Drew through the press that “the train is leaving the station. Run. Get on it.”
The agent for the disgruntled running back told The Associated Press on Tuesday that MJD is not happy with Khan’s comments and would be open to a trade (h/t ESPN).
“Maurice wants to play for an organization that wants him and for an owner who respects him and values what he brings to a team—on the field, in the locker room and in the community,” said Adisa Bakari.
Khan responded to the trade talk by saying simply that he is “not going to get into all the theses and hypotheses” adding that Jones-Drew is “a great player and we would love for him to be back.”
That doesn’t sound all that disrespectful to me. But perhaps the MJD camp was referring to Khan’s quote last week that Jones-Drew’s extended holdout “doesn’t even move the needle” in terms of stress.
The problem stems with a contract Jones-Drew signed with the Jaguars three years ago that was heavily front-loaded. The $31 million deal calls for MJD to be paid $4.45 million this season and $4.95 million in 2013. That means Jones-Drew has already received 70 percent of the value of the contract and the player is unhappy that he’s only scheduled to earn only $9.4 million in the final two years of the deal.
Well, I have a word for MJD: Tough.
Let’s look at this for what it is, without being blinded by MJD’s considerable credentials. This is a running back in his late 20s (Jones-Drew is 27) who has considerable mileage on his tires. With nearly 1,500 career carries, Jones-Drew is at the point where he could easily be considered to have tread wear.
Sure he led the league with his 1,606 rushing yards last season and his supporters point to the fact that his 1,980 yards from scrimmage accounted for 47 percent of Jacksonville’s offensive production.
But after MJD split carries with Fred Taylor for the first three years of his career, he has been “the guy” in the Jaguars’ backfield in the three seasons since Taylor’s departure.
In a league that increasingly relies on backfield tandems or trios, Jones-Drew has been something of a relic, piling up 954 carries over the last three seasons (an average of 318 per year) with 4,321 yards and 28 touchdowns. He’s added 130 catches for another 1,065 yards and six scores as a receiver out of the backfield.
That makes the angst of the fantasy crowd easy to understand. But what I see is a guy with almost 1,100 touches over the last three seasons. That’s a lot of work. And it’s not like Jacksonville has been great during that stretch.
The high-water mark for the Jaguars was their 8-8 mark in 2010. Their overall record since Jones-Drew became the focal point of the offense? Try 20-28. Yeah, I’m pretty sure they could match last season’s 5-11 record with Rashad Jennings getting the bulk of the carries.
SI.com published a piece on Tuesday that said Jennings’ success this preseason is not helping MJD’s cause at all. In two preseason games, the Jags’ first-unit offense has scored touchdowns on each of its opening possessions, a huge step forward for a team that averaged just a bit more than 15 points a game last season.
Without getting too carried away with preseason numbers, there are a couple of things about Jacksonville’s first two full-uniform practices that stood out to me.
First, Blaine Gabbert, the second-year quarterback who struggled mightily after taking over for Luke McCown in Week 3 last season, looks like a different player this time around.
The second is that the running game looks just fine with Jennings, who has 118 yards on 23 carries in two starts this August, a 5.1 yard-per-carry average that, oh by the way, is about a half-yard higher than Jones-Drew’s 4.7 YPC from 2011.
The bottom line is that MJD and his people have grossly misread the situation and horribly overplayed leverage that appears to be all but non-existent.
Jacksonville has a new coach in Mike Mularkey, a new offensive coordinator in Bob Bratkowski, a new running back coach in Sylvester Croom and new weapons at wide receiver (first-round pick Justin Blackmon and Laurent Robinson, who signed a five-year, $32.5 million contract in March—as per ESPN.com—after a breakout season with 54 catches, 858 yards and 11 touchdowns with the Dallas Cowboys in 2011). So, unlike 2011, Jacksonville’s not lacking for offensive talent.
While I’m not trying to knock what Jones-Drew has accomplished, it’s also worth pointing out that it is no longer a running-back-driven league.
The New York Giants won a Super Bowl last year with the 32nd-ranked rushing offense in a 32-team league and have won two Lombardi Trophies with Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs as their featured backs.
About the only thing I see this holdout doing is exposing Maurice Jones-Drew to fines of $30,000 for each day he’s out (a rule in place with the new CBA agreed to last summer) with no real hope of landing either a new contract or a new team.
That’s not just dumb, that is a special kind of dumb.