One of the most ill-conceived holdouts in NFL history is mercifully coming to an end.
Per a report by ESPN's Adam Schefter and confirmed by Vito Stellino of the Florida Times-Union, Maurice Jones-Drew will report to the Jaguars Sunday, ending a holdout that cost him the entire preseason.
The NFL's leading rusher attempted to strong-arm the Jaguars into redoing his deal, but he never had the leverage necessary to pull it off. As the Jaguars ran the ball effectively in the preseason with Rashad Jennings, any impetus to renegotiate Jones-Drew's deal was lost.
Ultimately, the All-Pro back had no choice but to return to the Jaguars or risk losing game checks. The goal of any holdout is to get more money, not to leave it on the table. He'll already have to contend with hefty fines from the team for his lost time, though there's no word on if they'll be assessed or not.
For the Jaguars, getting Jones-Drew back is a relief. While Jennings does a fair impersonation of Jones-Drew, he's never come anywhere near the number of carries necessary to drive a run-based offense for 16 games. If the Jags had been forced to play much of the season without the returning rushing champ, the results would likely have been devastating.
Now that he's back, the Jaguars can begin answering the following questions:
When will Jones-Drew become the starter?
Jennings will likely get the bulk of the carries in Week 1, though Jones-Drew did rebound from just five preseason touches in 2011 to lead the league.
At this point, I would expect Jones-Drew to be starting by Week 3 at the latest and to have the bulk of the attempts in Week 2. He's simply too good, and winning is too important for the team to punish him any longer than necessary.
Jennings is a good back, but he's not Jones-Drew. A few good preseason carries should not fool anyone into thinking he is.
Jones-Drew will have to acclimate to a new offense, and that will take some time, but I suspect it won't be as challenging for a running back as it would for a wideout or quarterback. He'll be running through open holes effectively in no time.
How will the team welcome him back?
Players understand the business aspect to the NFL, but the undercurrent in the Jaguars locker room was not overly warm toward Jones-Drew. 53 men have worked hard to make the club, and now a player will be cut to make room for a guy who didn't put in the work in the preseason.
Everyone knows the team is better with Jones-Drew than without, but if the Jags get off to a rough start, animosity toward him will grow.
Also at stake is the long-term relationship between Jones-Drew and the Jaguars. Next year will be the final year of his deal with the team, and we can only assume it will be his last year in teal and black.
Will Jones-Drew hold up from a conditioning level?
The fear with lengthy holdouts is that the player will return and not be in good football shape, making him more vulnerable to injuries. It cannot be overstated how much the Jaguars do in fact need Jones-Drew. With Jennings and Jones-Drew, the team has two credible backs with which to bludgeon opposing defenses.
They'll need both players to stay healthy all year.
The holdout is over. The season is beginning. The aftermath is ongoing.
One thing is undeniable: The Jacksonville Jaguars are a better team Sunday than they were Saturday.
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