Maurice Jones-Drew walked into the Jaguars facility yesterday looking like a man who had not shaved in weeks and was in dire need of a haircut. His words were short, his mannerisms were closed off and he looked like a man who behaved as if he did not want to go through the motions of explaining himself to the media, the fans and the NFL.
After all, this was about “business.”
Maybe I am now in the minority, but I see this whole “holdout” game as more of something bigger than it truly was. While the star running back of the Jacksonville Jaguars held out to see if he could challenge management and the market to work out a new contract with the team’s new owner, Shad Khan, the NFL saw what slowly became one of the bigger stories of the offseason.
All the while, Jones-Drew, who wants to be paid like a top-five running back in the NFL, not a top-10 running back, claims there are no hard feelings or a chip on his shoulder or any ill will toward the team that made him their second-round pick in the 2006 NFL draft.
But, you have to believe the man who always fights for what he thinks is right will still fight the good fight on the field and try to better his 1,606 from scrimmage last season.
This was a game of cat and mouse that did not play out the way No. 32 wanted it to. Whether the holdout was a message of gamesmanship or a message to management about the future and negotiations, the way Jones-Drew has always conducted himself seems to be about “me first” and “team second.”
Remember, right now, MJD is on the losing end of this battle. Khan leads this series 1-0. And Round 2 should take place somewhere around the first week of February.
That type of attitude, although he is the unquestioned leader of this team currently, may not win him as much favor with fans.
While teammates will welcome him back because they know about the business of football and the fragile nature of careers and egos, fans who plunk down hundreds of dollars for season tickets may not see this as clearly.
The lines between the sports world and the “common” man are skewed because athletes get paid millions for a dream shot. We get paid a salary or by the hour to work tasks. And as a writer, I would never confuse my job with that of an athlete. They are not one and the same. I get paid to cover the sports these men have been preparing for all their lives.
The fact MJD took the stance that this was about “business” and what he thought was right for him and his family is admirable. He also believed considering what he has done for the organization, it should have warranted some wiggle room on a contract with two years remaining.
But, this is football, and he is still under contract with this team for two more seasons.
Jacksonville could be one of the more improved teams this season. The team proved over the preseason (although wins like those do not mean much) that the offense will be better with a sound passing game, better receivers and a quarterback who looks like Drew Bledsoe and not the kid from Remember the Titans.
This also speaks to the fact that if the passing game is better and Rashad Jennings is slated to get a few more carries this season, this shift in focus from the running game makes a 1,600-yard season unlikely for MJD.
Add the fact that this “little” man ran for over 1,300 yards the past three seasons, and wear and tear begins to take effect. He’s a bowling ball, but he is not unbreakable.
I’d like to think there will be some contrition on the part of the team’s best player. Like I said, this is an offense that could make some noise this year. Getting MJD in the fold only advances the improvement.
Something tells me No. 32 will trot out onto the field with his “me vs. the world” approach to playing and show us all again how good he is. And we, as fans, will see him break off a great 30-yard run and quickly forget the fact he wasn’t in camp or wasn’t a “team” player over the offseason.
And as a sports writer, I am sure I will write about how great he is and how great the team is for having him as “it’s” star player.
In the end, we will have to go through these shenanigans again and the cycle of cat and mouse will repeat itself. Maybe, this time MJD will be able even the score.
I will never fault a man trying to take care of his family. He thinks he should be paid like one of the best.
This game of chess, in my opinion, is far from over.