Maurice Jones-Drew has nothing to prove to the Jacksonville Jaguars about his ability to play running back. But after a contract dispute, the training camp holdout and now a foot injury that could sideline him for the rest of the season, his days with the team that drafted him could soon be over.
MJD is one of the NFL's best running backs, and one of the only ones left that is considered a workhorse back. Since becoming the starter in 2009, he's rushed for over 1,000 yards each season, including a league-high 1,606 in 2011.
That streak is in jeopardy this year, as a slow start and injury now have him sidelined for the foreseeable future.
Jones-Drew injured his foot on his first carry against the Oakland Raiders. He would return to the field for a short time after, before heading to the sideline and returning with crutches and a walking boot.
Although the injury won't require surgery and the team is only saying that it will force MJD to miss "significant time," it doesn't mean this situation isn't a serious one for the future relationship between the star running back and the franchise.
As the NFL outlines on this Twitter video, the injury could be far more serious than the team hopes, and could knock him out for the rest of the season, depending on the bone:
WATCH: Dr. Neil Ghodadra explains why MJD's foot injury could sideline the RB up to six weeks on.nfl.com/MJDinjury— NFL (@nfl) October 25, 2012
That timetable would put MJD on pace to return for the Week 14 matchup against the New York Jets. Should he return, it could be the last time he plays football for the Jaguars.
If you look at his contract situation, past history and direction of this franchise, it's starting to become clear that the two sides are pulling in separate directions. MJD was the focus of an offseason decision to hold out of training camp, a conflict that lasted right down to the end of the team's preseason slate.
2013-14 is the final year of his contract, and this injury likely ends most logical conclusions of an extension before the beginning of next season. What's to say MJD won't hold out again, waiting for the team to commit to his services?
Both sides have a point, and both sides proved that the hold out is usually more effective for the franchise than it is for the athlete. As Cindy Boren and Matt Brooks outline in this Washington Post article, the training camp holdout validated the team's decision to avoid the extension, while also confirming MJD's fear of mortality.
Should the running back head that route again, the Jaguars have an interesting decision to make.
With Blaine Gabbert clearly under a steep learning curve, the defensive pieces not strong enough yet and the team a pedestrian 1-5, it might be time to completely revamp this roster.
That includes Jones-Drew, who, as a running back, doesn't have time to waste his carries for a team that has no shot of sniffing the postseason with the current makeup.
Mike Freeman, the NFL Insider for CBS Sports, wonders why Jones-Drew even wants to play at all. Since the organization chose to make his contract situation a variable, why should Jones-Drew risk injury for a franchise that won't protect him in the event of a career-ending one?
All these factors lead to a conclusion that might be amicable for both parties: a trade.
Teams are going to be looking for running back help before the NFL Draft next season. The Arizona Cardinals, St. Louis Rams and Detroit Lions all come to mind as teams that could afford to get rid of multiple draft picks for a franchise running back.
No matter the timetable for MJD's return or the franchise's statements on how much they are committed to him, this injury has effectively altered the course of Jones-Drew's time in Jacksonville.
Jacksonville hasn't shown interest in locking him up for the long term.
This injury will be in the back of the minds of management for the remainder of this season, and as they evaluate the direction of the franchise.
Whether it be a trade, another holdout or the expiration of his contract into free agency, Jones-Drew looks to be done in Jacksonville for the long haul. He would have to have a monster year in 2013, coupled with team success, to warrant a new contract.
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