On Tuesday, the Jacksonville Jaguars agreed to terms on a three-year, $10.5 million contract with $4.5 million in guaranteed money with former Minnesota Vikings running back Toby Gerhart, according to a tweet from Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports:
This signing all but signified the end of Maurice Jones-Drew's tenure in Jacksonville. Now, the eight-year veteran will be testing the free-agent market for the first time in his career.
Despite turning 29 later this month, and coming off of a down season with the Jaguars, Jones-Drew still has plenty to offer in the right situation with the right franchise.
After an injury-plagued 2012 season, Jones-Drew had some difficulties shaking off the rust in 2013. His return to football was certainly made tougher by the lack of a supporting cast in Jacksonville as well.
In Jones-Drew's last full healthy season, he still put up some gaudy numbers:
|Maurice Jones-Drew's 2011 Stats|
Even before he was injured in 2012, he was still looking like one of the league's top backs:
|Maurice Jones-Drew's 2012 Stats (Six Games)|
Jones-Drew was still able to show some glimpses of his old self last season:
Now that he has been healthy for a full year, Jones-Drew is poised to get back on track with another team. Let's take a look at a few clubs that would give the veteran running back the best chances for success.
New York Jets
The unique thing about this scenario is that there is actually reported interest in Jones-Drew by the Jets organization, according to a tweet from Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News:
Looking at the Jets' running back situation, it becomes apparent as to why they would take interest in the veteran ball-carrier.
Chris Ivory has been plagued by injuries, severely limiting his production and effectiveness. Mike Goodson is coming off of an ACL injury, and his ability to take on the role as a feature back is uncertain. Bilal Powell is best suited as a change-of-pace back and isn't likely able to handle a full workload.
After the Jets aerial attack severely faltered in 2013, head coach Rex Ryan could get back to his ground-and-pound offensive ways. That works perfectly for Jones-Drew, who flourishes when given enough carries to gain a head of steam throughout the duration of a game.
Jones-Drew had very few chances of doing so in 2013, recording at least 20 carries in just three games with the Jaguars. This change of pace would allow Jones-Drew to recapture his previous form.
This may not seem like the best scenario for Jones-Drew at first glance. After all, the AFC North is one of the toughest divisions from a defensive standpoint. However, the Browns have added some great defensive pieces so far in free agency and look to contend with the other division powerhouses.
With an improved defense, and the strong possibility of a rookie signal-caller at the helm, the Browns figure to be involved in some closely contested defensive struggles in 2014.
This situation gives Jones-Drew the opportunity to receive plenty of carries, building up momentum and wearing down opposing defenses.
Currently, Cleveland has zero options in its backfield. The team clearly needs an upgrade at the running back position if it is to contend in this division. Jones-Drew provides the toughness necessary to carry the bulk of the workload and the decisive one-cut running style to gain tough yards.
Once the Browns are able to rely on Jones-Drew, and opposing defenses crowd the box to contain him, Cleveland can then unleash Josh Gordon over the top. This kind of balanced offensive attack is the way to win in the AFC North.
New England Patriots
The Patriots have never been shy of gambling on veteran free-agent running backs. This year, they could do it again due to the team's current running back situation.
LeGarrette Blount is hitting the free-agent market and looks to be on his way out. Steven Ridley has lost a good chunk of the coaching staff's trust after his reoccurring fumbling issues. Shane Vereen looks to be the best option going forward; however, he is best suited for change-of-pace duties.
In last year's playoffs, the Patriots showed what kind of a powerhouse they can be with an effective running game. In the divisional round against the Indianapolis Colts, Blount rushed 24 times, accumulating 166 yards and four scores.
If the Patriots are looking to keep up that same kind of ground attack in 2014, Jones-Drew would be the best free-agent option.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscribers link), the Jets, Bills and Dolphins held the first, fifth and 23rd most effective run defenses in the NFL in 2013. If the Patriots are to find success on the ground in the AFC East, they will need a durable, bruising runner like Jones-Drew.
This offense will always be featured around quarterback Tom Brady; however, with Jones-Drew in the fold, the Patriots could experience one of their most balanced offenses in quite some time.