Once in a lifetime.
That's about the only way you can describe the opportunity before the Denver Broncos to sign soon-to-be free agent Thomas Jones, a 1,400-yard back last season that was released yesterday by the New York Jets.
It's no secret to anyone that the Broncos' running game struggled mightily last season. Yes, some of the troubles could be blamed on a suddenly shaky offensive line, but the fact that Knowshon Moreno got most of the carries as a rookie shows that the Broncos lacked a talented veteran back.
Enter Jones. While he is 31 years old, his production has actually INCREASED the last three seasons. He went from 1,119 yards in 2007 to 1,312 in 2008 to 1,402 last season. He also went from one touchdown in 2007 to 13 in 2008 and 14 in 2009.
He is bucking the trend by becoming more productive when most running backs his age plateau and begin to decline. Case in point: LaDainian Tomlinson, who, like Jones, is also a soon-to-be free agent.
Even with the age factor, Jones would still be an upgrade over Moreno. Again, Moreno was a rookie and has plenty of time to become an elite back. However, Jones would help this team right away and take some pressure off quarterback Kyle Orton, who could be working with a new number one receiver should Brandon Marshall be traded.
In fact, this would be a great opportunity for Moreno. Sit behind Jones and learn from one of the most underrated backs in the NFL while honing his skills when Jones does retire.
An area Jones would immediately help Moreno is in the turnover area.
Jones has averaged just over two fumbles a season (24 in 10 seasons) and he only lost two in the past four seasons. Moreno meanwhile fumbled four times (as can be expected from a rookie) but he also lost all four, some of which occurred at critical times in games.
It's not a stretch to think had some of those fumbles gone the other way, the Broncos would have been in the postseason.
The pursuit of Jones (or lackthereof) will be a telling sign of what Broncos fans can expect from the regime of head coach Josh McDaniels and general manager Brian Xanders. With the salary cap about to disappear, the signing of Jones would be a very low risk move. Even if Jones isn't as productive, Moreno was still close to a 1,000-yard back as a rookie and Jones could still mentor him from the sideline.
Last season, the Broncos added some strong veteran leadership to the defense by signing Brian Dawkins. Now they have the chance to do the same on an offense that lacks a strong personality.
Jones brought strong leadership and work ethic to an offense with a rookie quarterback in New York.
In Denver he would help relieve some pressure from Orton in the locker room which should translate to better on-field results. Jones would bring some much-needed edge to an offense that showed no fire down the stretch of the 2009 campaign.
There will no doubt be a bidding war for Jones' services. Let's hope the Broncos bring the heavy ammunition.
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