Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew has been a holdout in Jacksonville all summer. And now his agent comes out last week and says Jones-Drew is “open” to being traded.
Yep, a 27-year-old running back, playing in the 32nd-largest NFL media market, set to make $10 million over the next two years, with one career trip to the playoffs and 1,484 career carries already under his belt — is now “open” to being traded.
In other news, I’m open to having Jay-Z and Rihanna perform at my wedding next summer. And my single friends are open to having dinner with Megan Fox.
Wake up, MJD.
Not only do the Jaguars and new owner Shad Khan not need your consent in trading you elsewhere, but you have absolutely no say in the matter, anyway.
Truthfully, Jones-Drew has no leverage in the situation. Khan, as noted by many other writers over the past several weeks, has a long history of labor disputes with strong unions and furious employees from his career in the auto-parts industry. A disgruntled multi-millionaire who has two years left on his contract, yet wants to be an even bigger multi-millionaire? Sheesh. Let him sit. The Jaguars, collecting $30,000 in fines every day Jones-Drew doesn’t show up to camp, are laughing all the way to the bank this summer.
“He’s not here, and that’s his decision,” Khan told Yahoo! this month. “Believe me, it’s not a great concern. You hope for the best, and you plan for the worst. Our goals for the season don’t change, and if he isn’t here, he isn’t here. I don’t control it. It’s his choice.”
Jones-Drew has two years left on a lucrative $31 million deal he signed in 2009. And although he led the league in rushing a season ago, there are no misty-eyed memories or plaques on the wall from his 2011 campaign. The team went 5-11, the offense was disastrous and the season was altogether forgettable.
There’s a new coaching staff now, new playmakers at wide receiver and fresh new optimism in Jacksonville this summer. There’s also a new sheriff in town in Khan. “Believe me,” he told Mike Silver of Yahoo! last week, “on a zero-to-10 level of stress, this doesn’t even move the needle.”
Adding insult to injury (or, in this case, holdout), Rashad Jennings, MJD’s replacement at running back, has been outstanding throughout training camp and the preseason this year. The Jaguars have won their first two exhibition contests, and the former seventh-round pick out of Liberty is averaging an impressive 5.1 yards per carry in those wins.
A 6-foot-1, 230-pound back, he is a power runner who’s shown no signs of being unable to carry the load. He blocks, he catches the ball and he hits the holes hard. He’s serviceable, at the very least.
A few years ago, Jones-Drew might have had some leverage. But there really isn’t anything working in his favor now. First and foremost, he’s a 27-year-old running back with close to 1,500 career carries. He’s already been in the league — carrying a heavy load, mind you — for six seasons. That’s a lot for a running back, a position that usually sees one’s late 20s as the twilight of his career.
Second, it’s simply no longer a running back’s game. In a league that saw the Giants win a Super Bowl despite boasting the 32nd-ranked rushing offense in the NFL a season ago, and two other teams — Green Bay and New England — finish in the final eight despite lackluster rushing attacks, it’s hard to justify tearing up a lucrative contract and writing up an even more costly one for a tailback during this day and age.
Though talents like Jones-Drew are certainly hard to come by, the Giants have won two Super Bowls with Ahmad Bradshaw (seventh round) as their go-to guy down the stretch, an undrafted guy named Arian Foster already has led the league in rushing, and no fewer than 10 low-cost starting running backs from a season ago were third-day draft selections making less than $2 million last year.
The dropoff from Jones-Drew to Jennings may seem steep at first glance, but it’s nowhere near the dropoff the Saints would have faced going from Drew Brees to Chase Daniel. It’s not even in the same universe as the dropoff the Colts had last year going from Peyton Manning to the cast of misfits replacing him.
Put simply, running back is not as valued a position as it once was. And in MJD’s case, he already was given a large contract, with $17.5 guaranteed and a $9 million signing bonus three years ago. No teammates are shedding tears over his contract issues. No rational Jaguars fans are rallying in his corner, either.
In fact, there already seems to be a new attitude in the Jacksonville locker room. Blaine Gabbert’s cut his “Sunshine” blond locks and actually looks the part of a franchise quarterback. He’s played like an entirely different quarterback this summer and seems to have command and control of both the huddle and the locker room in his second season.
Head coach Mike Mularkey, who acknowledged that he’s still never even met Jones-Drew in person, already has ramped up a passing attack that will feature Gabbert throwing to first-round selection Justin Blackmon and free-agent pickup Laurent Robinson. Mularkey gets much of the credit for turning Matt Ryan into the quarterback he is in Atlanta. He’s embraced and emboldened Gabbert already.
We know Marcedes Lewis can play, Mike Thomas can man the slot, and there’s no lack of confidence in Jennings at running back. This offense, though awful a season ago, is going to be much improved in 2012 — whether Jones-Drew is starting in the backfield or not.
As Jones-Drew’s $30,000 fines pile up by the day, Jaguars camp appears to be rolling along smoothly. The fans are by no means in MJD’s corner, and the local media haven’t gone on the offensive for the team’s star player.
There may very well be teams willing to trade for Jones-Drew, but I can’t imagine many willing to pay him more than what he’s set to make from Jacksonville. If anything, this holdout has done MJD more bad than good. Always a fan favorite and one of the few players to truly embrace the hobby of fantasy football (he hosts a fantasy football radio show on SiriusXM), he’s always been an affable, marketable NFL star.
But in this case, he’s been “out of sight and out of mind” in Jacksonville. The show goes on without him. There’s already great excitement around Jennings and the other young Jaguars stars, and if Khan’s comments earlier this week are any indication, there’s no great rush to make him happy.
If the offense continues to play well and perform for their new coach and new mustachioed owner, it’ll be MJD being pushed into the corner.
The issue is over how far he wants to take it. This, his sixth season, could be the peak of his playing career. Is he willing to pay close to a million dollars in fines to skip it?