Remember when the Green Bay Packers drafted a Boston College running back in the second round of the 2020 NFL draft? It now looks like that was a genius move, as Aaron Jones future with the Green Bay Packers is up in the air after the Packers opted not to place the franchise tag on their star running back. Jones is set to head into free agency as the top running back available, and it seems as if his time in Green Bay could be coming to a close.
Aaron Jones burst onto the scene in 2018 before posting back-to-back 1000+ yard seasons with Green Bay in 2019 and 2020. Over his first two full seasons as Green Bay’s leading rusher, he has amassed 3,017 total yards and 30 total touchdowns. As his totals imply, Jones is not only a great runner, but also a solid pass catching back as well. Jones picked up 355 receiving yards and 2 scores in the air last season despite missing two games, which goes to show how solid of a check down option he has become for QB Aaron Rodgers. With Center Corey Linsley and Jones expected to command large deals in free agency, the Packers offense will most likely have a different look to it come next season.
Jones efficiency over the past couple seasons raises the question of why the Packers wouldn’t want him back. Green Bay is currently over the cap by $9.6 million, and it’s going to be a struggle to just get under that number by March 17th, which is when all teams must be in compliance with the league’s salary cap. Jones is expected to command a deal worth around $14 million a year, so it’s blatantly obvious that the Packers don’t have the space to try to retain him at the moment. Franchising Jones would have afforded the Packers time to try to create more salary cap space in an effort to be able to sign him, but the Packers opted against that, and may lose Jones in the process.
Without Jones in the fold, Green Bay would be left with Jamaal Williams and A.J. Dillon as their only running backs on the roster. Williams has been a solid second option to Jones for the past couple of seasons, but he hasn’t done anything to make the Packers believe he could produce similar numbers to Jones in a starting capacity. And that second round pick from Boston College, A.J. Dillon, spent most of last season on the bench, but was phenomenal in his one start against the Panthers last season. Dillon ran for 124 yards on 21 carries and scored two touchdowns in that game, showing that he can take over as the lead back if need be. Between Williams and Dillon, the Packers are better set than most teams in the league to handle Jones potential departure.
Jones leaving would also hurt the Packers passing game to some extent. Aside from star wideout Davante Adams, Green Bay doesn’t have much depth at the receiver position. Marquez Valdes-Scantling is a hit or miss player, and Allen Lazard missed six games this past season due to injuries. Even when Jones is struggling to find any room on the ground, he adds another dimension to his game in his receiving skills. For example, prior to exiting the NFC Championship Game with an injury, Jones wasn’t having much success on the ground, only managing 27 yards on 6 carries. Jones managed to keep helping the team through the aerial attack, as he had four timely catches, despite them only picking up seven yards. Those four grabs were tied for second most on the team, so even if he’s not generating a ton of yards off of them, they are still valuable options for a QB to have, especially against a stout defense like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
While it may seem implausible for Jones to return to Green Bay, the Packers are actively trying to reach an extension with him before free agency begins. They could conceivably reach a deal with him in their current cap situation, but it would create quite an interesting cap situation for the Packers to say the least. Should Jones choose to depart in free agency, the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets have emerged as front runners for their services. While there are other teams who could use a top tier running back like Jones, the reduced salary cap may decrease the number of teams interested in giving him a big deal.
Aaron Jones time with the Packers seem to be reaching it’s end, meaning the Packers are going to have to find a new starting running back, whether it be an internal option, such as Williams or Dillon, or an external option through free agency, trades, or the draft. Let the free agent frenzy begin!
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