Each day this week I'll provide an answer to a key question facing the Jaguars in the offseason.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- In mid-December I wrote that the Jaguars should re-sign running back Maurice Jones-Drew because he'd be a valuable asset in the locker room during the rebuild under general manager David Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley. I still believe that.
For that to happen, though, Jones-Drew will have to swallow some pride. He will have to accept less money and a shorter contract than he wants. For that reason, I believe Jones-Drew has played his last game in teal and black.
Jones-Drew is after the kind of money that Steven Jackson, Reggie Bush and Shonn Greene got when they signed free-agent contracts in 2013. Jackson signed a three-year deal worth $12 million ($4 million guaranteed) with Atlanta, Bush got a four-year deal worth $16 million ($4 million signing bonus) from Detroit, and Green received a three-year deal worth $10 million ($5 million guaranteed) from Tennessee.
In each case, the teams overpaid for backs past the mid-point of their careers. The Falcons signed Jackson, who turned 30 just before the 2013 season, because they felt they were a player or two away from making a Super Bowl run. Atlanta won just four games. Bush, who will turn 30 in March, did produce on the field but he also was signed with a Super Bowl run in mind and it obviously didn't help, either, because the Lions missed the playoffs. The Titans' signing of Greene, who turns 29 in August, was insurance in case Chris Johnson floundered. None of those signings worked out.
Jones-Drew will be 29 in March, but he's got significant wear-and-tear on his body: 2,233 touches (rushes, receptions, kick and punt returns) in eight seasons, and that includes the 2012 season in which he played just six games. Despite being 5-foot-7 and 210 pounds, Jones-Drew is a physical, between-the-tackles runner and has taken quite a pounding in his career.
He's also coming off back-to-back seasons in which he's battled injuries. He missed 10 games with a Lisfranc injury in 2012 and was hobbled by hamstring, ankle and knee issues in 2013.
In watching him this past season, he clearly did not look similar to the player who led the NFL in rushing in 2011. He wasn't as explosive through the hole and wasn't able to get to the edge and turn the corner as well as he has in the past. Jones-Drew said he was robbed of a full offseason of conditioning last summer because he was still recovering from the Lisfranc surgery but will be able to fully train this year.
That may be the case, but GMs will see the film from 2013 and wonder if he's capable of being a No. 1 back. Plus, the free-agent market is saturated with quality backs that are better (and younger) options than Jones-Drew: Knowshon Moreno, LeGarrette Blount, Ben Tate, Darren McFadden, and Anthony Dixon, to name a few.
Jones-Drew will draw interest, but he's going to have to deal with the fact that most teams aren't going to be willing to sign him to a three- or four-year deal, not when that means he'll be 32 or 33 years old when the contract expires. The offers won't be as lucrative as he'd like.
The Jaguars want Jones-Drew back but on their terms, which likely is a two-year deal with incentives that could be worth up to $5 million per year. Jones-Drew said it's about the money, and the Jaguars, despite having roughly $54 million in cap space in 2014, aren't going to be willing to go higher. Jones-Drew tried a hardline approach with the Jaguars once, holding out all of training camp in 2012 and most of the preseason in an effort to get a new contract, and it didn't work.
He'll likely get the same result again this spring and take the money somewhere else.