- Mike DiRocco, ESPN Staff Writer
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- Jaguars general manager David Caldwell isn't ruling out a return by running back Maurice Jones-Drew, regardless of how unlikely it seems.
Caldwell said he has not spoken with Jones-Drew or his agent, Adisa Bakari, since the Senior Bowl but that doesn't mean that the team doesn't want to re-sign Jones-Drew to allow him to finish out his career in Jacksonville.
"We haven't closed the door," Caldwell said. "We're not the type of people generally that never say never or ever say ever, but I think we'll just see how that plays out. We have a ton of respect for MoJo and ton of respect for his career and the person he is."
However, despite Caldwell's assertion to the contrary, Jones-Drew's return is doubtful. At this point it has more to do with playing time than money. The Jaguars signed free agent Toby Gerhart earlier this month to be the team's No. 1 back, meaning Jones-Drew would have to share carries if he were to return.
Jones-Drew did that earlier in his career with Fred Taylor, but by his third season he was getting the majority of the carries and Taylor was released following the 2008 season. But Taylor was the team's all-time leading rusher (11,271 yards) and Jones-Drew understood his role was to be a complementary back in his first two seasons.
Jones-Drew went on to rush for more than 1,300 years from 2009-11, including an NFL-leading 1,606 yards in 2011. However, he missed 10 games in 2012 because of a Lisfranc injury. He ran for 803 yards in 2013, but averaged a career-low 3.4 yards per carry.
If he were to return he would have to share the load with Gerhart, who has carried the ball just 276 times in four seasons as Adrian Peterson's backup in Minnesota. Jones-Drew, whose 8,071 yards is second in franchise history, may not be willing to do that.
As free agency continues, however, he may not have much choice. It isn't exactly a lucrative market for running backs. Though the New England Patriots, New York Jets, Miami Dolphins and Pittsburgh Steelers are reportedly interested in Jones-Drew, Bakari would only confirm that Jones-Drew has met with the Steelers.
Jones-Drew may opt to hold off until closer to training camp to sign, or wait even longer to see if there's a team that needs to add a running back because of injury.
At the end of the 2013 season Jones-Drew said he was interested in signing a three-year contract and is reportedly seeking a deal worth $3.5 million annually. That's a lot of money for a 29-year-old, 5-foot-7, 210-pound, back with a lot of mileage. He has carried the ball 1,804 times, caught 335 passes for 2,873 yards, and returned 79 kickoffs and 15 punts in his eight seasons.
Caldwell wouldn't say it, but that's a number he won't get from the Jaguars. Caldwell did say, however, that the team did not extend Jones-Drew an offer before free agency began.
"He's testing the market and we haven't really got to that point," Caldwell said. "We just had some very candid discussion with his representation and I think just needs to find out where he feels he's going to be best utilized."
It's unlikely that's Jacksonville.
4mEric D. Williams