Can the Green Bay Packers still sign Aaron Jones?
The short answer: Probably not. But it’s not entirely out of the question.
The Packers surprised a lot of people in this year’s draft. After drafting quarterback Jordan Love in the first round and even trading up for him, most experts and fans expected Green Bay to draft a wide receiver or defensive help for their run defense.
Instead, the team drafted AJ Dillon. The running back out of Boston College is a great pick, but wasn’t an immediate need or a weapon to help quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The Packers already had Jones coming off a monster year and a solid second punch with Jamaal Williams.
It appears Green Bay was drafting a running back replacement. Or replacements.
Some big players were and are going to be entering free agency after this season. That list included Kenny Clark, David Bakhtiari, Corey Linsley and Kevin King. Also on that free agent list? Their running back duo, Jones and Williams.
The Packers way is to usually sign their guys during the season, and this year has been no different:
- In August, Clark signed a four-year, $70 million contract.
- Bakhtiari became the highest-paid offensive lineman on a rainy Green Bay weekend in November before the win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, signing a four-year, $103.5 million deal.
Those are two huge deals for players the Packers absolutely needed to sign and should have signed. If you talked to any Packers expert or fan, Clark and Bakhtiari were the first two players on their must-sign lists. And that’s part of what makes the possibility to now re-sign running back Aaron Jones more complicated.
The other part? Recent running back contracts.
In September, New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara signed a five-year, $75 million deal. A lot of it is on the backend and includes roster bonuses, workout bonuses and other random details. But, that is still a lot of money for a running back. Dalvin Cook also signed a five-year, $63 million deal that same month.
You could argue that Kamara and Cook are more talented than Jones and have more NFL star power currently, but they aren’t too far off.
Let’s quickly compare Kamara and Jones last year. Over 14 games in 2019, Kamara had almost 800 yards rushing with five touchdowns and another touchdown and 533 yards receiving. Jones played 16 games, and had a ridiculous 1,084 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground. He had another 474 receiving yards and another three touchdowns through the air.
To be fair, last year was Jones’ best year, while Kamara’s was slightly disappointing compared to previous years. But, it shows that the price range to re-sign Jones could be close to that $12-15 million a year range.
Jones is a special talent. But with Kamara and Cook paving the way for a class of impressive running backs heading into free agency next year, Green Bay might not be able to swing it.
After signing Clark and Bakhiari, Green Bay has around $6.5-7 million left in cap space. That can be carried over into next year if not used, but with salary caps expected to decrease due to COVID-19, how would the team be able to swing it?
One angle I have seen is that if the Packers re-structured or cut Preston Smith. The linebacker is on the second year of a four-year $52 million dollar deal. This year hasn’t been exactly impressive, but it seems drastic to cut him or ask him to re-structure. They do have Rashan Gary waiting in the wings for depth, but having a solid and deep defense is always a good idea. Re-structuring Smith would be great, but I don’t see it happening.
One thing that could drop Aaron Jones’ contract total is his history of injuries. Last year was the only year he played every game, and having another minor injury this year didn’t help his cause. That might keep some teams away, but his numbers speak for themselves. Any team in the NFL should want Aaron Jones.
And that is where A.J. Dillon comes back into play. I still think the Packers pursue Jones and try to work out a deal. It is the smart and right thing to do, but there is always a chance a team with a lot of cap space that desperately needs a running back could grab him. A team like the Miami Dolphins could sign him to a monster deal. With a lot of young talent on that team, Jones could be a leader and get plenty of carries with Myles Gaskin.
If Jones doesn’t work out, the Packers need to make sure Jamaal Williams re-signs. Whenever Jones has been hurt, Williams has stepped up and had some great games. He is playing his butt off this year to show he deserves it, and he definitely does. His great locker room presence doesn’t hurt, and Aaron Rodgers loves the dude. And being trusted by No. 12 goes a long way in Green Bay.
And say for some reason both Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams don’t re-sign? Well, the Packers have A.J. Dillon with a year under his belt, an upcoming draft and enough cap space to sign a veteran for depth. I’m sure Carlos Hyde will still be around and looking for a team.
Re-structuring player salaries is possible to sign Jones. Signing a big contract is possible for Jones. But it is just as possible that the Packers won’t be able to get it done. For the time being, we can only hope they feed him the ball as much as possible and use him, just in case this is his last year with the green and gold.
Putting the ball into Aaron Jones’ hands leads to good things.