As we have seen throughout NFL history, signing running backs to long-term, expensive deals rarely works out. With Aaron Jones in line for one of these deals with the Green Bay Packers, it is a good time to look at the history of running backs with mega contracts and examine Green Bay’s current situation.
Since 2009 the leading rusher on the Super Bowl champions has made an average of just $1.107 million per year. No matter how much on-field value the position can generate, it never merits these mega contracts. On average, NFL running backs play for 2.57 years, which is the lowest out of any position group in the league.
In today’s game, teams must save cap space by drafting running backs in the later rounds or signing free agents to economical contracts in order to invest in more crucial positions in the offense.
For example, Christian McCaffrey recently signed a four-year contract extension worth $16 million a year, but only played in three games last year. Although he was great in the games he played, totaling 374 yards with six total touchdowns, the same role could be filled at a much cheaper price. Mike Davis filled in very nicely for Carolina, totaling 1,000 yards from scrimmage.
Now there are rumors that the Panthers are trying to trade McCaffrey to the Houston Texans in order to land Deshaun Watson in what could be perceived as a contract dump. If McCaffrey is expendable, every running back is, right?
It wasn’t so long ago that Todd Gurley looked like a franchise player. In 2017 and 2018 he was one of the best running backs in the NFL and was rewarded with a four-year, $60 million contract, making him the highest-paid running back in NFL history at the time. Last year Gurley was on a one-year, $5 million deal with the Atlanta Falcons and is now a shell of his former self.
He saw an extreme drop-off in production during the 2018 postseason and the 2019 regular season, and the Los Angeles Rams saw no reason to keep him around. Plus, they may have found a future star in Cam Akers in this draft, further proving that signing these running backs to mega contracts is ill-advised. There will always be someone equally effective for a lower price.
To better understand the specific scenario that the Packers face, we need to look at what Jones is supposedly demanding, and the pieces that surround him. Jones is understood to be looking for a top-five running back contract, one that would break records just a few mere years earlier.
Green Bay just drafted AJ Dillon with the 62nd overall pick, and he showed flashes in his limited role as a rookie. He is a bruiser back, one that is very hard to bring down in the freezing cold of a Wisconsin winter. In his limited playing time, Dillon showed enough promise for the Packers to take a risk in making him the full-time starter in lieu of Jones.
To project the future of the Packers organization, look no further than the choice to draft Jordan Love. By investing in a first-round quarterback, the idea is that they would be in position to have enough cap space to put weapons around him when his time comes — whenever that may be. If the Packers sign Jones to a mega contract, it would take away opportunities to surround Love with weapons whenever Aaron Rodgers’ time in Green Bay is up.
Though Jones’ impact has been substantial recently, and he has been a big part of the Packers’ recent success, it is not in the best interest for the future of the organization to re-sign him.