The Green Bay Packers have a decision to make this offseason at running back. A.J. Dillon’s contract is up. After four years in Green Bay, the unrestricted free agent can sign anywhere.
Brian Gutekunst made it clear that the Packers would like Aaron Jones, their starting running back, to return:
The only hiccup in that would be the money. Here is a good breakdown of potential options for what the cap implications of a Jones extension could look like in 2024:
Assuming Jones returns to Green Bay next season, it makes sense for the Packers to look elsewhere for his backup.
The running back market is volatile right now. Teams are reluctant to hand out big contracts to running backs because they tend to break down earlier in their careers than to players at other positions. Dillon is entering his age-26 season. But considering the way that Dillon runs and his overall mileage, the Packers should be hesitant to give him a long-term deal.
Dillon racked up over 845 carries at Boston College. In contrast, the two top backs in Dillon’s draft class, D’Andre Swift and Clyde Edwards-Helaire, had 810 carries combined in their three years before getting drafted.
However, Dillon has not been Green Bay’s primary back. Dillon has carried the rock a combined 597 times in four years with the Packers. That’s not crazy usage, but the Packers used Dillon as the lead back when Jones was out.
Dillon’s PFF grades highlight his consistency. The Packers put him in the correct role. He’s a big, bruising back who can come in and provide the offense with a different skill set than Jones. Jones has never had a PFF grade lower than 75.7, which he recorded this past year, or higher than 86.7, which he produced in his second season.
Dillon has also found consistency in his stats year after year. Dillion has averaged 730 yards and four touchdowns in the last three years. Green Bay knows roughly what they can get out of Dillon every year. But Dillon’s lack of versatility is the knock on him. Running backs must catch the ball out of the backfield in the modern NFL. Dillon can do it, but it’s not his strength. Considering how multiple Green Bay’s offense is, the Packers may want a more versatile back behind Jones.
Spotrac estimates that the Packers will be $6 million over the salary cap. Therefore, the Packers will be looking to cut costs however they can. Dillon’s raise could be part of Green Bay’s cost-cutting, even if it’s marginal.
Dillon’s rookie deal ends this offseason. Last season, Dillon made $1,321,458 in base salary. That ranks just behind Jacksonville Jaguars rookie Tank Bigsby and just ahead of former Minnesota Vikings running back Latavius Murray. However, Dillon will be in for a big raise.
Spotrac estimates that Dillon will get a one-year, $3.5 million contract, comparable to Ezekiel Elliott, Gus Edwards, and Samaje Perine. All those players fit the bill as mid-20s change-of-pace backs who operate primarily between the tackles.
While the Packers could probably sign Dillon to a one-year, $3.5 million deal and not break the bank, there are many other options in the draft. The Packers should be able to find good running back value in the later rounds.
Given who he is as a teammate, Green Bay will always be tempted to bring back Dillon. He probably won’t be that expensive, and he knows his role and is familiar with the offense. But the Packers need every cent they can get, and Dillon is not as versatile as Jones or other options available in the draft.
The Packers would be wise to save their money and let Dillon go in free agency. That would allow them to target a back in the draft that will be more affordable, more versatile, and Jones’ potential heir apparent.
All stats and data via ESPN, PFF, and Spotrac unless otherwise noted.