Maurice Jones-Drew’s quest for a restructured contract makes sense for Maurice Jones-Drew. It makes a lot of sense, and it’s presented him with a circumstance that from the players’ standpoint, a holdout is not only easily justifiable, it’s recommended.
Fans won’t like it, and MJD will surely be called selfish, arrogant, and many other words that require very few letters to spell. But this is an NFL climate in which owners can shred contracts at will with little consequence, and for veteran players a fully guaranteed contract is about as elusive that pizza noid who ruins freshness. If a player has a concrete argument to support a holdout as Jones-Drew does and he can afford the repercussions (players can be fined up to $30,000 per day for being absent during training camp), then go for it. This is a league in which often the only way to gain financial security is to not play.
That’s exactly what Jones-Drew will likely be doing when the Jaguars open training camp in a week. Not playing, and forcing his team to experience what life is like without the league’s best running back, and with Blaine Gabbert still going through a likely eternal struggle to gain our respect.
Former Jags RB Fred Taylor was once Jones-Drew’s mentor, and he’s now the rushing title holder’s offseason workout partner. Earlier today in an interview on 1010XL in Jacksonville he insinuated that barring a major change, a holdout is almost certainly looming.
Via Sports Illustrated:
“I think (Jones-Drew) will continue to hold out because there were some things that were miscommunicated by both sides,” Taylor said. “Pride gets involved. Someone has to give. … I don’t think Maurice will be the first one to show his hand. Possibility it’ll go into training camp or even further.”
“He understands it’s a young man’s game. … He’s trying to use whatever leverage he has.”
Jones-Drew is due $9.4 million over the remaining two years of his current contract, and his salary for 2012 is $4.45 million. The last figure there is the most important to MJD, because that reflects his value in the current market after he led the league in rushing in 2011, and it wasn’t even close. He had 1,606 rushing yards and was the only RB to average over 100 yards per game (100.4), while Ray Rice, who finished second, had 1,364 yards.
Jones-Drew will look at the 2012 paychecks of those RBs who were significantly behind him in rushing yards, and his fingers will instinctively rub against his thumb. For example, Chris Johnson was putrid and finished 14th in rushing (1,047 yards), yet he’s slated to earn $8 million this year. That now ludicrous number is a product of Johnson’s holdout last summer and the gun he pointed at Bud Adams (figuratively…we think), and DeAngelo Williams’ equally nuts paycheck is also rooted in last summer’s running back spending spree. Williams had only 836 yards last year (!!!), and he’ll still make more than Jones-Drew in 2012 ($5.25 million).
But with the passing game abruptly taking over the league and non-platoon running backs becoming extinct, the market has since corrected itself, which gives the Jaguars ammo against Jones-Drew. Consider the 2012 salaries for the premier RBs who signed contracts during this offseason. Arian Foster will make $5 million, while Ray Rice will get $2 million, and Marshawn Lynch will be paid $4 million. The average 2012 salary for those three is $3.67 million, putting Jones-Drew well ahead.
However, that doesn’t factor in his age. Jones-Drew is 27, meaning that in running back years he’s really about 42. This is his last chance to secure a lucrative contract, and he knows it. His performance and his 5,386 all-purpose yards over the past three years indicates that he needs to be paid above the average of even the league’s top running backs because, well, he is the top running back.
He needs to use his leverage, and he has plenty of it with his status as the anchor of a young, rebuilding team that will quickly be wayward and astray without his presence in the backfield. Gabbert would flounder, and consequently first-round pick Justin Blackmon could too.
So buckle up, because the semi-annual August running back bickering is about to begin. If MJD’s stance persists, he’ll force GM Gene Smith to sit down at the negotiating table, a table that he still finds very uncomfortable right now.