Is it a good idea to give big money to a franchise running back?
Do you reward a guy financially for being the team's signature player and a pillar of the community?
Are you paying a guy for past performance or future expectations?
Does a player being beloved by a fan base mean anything?
All difficult questions to answer. All are relevant to Maurice Jones-Drew and his current contract situation with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Jones-Drew currently has two years left on his contract. Relative to his standing as one of the best running backs in the league, he is well underpaid. He's scheduled to make between $4 million and $5 million this year and next, which doesn't sound bad, but is less than what 10 other running backs will make in 2012: Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Ray Rice, Matt Morte, Steven Jackson, Darren McFadden, DeAngelo Williams, Michael Turner, Arian Foster and Reggie Bush.
If you're paying based on production, Jones-Drew should be among the very top names on that list. He isn't, though, and he isn't happy about it. But Jaguars general manager Gene Smith says Jones-Drew is not getting a new deal. From the AP:
''Obviously, he has expressed that he would like to renegotiate and we have expressed again that we feel he has a contract with two years left that we expect him to fulfill those obligations,'' Smith said.
It's a tidy little quote that sounds fair, but do the Jaguars not have to fulfill their obligation to pay their best players in the league as such? They're not contractually bound to do this, but do they want other players thinking that if they have a season that places them among the best in the league, that they won't get paid, either?
Jones-Drew is a really tough case. The argument can be made that it's a terrible idea to give franchise money to a running back, and there's evidence to support that. But Jones-Drew is the perfect counter argument. Is there anyone who's been more productive, who's worked harder, who's more beloved in the community, or who has meant more to an organization?
Without Jones-Drew, what would the Jaguars have looked like over the past few years? What would they look like now?
Gene Smith has made it clear what direction he's going in. With a mandatory minicamp coming up, maybe we'll see what direction Jones-Drew wants to go in, too.