Wanna see the Jacksonville Jaguars' 2011 offense? This is pretty much it. (Getty Images)
Matt Forte and Ray Rice may have brand new contracts to celebrate the 2012 NFL season, but that doesn't mean that everything is positive in the land of the elite running backs. Quite the opposite, in fact, as Jacksonville Jaguars back Maurice Jones-Drew, the league's leading rusher in 2011, has skipped the first day of training camp in lieu of a favorable contract extension. There are no plans for Pocket Hercules to report. And according to those in the know, this impasse could last a while.
Mike Freeman of CBS Sports wrote on Thursday that per his sources, Jones-Drew is angry with the team, ready to test the collective will of the front office, and in no hurry to report without some good financial news at the end of the rainbow. Steve Wyche of the NFL Network adds that Jones-Drew is prepared to hold out through training camp and possibly into the season.
At this time, the team is unmoved.
"There's no decision here,'' Jags owner Shad Khan told the Florida Times-Union this week. "It's his choice. There's been very little for us to do rather than wait on whatever he might choose to do ... There's more than 50 players [on the team] under contract. There are other people under contract in management, coaches. Does that mean if you do it for one, you do it for everybody. Where do you draw the line?''
Perhaps you draw the line at market value for his production and position. In April of 2009, Jones-Drew signed a five-year, $30.95 million deal that included $17 million in guaranteed money, and the first two years base salary guaranteed. He's set to make $4.45 million in 2012 and $4.95 million in 2013, and he'd be able to test the market again in 2014.
Compare those numbers with the current deals for Adrian Peterson (seven years, $100 million, $30 million guaranteed), Chris Johnson (four years, $53.5 million, $30 million guaranteed), LeSean McCoy (five years, $45.6 million, $20.8 million guaranteed), Arian Foster (five years, $43.5 million, $20.8 million guaranteed), and Matt Forte (four years, $32 million, $18 million guaranteed), and you can see why Jones-Drew has a beef with his current situation.
Not only did his 1,606 rushing yards pace the field, but given rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert's unfortunate dalliances with some of the worst historical first-year seasons we've ever seen, there really wasn't any reason for any opponent to focus on any other aspect of the Jags' offense. One would hope that can change with an offseason for Gabbert, the addition of new offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey, and the selection of Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon in the first round of the 2012 draft. But until further notice, Jones-Drew retains his status as perhaps the most valuable running back to his team in the league.
"I was quoted as saying that Maurice was going to hold out," former teammate Fred Taylor told SIRIUS NFL Radio on Thursday morning. "I never said that, but in speaking to Maurice, he understands his position, and he feels that he has the necessary leverage to fight for a [new] contract. I have to tread cautiously because of my relationship with the team and with Maurice. I know he's been training in south Florida, and that was the one thing I told him -- if you're going to fight this, make sure you're ready when it's time to go back, or whatever you decide to do in the long run. Otherwise, going back after trying to hold out, it's not going to look so good in the public's eye, and in the eyes of the team.
"When Maurice got his deal a couple years ago, I think the team did a great job of saying, 'Look -- this is the direction we want to go in.' Considering that he hadn't rushed for a thousand yards [in a season], and for them to honor his potential, was a good gesture by the team. In all fairness, I've got to give the team a check mark on that side. Of course, he was the leading rusher in the league last year, but the team was only 5-11. So, we have to put the facts out there, and that doesn't necessarily hold a lot of weight."
Taylor's take is fair and balanced, and he does a very good job of outlining the agendas of both parties. It's true that the Jaguars gave Jones-Drew that contract before he ever hit the magic number, but Jones-Drew never had more than 197 carries in any of his first three seasons. Had he flirted with 250 or more carries in any of those years, there's little doubt that he would have passed that mark with ease.
And since he signed that deal, he's clearly outperformed it based on current market value. Jones-Drew is the only back in the NFL to rush for more than 1,300 yards in each of the last three seasons, and as has been mentioned, he's done it with quarterback issues that put the bull's-eye of every defense squarely on his head.
Maurice Jones-Drew clearly believes that he is what makes the Jaguars' offense go, such as it is. The numbers and game tape agree. The team may be forced to fall in line over time.
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