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Despite not using the franchise tag, the Packers were able to get a long-term deal done – on the eve of the legal tampering window – with one of the most explosive running backs in football.
Here are some initial thoughts on the deal:
– This looks like it has the potential of being a really team-friendly deal. Did the Packers call Jones’ bluff? Everyone knew he wanted to stay in Green Bay. And things looked dicey after the team didn’t use the franchise tag. One side needed to give a little to make this work before the start of the new league year. It appears, at first glance, as if Jones sacrificed to stay with the Packers.
– The timeline of the deal looks nearly identical to when the Packers signed Sam Shields to a new long-term deal in 2014, as Tom Silverstein pointed out here. Both times, the team passed on the franchise tag but managed to get a deal done a few days later, just before the player entered free agency. And the agent was the same for both players: Drew Rosenhaus. Completing the deal before free agency makes the Packers’ decision to pass on the tag look much more reasonable.
– Any lucrative long-term deal with a running back comes with a substantial amount of risk, and this deal won’t look good if Jones gets hurt and the injury changes his impact as a player, which is so often the case for many great running backs. But the Packers have largely protected Jones during his first four seasons, and the presence of A.J. Dillon ensures the Packers won’t need to run Jones into the ground over the next few years. There are some risk-reduction mechanisms in place in Green Bay. The Packers can be optimistic about keeping Jones’ prime window open as long as possible.
– Sometimes, situation does trump money. Jones, who wanted to be back in Green Bay, likely could have found more money per year or in guarantees as an unrestricted free agent on the open market, but he couldn’t have found a better situation. With the Packers, he operates as a dynamic, multi-use weapon, playing with an MVP quarterback, in an offense perfectly designed to emphasize his talents. Also, he won’t need to handle every carry, likely lessening his risk of injury, and the Packers always value the offensive line, an important part of any running back’s success. One final thing: Matt LaFleur understands his value in the passing game. This really is a running back’s dream spot.
– Getting Jones back all but guarantees Jamaal Williams will be moving on. Dillon, last year’s second-round pick, has a big role to fill as the complementary running back. Williams averaged nearly 150 total touches per year over the last two seasons. Dillon won’t be the lead back, but he’ll still be a major factor in 2021.
– The Packers have done an admirable job keeping this team together despite a really tricky salary cap situation. Corey Linsley is likely gone, but he might be the only major departure.
– Matt LaFleur is going to do some fun stuff with both Jones and Dillon on the field together. He sprinkled some of it in against the Rams in the playoffs. Expect him to do more. Because Jones is such a good receiver and Dillon such a powerful runner, the pair presents unique problems when on the field together.
– On a human level, this is nothing if not a pleasing outcome. The Packers drafted Jones in the fifth round four years ago. He became a star, and a beloved member of the team. This deal rewards a terrific young player and teammate. Just look at how his teammates reacted on social media. This will be a hugely popular move among players. That counts for something, even if it doesn’t show up in the contract numbers or the box score.
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