Thoughts on Maurice Jones-Drew’s holdout

5 Sep

Maurice Jones-Drew is now back with the Jaguars after missing nearly all of training camp in what proved to be a pointless holdout. Jaguars management were smart to stand their ground, not even discussing a new deal with a player who has two years remaining on his current contract. Jones-Drew is currently the face of the Jacksonville Jaguars and the 2011 NFL rushing champion, but, from an organizational standpoint, giving him a contract extension would have been a bad decision.

           At this point, it is no secret: the NFL is a passing league. The teams that consistently win feature star quarterbacks protected by quality offensive lines. Recent Super Bowl teams Green Bay, for example had potent passing offenses led by star quarterbacks but had undrafted, unheralded featured running backs (James Starks and Benjarvus Green-Ellis). Run-oriented offenses usually cannot keep up with wide-open passing offenses; the idea of a bell-cow running back carrying a team to a championship is obsolete. The idea was obsolete when Mike Ditka paid a king’s ransom for Ricky Williams in the 1999 draft and it is most certainly obsolete now. In 2012, the Jaguars had the league’s leading rusher and fifth ranked defense; they finished with a 5-11 record. Without a potent passing offense, a team cannot succeed in today’s NFL.

            Maurice Jones-Drew is only 27, but he has accumulated almost 1500 carries in a 6-year career. The odds are against him remaining healthy and effective through more 300-plus carry seasons. Other running backs, like Shaun Alexander and Edgerrin James, who received rich new contracts at similar points in their careers, were mostly ineffective after signing. MJD has already made $21.8 million from the contract he signed in 2009. It would certainly be nice for him to receive a second lucrative veteran contract in his career, but all signs point to this not happening.

            Jacksonville has had trouble selling tickets lately, and it would certainly help attendance to have their star player around for longer than 2 seasons. However, the best way for a small market team to help attendance is to win, and giving MJD another rich contract will not add up to victories. The team would be smart to instead invest money in the offensive line and the secondary. The Jaguars need to be able to put up points through the air and to defend the pass. The transition to this model will be long and difficult, and it certainly does not involve investing more running back in the running back position.

            Maurice Jones-Drew is one of the best running backs in the NFL and has been the Jaguars best player for years. On the surface, it seems cruel that he did not receive a new contract from the team he has given so much. Professional football can be a cruel business; smart organizations don’t reward players for past performance- they pay players at important positions that will produce long-term.

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