Aaron Jones Will Highlight 2021 Free Agent Running Backs
It was tough watching Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones fumble for the second time early in the third quarter of yesterday's NFC Championship game. Showtyme had not lost the ball all season, and to make matters worse, he injured his chest on the second fumble and did not return. Without Jones, the Packers came back from a 28-10 deficit, but they still lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31-26, ending their chances of playing in Super Bowl LV.
Despite Aaron Rodgers nearly taking his team to an NFC title, the Packers rushing offense was noticeably weaker without Jones in the lineup for the second half against Tampa Bay. Green Bay spent a second round draft pick on A.J. Dillon, but the rookie from Boston College does not possess the same all around ability in the backfield that #33 has given Green Bay.
The former UTEP star just completed his second straight 1,000-yard season with the Packers and he also earned his first ever Pro Bowl appearance. He also switched agents late in the season and he is now represented by Drew Rosenhaus. Jones has always maintained his desire to stay in Green Bay, but the Packers have not yet offered him the long term deal that was financially beneficial to stay with the green and gold. Christian McCaffery (Carolina), Dalvin Cook (Minnesota), Joe Mixon (Cincinnati), and Alvin Kamara (New Orleans) were all selected like Jones in the 2017 NFL Draft, and each franchise running back was given lucrative contract extensions to stay with their teams. What complicates matters even more is the uncertainty surrounding the 2021 NFL salary cap and the Packers near the bottom of the league in projected cap space.
If the marriage between Jones and Green Bay is over, then the 27-year old El Pasoan will headline the upcoming free agent running back class. Other notable free agents include: Leonard Fournette, Kenyon Drake, Gus Edwards, James Connor, Chris Carson, Todd Gurley, Matt Breida, Mike Davis, and Jamaal Williams. Veterans like Frank Gore and Adrian Peterson will also be available.
Of that group, Jones is the only 1,000-yard rusher. According to Spotrac, his calculated market value is an annual salary of $14 million or $56,173,664 over four years, which would rank him as the third highest paid running back in the league. The site also lists Dalvin Cook, Derick Henry, Alvin Kamara, and Ezekiel Elliott as comparables based on age, contract status, and statistical production.
The 2021 NFL league year begins on March 17th, which is the official start of free agency. However, teams can start negotiating with players who will become free agents on the 15th of that month. Aaron Jones has done everything he can to try and remain in Green Bay, but there will be plenty of teams excited about adding a multi-dimensional running back in the prime of their career. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Detroit Lions, Houston Texans, and Pittsburgh Steelers ranked as the five worst rushing offenses in the NFL in 2020. According to Over the Cap, The Jags have the most money to spend this offseason, while the Bucs are seventh in the league with just over $24 million in salary cap space. The New York Jets were also 10th worst in rushing this season and they have over $63 million in salary cap space. Jones is less than two months away from receiving the biggest payday of his life and the only question will be which team adds some Showtyme to their offense.