Is it a good idea for any NFL team to trade their best player? Typically no, but the situation the Jacksonville Jaguars and Maurice Jones-Drew face is anything but typical.
The star running back is in the final season of his contract and is coming off a season that began with a lengthy contract dispute and ended with foot surgery that kept him out for 10 games.
Maurice Jones-Drew has been the heart and soul of the Jaguars, and the most popular player as well, for the past few seasons but that doesn’t mean he is isn’t disposable – for several reasons.
Jones-Drew will be a free agent after this coming season and his contract will likely demand a salary topping $12 million per year. In 2013, his total salary cap hit will be $8.6 million, behind running backs Adrian Peterson ($13.9 million), Chris Johnson ($12 million), Michael Turner ($9.4 million) and Steven Jackson ($8.89 million).
It is arguable he should be paid more than Johnson, Turner and Jackson, but given his age and wear-and-tear, is he worth it in the long run? Probably not, he is going on his eighth season in the league. Not enough tread left on the tires.
New head coach Gus Bradley has used the term “two-back system” when vaguely discussing what the team’s offense will look like next year twice now – once at the Senior Bowl practices and the other at his introductory press conference.
Now Jones-Drew could be a part of those plans, but does it make fiscal sense to pay $12 million a year for a running back that will be splitting carries? No, it doesn’t.
As already mentioned, Jones-Drew will be going into his eighth year in the league and will be turning 28 before the season starts.
It isn’t very common, or wise, for teams to pay top dollar for players that will be well into their 30s before their contract is up.
The NFL is a young man’s league, and in today’s game 30 isn’t that young.
Given that he is coming off another surgery, the injury bug has to be a concern.
That is magnified when you consider his position, one that takes some of the most punishment on the field.
Getting value and getting value
Combining the above reasons, the value isn’t there to keep him in Jacksonville long term – at least for a contract that he is likely to demand.
On the flip side, the Jaguars need to GET value for Jones-Drew. He has already said he isn’t going to ask for a new contract and if the team doesn’t offer one up before the season ends – he could simply walk away, and leave the team and the city empty handed.
Think of this situation like the Orlando Magic and Dwight Howard fiasco last year. It was a foregone conclusion that he wasn’t going to be a Magic player for much longer, albeit different circumstances, but the Magic understood this and instead of letting him walk – they got something in return.
That is what the Jaguars need to do, but it won’t be easy. Every team already knows the reasons above that I have mentioned, diminishing his value in trades.
But those that do want him, are the teams trying to get over the top and could use the addition of a top flight runner to their backfield (ala the New York Giants, Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints). Many more could be mentioned, as wherever Jones-Drew plays he is likely to be the best running back on the roster. But the teams that are most-likely to be interested are the teams close to a Super Bowl, and they could possibly get him at a discounted rate compared to what the Jaguars would have to pay to keep him.
This leaves the Jaguars hoping that a team will give up a 2nd round draft pick at best (which is stretching it) for the player they have leaned so heavily on for the past few seasons.
It will be interesting to see exactly how this season transpires, as just about anything could happen.
Could the Jaguars trade Jones-Drew and a draft pick away to move back into the first round of the 2013 draft? Or trade him for picks in the 2014 draft?
Could the Jaguars make the mistake in giving him a long-term contract in the ballpark of $12 million?
Could they let him test the free-agent waters and risk losing him for nothing?
Tons of possibilities. Stay tuned.