With a lengthy hold out seemingly poised to last well into the regular season, Jacksonville Jaguars star Running Back Maurice Jones-Drew has reportedly told the team that he is open to being traded if the two sides cannot come to an agreement on a new deal. Since then, many reports have surfaced linking the reigning rushing champion to the New York Jets. Some sources have reported that the Jets front office has contacted Jacksonville to inquire about the availability of Jones-Drew, while conflicting reports have stated that New York has no interesting in making a deal. Although signs currently point to the latter, with Jets General Manager Mike Tannenbaum, one can never quite say never.
In exploring a deal for Jones-Drew, there are numerous factors to take into account. First, why on earth would Jacksonville, under the new ownership of Shahid Khan, get rid of the face of the franchise, rather than pay him the money he commands? The answer is quite simple. With a completely new regime in place, the Jaguars seem ready to move forward in complete overhaul mode, meaning moving ahead with young players, leaving no room for high priced veterans who are going to cause a distraction to the new coaching staff and front office. With that in mind, Jacksonville would surely like to add some future draft picks to bring in their own, young players in the future, with the idea of building a playoff caliber team a few years from now.
What could also determine whether or not the Jaguars decide to retain, or move MJD, is the play of the man who has replaced Jones-Drew as the lead back in his absence, Rashad Jennings. Over the past two seasons in Jacksonville, Jennings has built a career rushing average of 5.4 yards per carry. Last season, he played in just 13 games while accumulating 459 rushing yards on just 84 carries, for a total of 5.5 YPC. The argument can certainly be made that Jennings is a beneficiary of Jones-Drew wearing down defenses for him to rip off big chunks of yardage, however Jennings has been quite impressive this preseason thus far without MJD carrying the load in front of him.
In his first two games this preseason, Jennings has carried the ball 23 times for a total of 118 yards, including 56 yards on the New York Giants starting defense, the same defense that held Jets starting Running Back Shonn Greene to just 36 yards on 11 carries. While Jennings may not be Jones-Drew, he has shown that he has the potential to be a very serviceable back in this league.
The next immediate question that comes to mind is whether or not this would be a good move for the Jets to make. First, let’s look at why Tannenbaum and co. would want to make such a trade:
Usually when players of Jones-Drew’s stature reportedly become available, the immediate concern for all teams interested is the cap space. According to nyjetscap.com, the Jets have just over $6 million left before going over this year’s salary cap. Jones-Drew is slated to make $4.45 million this season, and $4.95 million next season, so, for at least the immediate future, the move could work financially.
Talking strictly football, Jones-Drew could be a godsend for the Jets. For a team committed to establishing a “ground and pound” identity, they have proved to be anything but from what we have seen over the course of their two early preseason games. Not one back on the roster has stood out as someone who can carry the workload and be the lead back. Jones-Drew is a proven back who has consistently posted stats atop the league, rushing for over 1300 yards in each of the past three seasons, including an NFL leading 1606 yards in 2011. At 27, many believe MJD is nearing the point in his career when he will begin to wear down, but he has shown no signs of that up until this point, averaging his most yards per carry last season since his rookie year.
On the issue of age, Michael Turner signed with the Atlanta Falcons as a free agent prior to the 2008 season, at 26 years old, just a year younger than Jones-Drew’s current age. In his four seasons in Atlanta, Turner has run for at least 1300 yards, other than 2009 when he played in just 11 games due to injury. However, he has been able to rush for double-digit touchdowns in each of those seasons, including his shortened 2009. While there are concerns about the mileage of MJD, he is still likely a few seasons away from reaching his peak, before the inevitable descend of the NFL running back.
Additionally, bringing in MJD would actually help Shonn Greene–also 27 years old. Greene’s most productive season was when he was paired with Thomas Jones as a rookie in 2009. Jones was the Jets workhorse, as he would wear down defenses with his tough running style, similar to that of Jones-Drew, while Greene would spell him and take advantage of an exhausted defense, averaging a career best 5 YPC. Since then, Greene has struggled to take over as the lead back for New York. In 2010, he was beat out for the starting spot by LaDanian Tomlinson, who many thought was brought in to serve primarily in a back-up/third down role. Finally, in 2011, when Greene became the starter, he barely put fear in opposing defenses, running for just over 1,000 yards with 6 touchdowns. These are not exactly great numbers for a lead back on a team built to run the football.
While a change in coordinators was expected to help Greene, there has been no sign of that this preseason thus far. Jones-Drew and Greene could complement each other as well as Jones and Greene did back in 2009, and would be a step in the right direction in returning the Jets to the top of the league in rushing, assuming the Right Tackle situation is properly addressed. Still, Wayne Hunter’s run blocking isn’t nearly as bad as his pass pro, and many times, a back as dynamic as Jones-Drew can help mask, or at least band-aid, a weak link on the line like Hunter, while providing help in the pass game, as he is certainly one of the better pass blocking backs in the NFL.
MJD is also very effective as a receiver out of the backfield, an element that was virtually non-existent in the Jets offense in 2011. Over the span of his six-year career, Jones-Drew has compiled 279 receptions for 2,473 yards and 10 touchdowns. When was the last time the Jets offense successfully ran a screen that ripped off a big chunk of yards? Or better yet, when was the last time they effectively completed a pass to a back in any type of route out of the backfield?
Although the Right Tackle situation is surely a top priority for the Jets, that does not mean they can’t make moves that would greatly improve their roster in the mean time. Jones-Drew is a unique talent that would add a very interesting dynamic to an offense that lacks in that area.
When imagining Jones-Drew in the Green and White, strictly considering football reasons, there is very little, if anything, to dispel such an addition. However, anyone associated with this league knows how much of a role the business aspect plays in every decision, and when considering this, there is great reason as to why this trade would not work.
The price tag – MJD would not come cheap. Jacksonville would likely seek multiple draft picks in exchange for Jones-Drew, possibly a 2nd and 5th, which was what Marshall Faulk was traded for back in 1999 when the premium on Running Backs was much higher, or even two 3rd rounders, which was what Brandon Marshall was traded to Chicago for earlier this offseason. While the picks required to obtain Jones-Drew would probably not scare Mike Tannenbaum away, the eventual price to pay him likely will.
Although Jones-Drew would likely report to the Jets, if traded, prior to receiving a new deal, the Jets would be in a very difficult position come March, when they are going to be required to finally give Darrelle Revis his long overdue massive pay day. So, following this season, the Jets would be in a difficult spot. Do you pay Revis and ship out Jones-Drew, essentially making him a costly one-year rental? It would be very hard to imagine a scenario where the Jets spit in the face of Revis and awarded MJD with a contract before their most prized possession, as it would likely cause an immense outrage amongst the fan base. Tannenbaum and the front office couldn’t possibly be so short sighted.
The Holdout Factor – Even if the Jets hypothetically swing a deal for the coveted veteran out of UCLA, his performance almost surely will not be near where it has been in the past due to his lengthy holdout. When observing the history of star players who have held out recently, they never seem to hit their stride until much later than normal. In 2010, Darrelle Revis missed time due to injury following his holdout. Similarly, Tennessee Running Back Chris Johnson ran for career lows in both yards–1047–and touchdowns—4—after ending his holdout late last summer. Even if Jones-Drew were to be traded right now and reported to camp by Friday, he would me miles behind, both physically and mentally. He would likely not hit his stride until midseason, which would still leave the Jets in the same predicament they are in through a vigorous first half of the year.
As unlikely as a move for Jones-Drew may be, Mike Tannenbaum is notorious for pulling surprise trades. Under his management, the Jets have acquired Kris Jenkins, Brett Favre, Braylon Edwards, Antonio Cromartie, Santonio Holmes, and Tim Tebow via trade, just to name a few. Like any trade, though, there are positives and negatives of bringing in MJD. If available, it could simply come down to how desperate the Jets become offensively, something that is still very difficult to gauge.