Packers RB Aaron Jones Linked to AFC Contender for 2021

Aaron Jones Dolphins interest

Getty Aaron Jones #33 of the Green Bay Packers reacts after defeating the Los Angeles Rams 32-18 in the NFC Divisional Playoff game at Lambeau Field on January 16, 2021 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones won’t officially become an unrestricted free agent for another 22 days, but an AFC contender is already starting to emerge as a favorite to sign him to his second NFL contract.

After months of rumors about teams who could want to sign Jones this offseason, Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald was able to confirm through a league source that the Miami Dolphins have a legitimate interest in landing him during 2021 free agency.

The 26-year-old Jones is projected to be the top running back on the market this offseason after rushing for more than 1,000 yards in each of the past two seasons, touting a career average of 5.2 yards per carry. He has also scored a combined 30 touchdowns since the start of the 2019 season, making him a dynamic addition for any team looking to overhaul their backfield for next year.

With about $26 million in projected cap space and options to create more, the Dolphins will have the resources to chase a high-end free agent like Jones if they choose. They also have the motive to secure a verified, veteran weapon for their rushing stable with Myles Gaskin the only experienced option due to return in 2021.

Teams can begin negotiating with unrestricted free agents on March 15 with the official start of the new league year at 3 p.m. CT on March 17.

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Jones is a Top Free-Agent Commodity

Jones has established himself as a well-rounded weapon over the past four seasons with the Packers and will expectedly draw interest from numerous teams this offseason. Not only does he possess proven rushing prowess, but he has also emerged as a dangerous piece of Green Bay’s passing game, totaling 96 receptions for 829 yards and five touchdowns over the past two seasons.

For a rebuilding team like the Dolphins, who need both offensive weapons and veteran leaders for the 2021 season, Jones could be a winning ticket to help support Tua Tagovailoa’s development. The big question is whether his high level of production will continue when he isn’t behind Green Bay’s league-leading offensive line or working with three-time MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

While Jones being a product of his environment carries some concern, teams likely won’t be deterred if they feel confident enough in their offensive front or Jones’ overall pairing with their current personnel. ESPN rates Jones as their 14th-best free agent on the market this offseason, while Pro Football Focus named him their top free-agent running back for 2021.

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Will Packers Use Tag on Jones?

Teams were officially allowed to start using franchise and transition tags on players with expiring contracts on Tuesday, a window of opportunity that will now remain open until March 9. And for the Packers, Jones is their only pending free agent worth tagging. But do they actually still intend to keep Jones?

Per ESPN’s Rob Demovsky, the Packers previously made Jones an extension offer that would have made him one of the top five highest-paid backs in the league in terms of annual value, but he rejected the offer due to its low guaranteed money. In other words, they were once willing to make a long-term commitment to him that would have seen him earn more than $12.5 million per year.

If they still want him for the short term, the Packers could take a more affordable route and franchise tag Jones. The cost would be about $8.07 million for the 2021 season based on estimations from Over The Cap for a $180.5 million salary cap. Meanwhile, a transition tag would cost even less but would also allow Jones to sign offer sheets with other teams and force the Packers to match whatever offers he receives.

Regardless, though, any path to keeping Jones around will take a sizable chunk out of the Packers’ 2021 cap space. The Packers also still need to clear about $12 million off their books before March 17, which means a whole lot more cuts and restructures will be necessary — especially if Jones is involved in their future plans.

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