Aaron Jones and the Green Bay Packers are going back to the drawing board.
The Packers and Jones have been engaged in contract negotiations for the past few months with both sides looking to reach an agreement on a deal that would keep the star running back in Green Bay for the foreseeable future. Now, according to ESPN’s Rob Demovsky, the talks appear to be “starting over” with Jones seeking to hire a new agent.
Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel backed Demovsky’s report that Jones had fired his agents on Monday afternoon and added the “paperwork was submitted on Dec. 8 and the five-day waiting period is now over,” meaning Jones is free to sign new representation whenever he chooses.
Jones remains one of the Packers’ most valuable 2021 free agents after his breakout season in 2019 saw him deliver 1,558 yards from scrimmage and 19 total touchdowns. He needs just 177 rushing yards over the final three games of 2020 to become the team’s first back-to-back 1,000-yard rusher since Eddie Lacy (2013-14).
Unfortunately, the Packers are facing a tighter financial picture in 2021 with the league’s salary cap expected to decrease and two big-money extensions — left tackle David Bakhtiari and nose tackle Kenny Clark — already added to the books. Even if Jones runs wild down the stretch, it may simply cost too much to extend the top-10 running back.
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Gutekunst Not Shutting Door on Jones — Yet
Some took Bakhtiari signing his history-making extension as a troubling sign for the Packers’ remaining free agents, but general manager Brian Gutekunst didn’t let that notion hang around for long before setting the record straight.
“I think this actually gives us a little bit more flexibility to move forward,” Gutekunst told reporters during his Nov. 15 teleconference to announce Bakhtiari’s extension.
“There are just some avenues as we move forward that allows us to kind of reduce his number in the next couple of years that maybe we wouldn’t have been able to do if we couldn’t come to an agreement,” he later continued. “Again, he’s an elite player at an elite position. We thought it was important to lock him up, and I think it helps us go forward with some of the other things we wanted to do.”
Will Jones fit into the plan, though? The Packers would be undoubtedly losing a major offensive weapon if Jones was allowed to sign elsewhere in the offseason, while Jamaal Williams’ pending free agency could leave them bound for 2021 without either of their top two rushing options over the past two seasons. And yet, Jones could cost somewhere between $12 million to $15 million per year if he is seeking to become one of the higher-paid backs in the league.
“There’s going to be some interesting gymnastics done with some of the salary cap I’m sure for certain players,” Gutekunst said. “(Jones is) a talented, talented guy and he does so much for our offense. I’m sure there’s going to be some tough decisions when it comes to certain things.”
Dillon Pick Gives Packers Leverage
Jones hasn’t provided an update on contract negotiations since September when he simply confirmed both sides were engaged in ongoing discussions, saying he was making it his job to “focus on football.” A change in representation, however, suggests Jones might not have been happy with how those talks were developing.
One of the biggest mysteries right now is Jones’ contract ambitions. Will the 2017 fifth-round pick insist on getting paid big money for his growing reputation, or will the restricted nature of the forthcoming offseason temper his expectations a bit and persuade him to settle for a lower, more team-friendly value?
The Packers hold far more leverage than Jones when it comes to negotiating a new deal. Not only does the coronavirus-impacted market hurt his chances of getting a high-value offer from another team, but Gutekunst also drafted AJ Dillon in the second round of the 2020 NFL draft as insurance in case neither Jones nor Williams is retained.
Not much has been seen yet of Dillon, who was slowly getting worked into the rotation as a third-string option before spending more than a month on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Still, the 247-pound power rusher racked up 4,328 yards and 21 touchdowns in three seasons at Boston College and could have some opportunities to show his worth in a bigger role during the final three games — especially if the Packers lock up their playoff seeding early.
The trouble with the let-them-walk approach is the Packers currently have just two running backs under contract for 2021, including Dillon. The only other option is Patrick Taylor, an undrafted rookie who has spent the entire year on the reserve/non-football injury list recovering from an injury he suffered in college.
The Packers also have 2019 sixth-round pick Dexter Williams on the injured reserve-practice squad and could always bring him back with a futures contract, but it still leaves them with three mostly-unproven rushers to populate their backfield.