Packers’ Matt LaFleur Breaks Silence on Departure of Aaron Jones

Matt LaFleur Aaron Jones Release Green Bay Packers News Josh Jacobs

Getty Packers head coach Matt LaFleur talks with running back Aaron Jones in 2023.

The Green Bay Packers even caught their head coach by surprise when they released star running back Aaron Jones ahead of the 2024 league year.

The Packers wasted no time reinventing their backfield when free agent negotiations opened on March 11, agreeing to terms on a four-year, $48 million contract with 2022 NFL rushing leader Josh Jacobs and releasing Jones from his role as their lead back.

The decision came only about six weeks after general manager Brian Gutekunst had told reporters that he “absolutely” expected Jones to remain with the Packers for the 2024 season. It also happened so quickly that the front office did not loop in head coach Matt LaFleur on their decision-making until their running back room had shuffled.

“It kind of caught me off guard, to be honest with you,” LaFleur said on March 26 at the annual NFL league meetings in Orlando, Florida. “There were some other things in play obviously with Aaron Jones, and I didn’t quite know how everything was going to go. It just happened really fast on that Monday.”

The Packers tried to make things work with Jones, in their own way. According to Matt Schneidman of The Athletic, the team asked Jones to take “almost a 50% pay cut, if not more” for the 2024 season due to his untenable cap number of about $17.57 million. Their request came a little more than a year after Jones took his first pay cut — of about $5 million — to keep the Packers competitive and stay with them for the 2023 season.

This time, Jones refused, putting the wheels of change into motion.

“It happened really fast, so I don’t know all the details of that,” LaFleur said. “I’m not involved in those types of conversations. But we were super excited [about Jacobs].”

Vikings Made Aaron Jones Feel ‘Wanted’ After Release

Jones did not stay out of work for long or have to travel far to his next destination. The day after his release, he signed a fully guaranteed one-year, $7 million contract with the Minnesota Vikings, ensuring he will face his former team at least twice next season.

While his release surprised both LaFleur and Packers fans, though, Jones said he had “already prepared” for the possibility before his agent told him it was happening. He also said he chose the Vikings because he wanted to land somewhere he felt “wanted.”

“It’s a part of the business, you know what you sign up for,” Jones said of the Packers moving on. “My agent had called me before all of that had happened and told me it was a possibility. My mind was already prepared and I just wanted to go somewhere I was wanted.”

Jones has a genuinely good opportunity to thrive with the Vikings. He sits atop their depth chart following the most significant weeks of free agency, leading a group that also has Ty Chandler, Kene Nwangwu and DeWayne McBride. His leadership could also be useful in helping the Vikings usher in a new quarterback — potentially a first-round rookie — as he did in 2023 when Jordan Love took over as the Packers’ starter.

Can Josh Jacobs Bring More to Packers Than Aaron Jones?

The Packers’ decision to release Jones and sign Jacobs as his replacement is surprising, but there is also a good deal of sense behind making the change from an injury-troubled running back nearing 30 to a 26-year-old who led the league in rushing 15 months ago.

Jacobs rushed for 1,653 yards and 12 touchdowns for the Raiders in 2022, averaging a career-high 97.2 yards per game and finishing with 24 more rushing first downs than any other player in the league. He also caught 53 passes for another 400 yards, pushing him over 2,000 scrimmage yards. While his encore effort in 2023 struggled along with the Raiders’ entire offense, he still rushed for 805 yards and six scores in just 13 games.

For comparison’s sake, Jones has finished with fewer rushing yards than Jacobs’ 2023 output in four of his seven career seasons. And despite having three 1,000-yard rushing seasons, Jones has never come anywhere close to Jacobs’ rushing peak in 2022 and has just 395 more rushing yards than Jacobs despite having two more years of experience.

Still, there is something to be said about the leadership the Packers are losing in Jones. Before the 2023 season, Gutekunst called Jones “the heart and soul of this team” in the wake of reports that he had tried to trade for Indianapolis Colts star Jonathan Taylor. Can Jacobs, as prolific as he is on the field, truly replace his value for the Packers?

Stay tuned for September.

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