Packers Have Sights Set on Possible Aaron Jones Replacement?

Chris Carson Packers Russini

Getty Running back Chris Carson #32 of the Seattle Seahawks carries the football against the defense of the Los Angeles Rams during the first quarter of the NFC Wild Card Playoff game at Lumen Field on January 09, 2021 in Seattle, Washington.

While the Green Bay Packers have not completely shut the door on the possibility of bringing back Aaron Jones next season, a new detail from an NFL insider suggests they may also have their eyes on another free-agent running back who could replace Jones in their backfield.

ESPN’s Dianna Russini discussed the latest about the Packers’ offseason Thursday during a guest appearance on The Pat McAfee Show and explained she has recently spent time talking to people in Green Bay in an effort to better understand their plan with Jones. While Russini noted uncertainties with the NFL’s 2021 salary cap are “really hurting teams” this offseason, she also mentioned the Packers could have an interest in Seattle running back Chris Carson if Jones signs elsewhere in free agency.

“Going back to Green Bay, Chris Carson is a name I heard buzzing around as an interest if Aaron Jones doesn’t come back,” Russini told McAfee on Thursday. “And you can always make the argument they can bolster their offensive line.”

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Packers Lacking Experience in RB Room

The Packers wouldn’t necessarily need to sign a new leading back if Jones lands with another team in free agency. They drafted former Boston College rusher AJ Dillon in the second round of the 2020 NFL draft for just the occasion, giving them leverage when deciding whether to re-sign either Jones or fellow pending free agent Jamaal Williams.

Green Bay also has 10 draft picks for 2021 — including three Day 3 compensatory picks — that can be used to secure at least one complementary back for their rotation. After all, it was just four years ago when the Packers spent a fourth-round pick on Williams and a fifth-round pick on Jones, who both contributed right away as rookies.

The drawback to the Packers passing the torch to Dillon and staying young in the backfield is the lack of a veteran presence. If Jones, Williams and Tyler Ervin are all gone for next season, the 22-year-old Dillon would become the most experienced member of their running back room. Two of their other three options — Mike Weber and Patrick Taylor — haven’t even played an offensive snap at the NFL level.

Even with Dillon showing potential as a new No. 1, the Packers may feel more comfortable hedging their bet and signing a proven and more affordable veteran like Carson in free agency.

Carson Could Become Value Signing

Carson is also seeking his second NFL contract and, like Jones, has tallied a pair of 1,000-yard-rushing seasons in his first four years in the NFL. He rushed for a career-high 1,230 yards and seven touchdowns during the 2019 season in just 15 games for the Seahawks. He has also been a consistent receiving target for quarterback Russell Wilson, making 37 receptions in each of the past two seasons in an offense that also houses Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf.

The problem with Carson is his overall durability. The 2017 seventh-round pick broke his ankle four games into his rookie year and spent the rest of the year on injured reserve. While his health has been much better since then, he has still missed at least one game in each of his past three seasons in Seattle with a second-most four missed in 2020.

At the same time, the Packers could be attracted to Carson if his injury history drives down his overall market value far enough. Green Bay’s entire free-agency strategy last year seemed to revolve around targetting players who could be signed for less due to recent injury concerns (Christian Kirksey, Rick Wagner and Devin Funchess).

According to Spotrac, Carson is projected to command about $7.4 million per year on his next contract, whereas Jones’ calculated market value is set at $14.6 million annually. Neither is exactly a cheap expense, but the Packers could feasibly match that price point for Carson if they signed him to a three-year deal and spread out his earnings to lower his 2021 cap hit. Don’t forget they already made a big-money offer to Jones (who rejected it due to a low amount of guaranteed money).

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