Jacksonville running back Maurice Jones-Drew reported to training on Sunday (Sept 2) ending his 38-day contract holdout.
Jones-Drew – who led the NFL in rushing last season with 1,606 yards – met in private with head coach Mike Mularkey before addressing the media.
“This is the last talk about the whole contract situation,” he told members of the press.
“We’re going to move forward to football after this.”
Afterwards, Jones-Drew reported for conditioning training.
Notably, the running back returns to Jacksonville without a new contract. He had reportedly been looking to restructure his current deal – which is set to pay $9.4 million over the next two seasons – following his pacesetting 2011 season. Over the summer Jones-Drew saw the likes of LeSean McCoy and Matt Forte rewarded for their achievements last year, while the likes of Adrian Peterson and Steven Jackson sat on bigger contracts despite down years.
Having already shelled out more than $21 million on the contract originally inked in 2009, the Jaguars front office however declined Jones-Drew’s wishes.
The decision came despite career bests in attempts, yards gained and average yards per game. Jacksonville’s running game last season – which ranked 12th overall – at least made up in part for a lackluster passing attack that was worst in the league. It could even be argued that the Jaguars’ running backs and pass defense kept the record from looking a lot worse than 5-11. But owner Shad Khan and Co. would not be held to ransom, particularly as the Jaguars have failed to make the playoffs in each of the three seasons Jones-Drew has started.
Jones-Drew will now have to prepare for the upcoming season knowing that he’ll be playing a backup role, at least for the start of the campaign.
Jacksonville has committed to starting Rashad Jennings on Sunday in Minnesota. The fourth-year back has played all four of Jacksonville’s preseason games, averaging 52 yards on 12 carries per game. The Jaguars have gone 3-1 over that period.
The news that Jones-Drew will play behind Jennings has already filtered through to oddsmakers. Odds for the six-year veteran leading the league in rushing have fallen to 9/1. Even as recently as two weeks ago, amidst the holdout, odds could still be found at 15/2.
For Jacksonville, the entire process has been an unwanted distraction. No matter how blasé Khan’s comments have been, the Jaguars needed to be focused and ready for the start of the season in order to erase a poor 2011 season from the memories of fans.
With news that the Jaguars will play at Wembley Stadium in London, England, for four seasons starting in 2013, and the ongoing rumors that Khan will relocate the team to Los Angeles in the not-too-distant future, fans are already on the edge of their seats. Another poor season could spell disaster for the Florida team.
But a poor season is what’s expected again this year.
With second-year QB Blaine Gabbart on a tight leash – and backup Chad Henne breathing down his neck – Jacksonville’s offense will be bolstered by the arrival of free agent WR Laurent Robinson and rookie WR Justin Blackmon. Still, the running game is going to be vital if the passing game is to improve this year.
Odds of Jacksonville winning the Super Bowl are a lofty 200/1. While nobody really expects the team to compete for the Vince Lombardi trophy, these odds set the Jags as worst in the league, an honor the team shares with Cleveland. Even the team’s odds of winning the AFC South are considerably enormous, at 25/1. With the over/under set at 5 ½ games, most oddsmakers still expect the team to fall below that mark.
Jones-Drew may still have an important role to fill this season, but how much stock will Jacksonville put in a player that wants a bigger salary and is reportedly open to being traded?