In one corner, we have the Jacksonville Jaguars. They gave star running back Maurice Jones-Drew a five-year, $31 million deal in 2009 that made him one of the top three highest-paid backs in the league. In the other corner is Drew, who has since seen other running backs eclipse his contract and wants to cash in after a huge 2011 season in which he led the NFL with 1,606 rushing yards. Jags GM Gene Smith has made it clear he wants MJD to honor his contract, but MJD is expected to hold out. Who will win this standoff?
Jaguars won't give in to Jones-Drew's demandsThis is tough, but the Jags will win (if failing to acquiesce is the criteria). If Jones-Drew holds out, Jacksonville will lose -- games -- but they've done a decent job of that with him on the roster, leading the NFL in rushing. That is the real guts of this. Though Jones-Drew is arguably the best running back in the NFL and one of the best players in Jaguars history, his productivity hasn't translated into much success. It's the same thing that happened in Oakland with former cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, an exceptional cornerback for them who never played on a Raiders team with a winning record.
The Jaguars rewarded Jones-Drew handsomely a few years ago and the market has exceeded his value. It's what happens in sports every year. If Jones-Drew, owed $4.45 million this season, holds out, he'll end up losing in the long term because he'll be fined (so he'll earn even less money), the team will be worse (if possible) and he'll continue aging toward the dubious 30-year-old mark that is the symbolic end of the road for running backs.
MJD deserves to be paid more based on what he provides, especially in relation to other running backs. The team also has the right to not renegotiate because Jones-Drew has two years left on his contract. This looks like it will get ugly, but the Jaguars will still end up playing games, with or without Jones-Drew.
MJD's standoff will last longer than disputes involving Brees, Rice and ForteBoth sides will lose. The Jaguars have backed themselves into a corner and Jones-Drew is clearly serious about playing this out. I expect this standoff to last longer than the contract disputes involving Drew Brees, Ray Rice and Matt Forte. It wouldn't be surprising at all if this goes right to September before Week 1.
In the end, look for the Jags to give MJD a face-saving small bump in pay.
If Jones-Drew continues holdout into season, everyone losesSometimes, there isn't a winner. If Jones-Drew holds out into the season, everyone loses. The team is hurt on the field, while Jones-drew loses money he probably will not make up.
The Jaguars have a new coach and a new owner. They have a stout defense, a young QB who needs a strong running game and a new set of receivers. Jacksonville needs Jones-Drew to be successful. That being said, I would not give Jones-Drew a new deal. Perhaps the Jags can look at his incentives and rework some things, but they need to hold the line.
Still, a prolonged absence from Jones-Drew would affect the entire organization. If a holdout ends up impacting the season, will owner Shahid Khan take this to heart next season when he is evaluating coach Mike Mularkey, GM Gene Smith and the team's overall performance?
Another RB holdout? Well, we know how this story goes ...Chris Johnson, anyone? Those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it ...
Here's how your wins and losses go for every RB-specific holdout. There's acrimony, and no deal is done until training camp is well underway. They'll come to terms on a new contract, because they always do, but the running back will rush back to get into true football shape, and either have a nagging groin or hamstring injury as a result. Or it will be a down season because he had to scramble to get ready to play and won't really be in top form until it's too late. That's just how situations like this play out. It's like watching "House" -- every episode is the same. Someone comes in with an illness no one can figure out, nearly dies in the middle, but is saved when House figures it out in the final two minutes of the episode. You'd think teams would find a way around holdouts because they've seen them so often, but they don't.
MJD will "win" because he'll get paid, and the Jaguars will "lose" -- at least this season -- because a protracted holdout almost always means diminished returns for a RB. But because he's only 27, Jones-Drew should have another two or three terrific seasons left after this one.
Jones-Drew has all the cards in his handJones-Drew should probably win this battle. The $17 million signing bonus he received three years ago was nearly doubled by Chris Johnson last fall. And Arian Foster received over $20 million in guaranteed money this offseason, despite coming off an injury. Jones-Drew is set to receive less than $5 million per year in base salary over the next two seasons -- less than Johnson and Foster, and probably much less than what Ray Rice will eventually receive from the Ravens.
Jags quarterback Blaine Gabbert needs MJD's running and receiving skills if he is to take the next step as a starter in 2012, and locking up the former UCLA star for the next four or five seasons (his probable final big contract, taking him into his early 30s) seems a logical move.
MJD will eventually get paid ... and then struggle through a lackluster seasonThis isn't going to work out for the Jaguars. MJD will hold out and eventually get his money. He has to. The Jags have been backed into a corner by their only bankable star. The team really doesn't have a choice. And then MJD will end up struggling this year because of the holdout. History shows us that. Just look at what happened to Chris Johnson, who struggled mightily last season after a prolonged holdout that eventually netted him big money. Realize, too, Johnson is much younger, with more tread on the tires.
It's a shame the Jaguars couldn't trade MJD to a contender like the Patriots, who could use a threat like him at running back. But the NFL doesn't work like that. Instead, the Jaguars are going to be stuck with a running back who is making too much money and is on the wrong side of his career.