Out of all the running backs hitting free agency in 2021, Green Bay Packers RB Aaron Jones is arguably the top player at the position. Following two record-breaking seasons and a nomination to the Pro Bowl, Aaron Jones’ market value could push him out of Green Bay and onto a new NFL roster for 2021.
Aaron Jones was buried on the depth chart under Mike McCarthy
Aaron Jones is a prime example of how draft capital does not always seal someone’s NFL career trajectory. Selected in the fifth round of the 2017 NFL Draft, Jones has flourished as a member of the Green Bay Packers. Especially in his most recent seasons, Jones has thrived.
With Mike McCarthy out of the way, head coach Matt LaFleur stuck primarily with Jones as a workhorse back. Yes, there were some bumps in the road with Jamaal Williams seeing more carries than we would like, but that is the modern NFL.
In his first two seasons, Jones saw 38% of the snaps in 2017 — third in line behind Ty Montgomery and fellow 2017 NFL Draft pick Jamaal Williams. In 2018, he saw a jump to 47%. In those two seasons, Jones combined for 1,176 yards on 214 carries and 12 touchdowns. He added 35 receptions for 228 yards and one more score.
For a fifth-round pick, you would be okay with this production. However, in a new offense, Aaron Jones became a superstar.
After a change to Matt LaFleur as head coach, Aaron Jones flourished
2019 was the year of the Aaron Jones breakout. In his third year, Jones was the featured back, playing on 61% of the snaps. A modest number when you see what he did with it.
Jones played in all 16 games and ran for a career-high 1,084 rushing yards on 236 attempts. He also worked out of the backfield as a receiver. Jones caught 49 of 68 targets for 474 yards. In the middle of all of this production, Aaron Jones led the NFL with 19 total touchdowns. Surely, he couldn’t come close to repeating this in 2020? Spoiler alert, he did.
In his contract year, Jones carried the ball 201 times for 1,104 yards, a new career-best. He added 47 receptions for 355 yards and totaled 11 touchdowns. Of the 33 running backs who had at least 130 carries in 2020, Aaron Jones ranked third in efficiency, at 5.49 yards per attempt.
However, the whole time Aaron Jones was lighting up the scoreboard, both he and the team knew he was entering free agency in 2021.
The Packers face a difficult choice in 2021 with Aaron Jones set to hit free agency
The Green Bay Packers are Super Bowl contenders. They have one of the best quarterbacks ever to play the game and arguably the best wide receiver. The offensive line is a fantastic unit, and Aaron Jones brings efficiency and balance to the offense. You rarely see a combo like this in the NFL.
However, the Packers also face losing Jones during free agency in 2021. A move they saw coming even last season. It was one reason the team selected Boston College running back A.J. Dillon as a potential successor to Jones. Almost a Derrick Henry-esque style of bruising rushing.
The massive elephant in the room is the salary cap situation the Green Bay Packers face heading into 2021. According to Ove The Cap, the Packers are a projected $22.2 million over the salary cap. That’s the fourth-worst situation in the NFL. With a projected cap reduction down to $176 million, difficult decisions face Brian Gutekunst and the organization.
Jones success might have priced him out of Green Bay’s budget as he becomes a free agent in 2021
With success comes larger contracts. According to Sportrac, Aaron Jones carries an estimated market value of $14 million per season on a four-year, $56.17 million deal. Odds are this is too rich for Green Bay’s blood. Jones deserves the deal. No question about it at this point. Aaron Jones also knows that.
Because of a failure to reach an agreement that fit his target range, Jones sought new representation and signed a new agent to aid in talks.
With talks starting over and the cap constraints, it makes sense for the Packers to allow Aaron Jones to walk in free agency and find a new team in 2021. They could then sign the cheaper Jamaal Williams, and the combo of him and Dillon could absorb the workload — Williams serving in the passing game and Dillon the bruising rusher.
Neither are the caliber of Aaron Jones. But together, they can be a solid duo and save Green Bay roughly $10 million in cap space.
Where will Aaron Jones sign during the 2021 NFL Free Agency period?
Aaron Jones’ phone will be ringing off the hook come March. A talent like his does not hit the open market often. In the 2021 class, Jones is the marquee running back. Jones is the odd man out of the 2017 NFL Draft class. Fellow members Christian McCaffrey, Joe Mixon, Alvin Kamara, and Dalvin Cook signed long-term deals to stay with their teams. It goes to show how loaded that draft was and what this free agency class could have been.
My first pick would be the Miami Dolphins to snag Aaron Jones in free agency in 2021
The Dolphins have not only their picks but also the coveted picks from the Houston Texans. If they wanted to select a running back in the draft, they have the ammo to do it. Yet, they could go after one of the best in the NFL. After finishing 10-6, the Dolphins rebuild is ahead of schedule. The one massive hole is at running back.
Yes, I know Myles Gaskin was solid in 2020, but this is Aaron Jones. Miami is a projected $32 million under the cap and could spend those picks on upgrading the offensive line and giving Tua Tagovailoa weapons.
Sign Aaron Jones in the 2021 free agency period. Draft DeVonta Smith at third overall or trade back to get whichever of the top three receivers they like. Then get an OL with the second first-round pick. That is how you win the offseason.
Aaron Jones could trade in one shade of green for another in the 2021 free agency period
Gone is Adam Gase, and whoever steps in will need help at the running back position. The Jets have plenty of cash to throw at the problem to take the pressure off Sam Darnold, as the organization sits second in projected cap space at $70 million.
The offensive line needs work. Say the Jets take one more shot with Sam Darnold and use the pick to take Penei Sewell. Paired with Mekhi Becton, the offensive line gets a whole lot better. Aaron Jones is one of the best at making something out of nothing in the NFL, and has more talent than any other RB on the roster. Having a rushing attack could help free up some of the pressure on Sam Darnold.
Could Aaron Jones join the 49ers in free agency?
Kyle Shanahan wants to run the ball. We all know that. They’ve spent some decent money on Jerick McKinnon and Tevin Coleman. However, they didn’t see much in return due to injuries. Both will be unrestricted free agents this offseason, and Raheem Mostert only has one year left on his deal.
The 49ers are a projected $22.625 million under the cap, so money is there. Where this gets tricky is when you look at guys who will need contracts in 2022. Fit-wise, it makes a lot of sense.
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