FA Landing Spots: Aaron Jones
Aaron Jones is one of the big-name free agents this off-season and is a clear lead back for those teams that are in the market. Will the Packers manage to hold onto their lead back or will he move on? We will dive in and have a look at which teams could afford to pay the contract he would want as a high-end back.
Green Bay Packers
This is still an option, although it is beginning to look like the odds of this happening are getting longer by the day. Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams are free agents and it is looking likely that they will allow one, if not both to walk. The salary situation is not looking good currently in Green Bay as they are projected to be $11million+ over the cap so holding the pair is probably unlikely. It was reported that Green Bay and Jones have had talks, with the guaranteed money being the main issue to the deal breaking down. Jones is coming off back-to-back 1000 rushing yard seasons so the Packers would be losing a big part of their offense, but it is possible that they have his successor already in-house with AJ Dillon primed to take on the lead back role should Jones and Williams leave.
-Key Career Stats
Out of all the teams touted to sign Jones, this is the one that everyone seems to be talking about the most. The Dolphins had a lot of change at running back through the year- 12 different players received carries during the 2020 regular season (7 running backs, 2 wide receivers, 2 quarterbacks, and 1 safety) and had a combined total of 428 carries for 1688 yards. Looking above to Jones’ 2020 stats he managed 65% of Miami’s total yards by himself while receiving less than half their number of rushes, the Dolphins were crying out for that type of output from one of their players. Matt Breida and Jordan Howard were signed before 2020 kicked off in an attempt to solve the team’s poor rushing record from 2019- a season where Ryan Fitzpatrick led the team in rushing yards with 243. Even though lead 2020 rusher, Myles Gaskin, more than doubled this total it is clear that they need a workhorse type back to move this offense to the next level and to also assist the development of Tua.
Miami has a number of different ways in which they can go during this off-season. Do they sign a high-profile number one receiver through free agency? Do they go they make a blockbuster trade for a quarterback such as Watson from the Texans? Or do they add a running back to take over the majority of the backfield touches? Whichever way they decide to go, the cap space should allow it with the $22 million in space they have to play around with. Jones would cost them around the $12/13mill mark if the projected market value is to be believed. This would put him up on a level with the highest-paid backs. Jordan Howard already left the team during the season, Matt Breida and DeAndre Washington are both free agents this off-season and it is likely that both will leave to find new teams, this would leave the running back room looking very light. Adding a back like Jones and one of the top receiver options from the draft could well be the way they decide to go.
-Dolphins Top Rushers
New York Jets
The Jets seem to be a franchise that is getting linked with many high-profile free agents, whether they are quarterbacks, wide receivers, or in this case running backs. It was clear for everyone to see that the offense of the Jets needs some serious improvement. They have quite a few options, with the Jets seeming to be an interesting destination for many out-of-contract players. It is thought that they will use the 2nd overall pick in the draft to select a top quarterback option; however, it is not out of the realm of possibility that Sam Darnold is given one last chance. Whichever way they go the quarterback will need some assistance not only from his receivers but also out of the backfield.
Similar to the Dolphins, the Jets used 13 players to carry the ball and managed 1683 between them on 406 attempts. If we compare total yards and carries of the Jets and Jones side-by-side we can see he managed 66% of the Jets' total single-handed while having almost exactly half the carries. 37-year-old Frank Gore was the team's lead rusher in 2020, and although he would still be a valuable player to have around the group on an experience level and to contribute as an additional piece it is clear they need help in that department. They thought Le’Veon Bell would be that answer when the ex-Steeler joined, however as we know that particular experiment failed to bring as much to the team as first thought. Bell left the team early in the season to join Kansas City where he went to the Super Bowl.
The Jets will have plenty of cap space to add in multiple areas with a reported $73million available to them, so signing a back like Aaron Jones would not be an issue financially. As I have mentioned already, Bell left midseason, as did Kalen Ballage. Frank Gore is hitting free agency and it has been reported he would like to retire as a 49er which would likely mean he will not return to the Jets. Josh Adams is also set to hit free agency although he will be a restricted free agent. To help the team improve going into the 2021 season and attempt to cut the rapidly increasing gap between them and division rivals, Miami and Buffalo the Jets will need to add some top players both in the draft and free agency. Jones could be one such addition.
-Jets Top Rushers
San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers are another team that has a need for some help in the backfield. Their salary cap space isn’t quite as high as the Dolphins or the Jets who we have already looked into. The 49ers seemed to be starting a new RB every week due to injuries. 13 players received carries during the regular season with Jeff Wilson Jr leading the backfield in touches and yards with 600 from 126 carries with the whole team coming in with 1889 yards from 437 backfield touches. Although the total yards of the 49ers were higher than the Jets and the Dolphins, they did so by using a very unstable running back room. Raheem Mostert only played 8 games during the season: however, when he did play, on 6 occasions he finished with the most rush attempts which lead me to believe he was seen as the lead back before the season began. It is clear the 49ers need stability from their running backs, and when we look at some statistics side-by-side it could really help them by adding a player like Aaron Jones.
Weeks 5, 7, 8, and 11 not included due to bye weeks (GB week 5/SF week 11) Jones did not play weeks 7 and 8.
As we can see from the above, Jones had more yards on 10 out of 13 weeks than the lead 49ers rusher and in fact, on 2 occasions he achieved more total rush yards than the final team total of San Francisco. Interestingly one of these weeks was the week 9 meeting between San Francisco and Green Bay. Now, these totals may be expected due to the chopping and changing between the 49er backs and this would partly be down to constant injuries forcing their hand.
Another way we can look at the running back by committee approach San Francisco took in 2020 is to break down the carry leader each week and how volatile it really was. Between weeks 1 and 8 they had 6 different players who led the team in carries for at least a week. As we have stated previously this was down to injury on the most part. By adding Jones this would allow the 49ers to be more consistent with the touches from the backfield and even if the 49ers decide to still split time between backs this wouldn’t be a new situation for Jones - considering he was splitting a lot of carries with Williams in Green Bay.
What is changing for the 49ers in the off-season? Well, McKinnon and Coleman are free agents and are not expected to return to the team while Jeff Wilson Jr has been re-signed to the team for 2021. It has been reported that they are looking at the possibility of trying to move on from Jimmy Garoppolo - could this be in a trade, free agency, or during the draft? It is unclear what impact this would have on the available salary cap. Wilson Jr and Mostert both had reasonable outputs when they were on the field, so it is also possible that the 49ers elect to move forward with them and add in other places. For this to happen the 49ers will need to keep their fingers crossed for a healthier running back room in 2021.
-49ers Top Rushers