6/14/2012 12:40:27 PM
This offseason's collection of absentees reads like a venerable who's who of
big-ticket names, a group containing such A-listers as Drew Brees, Ed Reed,
Maurice Jones-Drew, Ray Rice, Matt Forte, Mike Wallace, Dwayne Bowe, Cliff
Avril and Chris Clemons. And in what's become as accepted and customary a
practice as any rite of the league's spring period, most of those no-shows are
counter responses from players who have received franchise-tag designations
from their respective team aimed to facilitate long-term contract
Of course, the most celebrated of those cases belongs to Brees, in light of
the record-setting quarterback's VIP status and hefty (albeit entirely
reasonable) contract demands. But there isn't a person alive who
wholeheartedly believes that the New Orleans Saints and the greatest player in
the team's history won't eventually find common ground on a transcendent
multi-year pact prior to the July 16 deadline for signing franchise delegates.
The same goes for Rice, a fellow franchise assignee whose importance likely
won't be taken for granted by his employers. The Baltimore Ravens have used
the tag on a cornerstone member twice previously during the past three
offseasons, with the maneuver leading to lockups of defensive linchpins
Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata on both occasions. And since teammate Reed's
pre-camp retirement contemplations have become an almost annual occurrence, no
one associated with the Ravens is taking the dynamic safety's latest soul-
searching endeavor as anything more than a veteran's ploy to get out of some
truthfully needless offseason work.
Forte, Bowe and Wallace (a restricted free agent) all lack any real leverage
in their situations, meaning the odds are each will be present at next month's
training camp with either a new deal in hand or after grudgingly signing their
That leaves Jones-Drew's money-related beef with the Jacksonville Jaguars as
the favorite to become the bad-blood event of this NFL summer, even though the
standout running back's truancy from minicamp has received less attention from
some national media outlets than a forecasted future holdout by New York Jets
cornerback Darrelle Revis that's been based entirely on hearsay (for the
record, Revis is in attendance at Jets minicamp). And when factoring in all
the circumstances that surround this looming squabble, it's a problem that may
not be resolved anytime soon.
Jones-Drew is fresh off his first career rushing title and has amassed more
yards on the ground (4,321) than anyone in the league over the past three
years, yet the mighty-mite's current $4.45 million salary for 2012 barely
cracks the top 10 among those at his position. He's without question the best
and most important player on a Jacksonville offense that would have been
historically inept without his presence last season, has demonstrated
extraordinary durability (at least 333 touches and just two games missed from
2009-11) and has clearly outperformed his contract for a team that has lots of
cap room to spare at the moment.
The Jaguars have taken a hard-line stance on the matter, with general manager
Gene Smith publicly stating he fully expects Jones-Drew to honor the two
seasons that remain on the five-year, $31 million deal he signed back in
2009. And the organization has legitimate reasons to ask its star to oblige,
considering how Smith stuck out his own neck on a player that was still
somewhat unproven three years ago.
Jacksonville gave Jones-Drew a $9 million signing bonus and a $4.1 million
base salary in 2009, when the still-emerging back was set to earn just
$530,000 in the final year of his original rookie contract. It was a
substantial show of faith at the time, as Jones-Drew had yet to put together a
1,000-yard campaign or prove he can handle the rigors of every-down work after
splitting time with franchise icon Fred Taylor during his first three years in
Jones-Drew entered his breakthrough 2009 season as the third highest-paid
running back in the NFL, but latter-day market developments have rendered the
three-time All-Pro a major bargain at his present rate of pay. Six of his
peers -- Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson, LeSean McCoy, Arian Foster, DeAngelo
Williams and Marshawn Lynch -- have inked multi-year agreements that average
between $7.75 and $14 million per season over the last 10 months, with Rice
and Forte also ready to climb over Jones-Drew on the salary scale even if both
end up resigned to accepting the $7.7 million franchise number.
Therefore, Smith's prior display of loyalty probably isn't going to win over
Jones-Drew and his camp, nor will it earn much goodwill with a fan base that
holds the hard-nosed 27-year-old with the utmost reverence.
Not when the Jaguars haven't notched a winning record or made the playoffs for
four straight seasons.
Not when Smith's hand-picked quarterback of the future, Blaine Gabbert, failed
miserably in his 2011 rookie debut.
And not when this year's first-rounder, wide receiver Justin Blackmon,
embarrassed the organization with a DUI arrest less than six weeks after the
character-conscious Smith traded up to land the former Oklahoma State All-
American with the fifth overall selection.
Plus recent history has shown that an extended holdout really isn't to the
benefit of either Jones-Drew or the Jaguars. Jacksonville needs only to recall
the fate of one of its AFC South cohorts placed in a similar predicament last
summer for a warning lesson.
Johnson was coming off a 1,364-yard effort with Tennessee in 2010 and was two
years removed from eclipsing the cherished 2,000-yard barrier when he and the
Titans engaged in a long contract dispute that lasted into early September.
The speedy playmaker came out of the standoff with a lucrative $53.5 million
new deal, but proceeded to have by far the least productive season of his
four-year career, netting a modest 1,047 yards while being held to 35 or less
in six of the Titans' 16 games.
Larry Johnson endured a comparable fate after holding out deep into August of
the 2007 season, recording just 559 yards and a pedestrian 3.5 yards per carry
before landing on injured reserve midway through that campaign. The then-
Kansas City workhorse had amassed over 1,700 yards in each of the previous two
years. Steven Jackson also experienced a slight decline in effectiveness
following a prolonged training camp absence in 2008, with the St. Louis
veteran barely surpassing the 1,000-yard mark and missing four games due to
injury that year.
So you see, the Jaguars are in a delicate situation that really would be best
resolved sooner rather than later. While Jones-Drew's future has received most
of the headlines, Smith may the one who has the most at stake in the matter.