Aaron Jones Future in Green Bay Suddenly Cloudy After NFL Draft
Aaron Jones has worked hard to become the featured running back in Green Bay and one of the most exciting young players in the NFL. In 2019, he helped the Packers capture the NFC Central title and finish just one win away from a trip to the Super Bowl. The former UTEP star has one year left on his rookie contract, but the Packers decision to select AJ Dillon in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft puts Jones' Lambeau future up in the air.
Green Bay entered the draft with multiple needs on offense, including wide receiver and offensive line help. Instead of giving Aaron Rodgers new weapons in a draft considered one of the deepest ever at receiver, general manager Brian Gutekunst traded up to take Utah State quarterback Jordan Love. Some people saw the move as the Packers positioning themselves for a new franchise signal caller even though Rodgers has four years left on his contract, but only 2020 and 2021 are guaranteed.
The following round, Green Bay went with Dillon, a massive 247-pound back who is a downhill runner but did not catch many passes while starring at Boston College. In a conference call Friday night, Packers college scout Mike Owen said Dillon gives his team a three-headed monster at running back. "You’ve got a nice mixture of running styles. I would say Aaron Jones is more like lightning, you've got the thunder right here with AJ Dillon and Jamaal Williams," Owen told the Wisconsin State Journal.
Both Jones and Jamaal Williams are entering the final year of their rookie contracts and Gutekunst positioned himself to keep a low-cost replacement should the Packers not elect to pay either veteran back when they hit free agency next year. Jones will likely cost Green Bay a fortune next spring if he comes close to duplicating his 2019 season, when he rushed for 1,084 yards and a league leading 16 touchdowns. Christian McCaffery recently signed a four-year, $64 million contract extension with the Carolina Panthers and he is the highest paid running back in the league, averaging $16 million per season. Dallas' Ezekiel Elliott is making $15 million per season and the sixth highest running back in the NFL, Kenyon Drake earns nearly $8.5 million per year according to Over the Cap. The Packers will have a ton of players hitting free agency in 2021 and according to SpotTrac, they will already have 31 players taking up $163 million of salary. One thing that is completely up in there air is the NFL salary cap in 2021. Prior to COVID-19, some observers expected the league's salary cap to grow to as much as $240 million in 2021. However, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that now the cap could actually reduce by $60-$70 million to $130 million as a result of billions of dollars in lost revenue. Regardless, Gutekunst will have plenty of tough decisions to make and figuring out a way to keep Aaron Jones will be near the top of his list.