Yesterday, news broke that Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew following some inflammatory comments by Jaguars owner Shahid Khan, was open to a trade. And it caused an uproar, as well it should because MJD as he is affectionately known, is the Jaguars best player and it made a lingering holdout into a major drama.
And as is often the case, dots began to be connected for the possibility that if MJD was traded, he could find his way north from Jacksonville to Atlanta. On one hand, it makes sense. His former offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter is here, and current head coach Mike Smith along with several other assistants currently in Atlanta were also in Jacksonville in 2006 when he was first drafted.
Much of the off-season talk in Atlanta has centered around whether or not Michael Turner is past his prime. I for one, fall in line as one of those people that believe Turner is well on the downside of his career. Getting a player like MJD, the league’s top rusher from a year ago certainly would be an upgrade at the running back position. MJD is younger than Turner as well as more explosive and versatile.
Even if you can get past the fantasy that the Jaguars would trade MJD, which is an extremely high hurdle to jump. Even as of this morning, the MJD camp is backing off their trade demands simply because they know they’re not going to get them. Jacksonville is not going to trade their best player. But you can never say never, so let’s assume that Jones-Drew is being shopped. It still doesn’t make too much sense for the Falcons.
Firstly, while Jones-Drew is younger than Turner by about 3 years, they have nearly identical career workloads as far as rushing attempts go, with MJD having 67 more than Turner. When counting carries up until the age of 27, Jones is fairly high on the list particularly for modern running backs. Among players drafted in the past decade, he’s only exceeded by Steven Jackson in terms of touches before the age of 28. The point being MJD is not as spry a 27 as most.
He had knee surgery prior to 2011. Clearly, his performance last year showed that he suffered no major ill effects from that. But what is interesting is throughout the 2011 season, MJD was limited in most of the Jaguars’ Wednesday practices. It was likely to keep him well-rested to play down the stretch (where an ankle injury bothered him). It’s a practice that the Falcons do as well, but largely with their 30+ year old veterans like Tony Gonzalez, Todd McClure, and John Abraham. It’s a red flag that indicates that his body may be breaking down sooner rather than later.
The other main issue is the price tag, both when it comes to what the Falcons would need to give up to secure MJD from Jacksonville, as well as any extension he would want. The reason this holdout began is because he wants a raise. And he likely wants to be among the highest paid running backs in the league, after seeing the big extensions signed by Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Matt Forte, Ray Rice, Arian Foster, etc. over the past year or so. Not only would the Falcons have to part ways with a high round pick, but then also pay a high premium in salary to secure MJD.
The Falcons are moving towards a pass-first offense, as they should. Centering the offense around Matt Ryan in the hopes it elevates his game is the team’s best chance to win a championship in the immediate future. So going out and giving up what they would need to get MJD doesn’t make much sense in that context. Like it has become the case in most NFL cities, the running back is becoming a complementary position in Atlanta. And there’s no need to ship a first or second round pick plus pay $40-50 million to a complementary player, even one as capable as MJD.
The bottom line is that MJD would be a short-term solution that requires long-term commitment. The Falcons have given away far too many premium picks over the past three drafts to merit doing it a fourth year in a row, especially for a player that is on the verge of hitting the same wall that many accuse Turner to be currently parked in front of.