While the hunt for a new contract by Maurice Jones-Drew has certainly been one of the biggest stories of the offseason for the Jaguars, the contract situation of another running back on the team bears mentioning. Rashad Jennings is entering the final year of his four-year rookie contract and is due to make a base salary of $565,000 for the 2012 year.
That's about eight times less than the $4.45 million that Jones-Drew is due in 2012 in the second to last year of the three-time Pro Bowler's contract which will expire following the 2013 season. While the Jaguars have made it pretty clear that they don't have any interest in renegotiating Jones-Drew's contract, if Gene Smith wants to keep the NFL's leading rusher for the 2011 season in Jacksonville, making a contract a priority will almost certainly be necessary in the 2013 offseason.
But with two running backs both due to cash in next offseason, will the Jaguars have to choose between the two?
Jenning's value as a player on the open market will still depend heavily on his 2012 season. After missing the entire 2011 season due to injury and just 661 career rushing yards, his value is still based on his potential which certainly could be better realized in Jones-Drew's absence.
But as of now, his value is likely in the same area that BenJarvus Green-Ellis of the Bengals, formerly of the Patriots, was when he hit free agency during the offseason this year. Green-Ellis signed in Cincinnati on a three-year contract worth $9 million.
Meanwhile, Jones-Drew, easily one of the NFL's best running backs, is not quite satisfied with the $9 million he'll be getting over the next two seasons with the Jaguars. Upon the expiration of his contract in the 2014 offseason, the team might be hesitant to give a big pay day to a 29-year old with knee injury in his past. But if they don't want to pay MJD, there surely will be another team willing to take a shot on a player with such a great career so far.
So can the Jaguars pay both? It's feasible that they'd have the salary cap space to do so, but spending that much on two players that can't both start and both play at a position that is becoming increasingly unimportant in the NFL could be something the team decides against. It's something I think the team will decide against.
So who's the choice between the two? Jones-Drew will surely be more expensive to keep in Jacksonville, but he has proven himself as a legitimate superstar in the NFL while Jennings has hardly made an impact at all. And age isn't much of a factor for deciding between the two either as Jones-Drew is only three days older than Jennings.
I'm taking Jones-Drew between the two for now, but his performance during the 2012 season following a lengthy holdout could certainly swing my opinion the other way. And possibly the Jaguars' as well.