The Jacksonville Jaguars season is going about as expected in a rebuilding year, outside of one area. The running game has been a chore for the Jaguars during the season, which is typically something they've always been productive out. Especially when they have a healthy Maurice Jones-Drew carrying the football.
Even Jones-Drew has had a frustrating season thus far however, getting off to painfully slow start and not hitting the 100 yard mark in a game until Week 14. Jones-Drew didn't even crack 50 yards rushing in a game until Week 5. He's surged the past few weeks and picked his yards per carry up to 3.5, down nearly a full yard from his career average.
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Many figured Jones-Drew would play out the string and then jet off in free agency. That doesn't appear to be the case anymore
"I want to be here," Jones-Drew told Mark Long of the Associated Press. "It's a fun environment. It's different than I've ever been a part of. It works. It takes time to build anything. It's starting to turn around for us, and we're starting to play well. That's exciting."
The feeling in the locker room with new head coach Gus Bradley is much different than I can remember. It's been consistent all season, no matter the result, and it's seem to resonate with Jaguars players. It's hit with Jones-Drew, who even though he's starting to split time with the other backs.
So the big question is, should the Jaguars bring Jones-Drew back next season and give him a new deal?
The simple answer is "yes", but it does come with a caveat.
I think the Jaguars should bring MJD back if they can give him a deal similar to that of what the Atlanta Falcons gave Steven Jackson. Jones-Drew is younger, but the wear is close to what there is on Jackson. Jackson received a three-year deal worth around $12 million with just $4 million guaranteed. If the Jaguars can agree to a deal similar to that with Jones-Drew, it could be a win-win for both parties.
I don't foresee a huge market for Jones-Drew in free agency, as there will be younger guys with less wear and tear on them available, such as Darren McFadden, Ben Tate, Toby Gerhart, Ahmad Bradshaw etc.
Jones-Drew has 1,778 carries in his career and a few years ago nearly eclipsed 300 carries in three straight seasons. Since then he hasn't had more than 200 carries in a season, though he's dealt with injuries.
Which is the big thing.
He might not accept it, but he's hitting that point in a running back's career when they begin to breakdown. We can already see that he doesn't have that long speed he used to have when he was backing up Fred Taylor, but he can still run with power and break tackles.
The Jaguars know that too, which is why he's been conceding some carries to Jordan Todman the past few weeks, who's more explosive at this point. A big feather in Jones-Drew's cap going forward however, is he's accepted this reduced role.
"When you're an elite running back, he had like 1,600 yards, those guys want the ball all the time. It's a different mindset now. When you say, 'Let's try this,' he could bow up. He could say, 'What's going on?'," Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley told Long.
Not in a bad way, but it's surprising Jones-Drew didn't react that way. That's just his personality. He's a competitive guy who likes to have that doubt about him out there, because he uses it as motivation. Surprisingly however, Jones-Drew must have known it would help him out long term, because he didn't fight it.
"He fought it a little bit, then he said 'OK.' I'm sure he's not waving pompoms and is ecstatic over it," Bradley told Long. "But the truth of the matter is he's doing better."
The Jaguars have expressed that they would like to bring Jones-Drew back, mainly because he's stepped up to being a leader during the team's rebuilding season and helped install the "get better" mentality that Gus Bradley is trying to accomplish.
So again, the simple answer is "yes", the bigger question is more so will Jones-Drew come back on a team favorable deal.
I think he will.