It's time to start preparing for the worst. As Jaguars fans we have been spoiled, in a league that has seen NFL RBs become devalued and expendable, the Jaguars have had only two real lead backs over the last decade and a half. Not only did these RBs have long careers, they both dominated during them as well. The fact that the Jaguars only spent two early draft picks on RBs, which were used on these two, in 15 years speaks to the success the Jaguars running backs have had in their careers. Times are changing however. Fred Taylor has already retired and Maurice Jones-Drew is entering a contract year with the front office refusing to discuss an extension. Jaguars fans need to prepare themselves for life without a star running back.
What will life be like without Maurice Jones-Drew? To answer this question you don't have to look much further than last season. After a foot injury sidelined MJD after only 6 games, the Jaguars had a carousel of running backs for the rest of the season. The Jaguars simply did not have a capable running back to take MJD's place. Rashad Jennings was thought to be a solid spot starter but simply disappointed and the rest of the RBs (Owens, Murphy, Todman, etc.) were all UDFAs or mid-season FA pick-ups. The problems at RB last year only highlight the issues the Jaguars will face if Maurice Jones-Drew leaves after the season as finding a replacement is no easy task.
Ask teams like Arizona, New England, or Washington how easy it is to find a top tier RB. Even with New England's pass first, often and always offense the still spent the better part of the last decade searching for a solid RB to complement their passing game. They invested high picks in players like Laurence Maroney, Steven Ridley, and Shane Vereen as well as bringing in FAs like Fred Taylor, Corey Dillon and Sammy Morris. In the end it seems the Patriots have finally found a solid RB in Ridley, but look how long it took. The same could be said for Arizona who have searching for a replacement for Edgerrin James for years, investing high picks in Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams just to end up with a cast of late round picks and no real starter. At least in Washington they found their star back in Alfred Morris to finally replace Clinton Portis but not before investing a host of players themselves. The point im trying to make here is that finding a real star running back is not easy. This simply shows you how incredibly good (or lucky) the Jaguars have been when it comes to drafting running backs.
So what is the next step if MJD decides to leave? It all depends on how the 2013 plays out. The Jaguars have signed Justin Forsett to a 2 year deal and drafting Denard Robinson locks him for a likely 4 year deal. Forsett is a serviceable RB but who knows if he could handle being the starter for a full season. Robinson is a big question mark, though he offers extreme athleticism, he is a QB turned RB/WR so is ill suited for the lead back role. Unless either of these two really step up in 2013, I would expect Caldwell to turn to the draft to replace MJD as that is his style but it won't be an early pick due to other needs. Unless the Gabbert really makes a big step, the Jaguars will invest heavily in an early QB. With other probable needs at DE and CB, Caldwell probably won't pick up a RB to round 3 at the earliest. The Jaguars need to once again get lucky with a RB or they might find themselves looking at short term future without a true star running back. Recent history in the NFL has proven that finding a star RB is a hard task. There are no real guarantees when it comes to drafting a RB or even signing one via FA.
Not having a star running back obviously does not mean you cannot be successful however. As the new pass heavy NFL has proven that having one helps but is not a necessity (Patriots, Saints, etc.). Nevertheless for the last 15 years the Jaguars have been known for its great running backs. Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew are two of the best RBs over that span and the Jaguars hit the jackpot with both selections. With no real successor in place, with MJD nearing age thirty and it being his contract year the Jaguars are looking at the possible end of an era, for better or worse.