NFL wheeling and dealing stops for nothing, even a nation-wide lockdown.
The Carolina Panthers signed star running back Christain McCaffrey to a new four-year deal worth $64 million. With an average yearly salary of $16 million, he is now that highest-paid running back in the league by that metric. The 2017 running back class was stacked, and McCaffrey is the first to cash in, though his deal is unlikely to be topped.
The Green Bay Packers, coincidentally, also have a dynamic running back from the 2017 class: Aaron Jones. According to ESPN’s Rob Demovsky, the team has been in contact with Jones’ representatives, and both sides are interested in getting a deal done. McCaffrey’s deal could complicate that.
Despite being a fifth-round pick, Jones is every bit as valuable a player as McCaffrey. Both were tied for NFL lead in touchdowns, and both running backs were used extensively in the passing game as well. Jones is one of the few playmakers on the Packers’ offense and is a threat every time the ball touches his hands.
Unfortunately, there’s a null chance Gutekunst and Co. will shell out that same kind of money. The Packers have something the Carolina Panthers don’t have: an Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers’ massive contract means the Packers don’t have the luxury of spending a fortune on a running back. With Davante Adams as one of the league’s top receivers and the potential for a stud wide receiver in this draft’s loaded class, the Packers passing game is much more of a threat than Carolina’s, who lacked a consistent quarterback and wide receiving options.
Paying running backs is already a divisive issue to begin with. Major running back deals of recent years have aged extremely poorly: look to David Johnson and Todd Gurley for examples. Running backs rely on explosiveness and are subjected to brutal physical toll. It’s hard to predict how the game can effect them in even a short time frame.
In McCaffrey’s favor, he hasn’t missed a game since entering the league in 2017 and is the best player on that offense. He’s more than a running game threat, as he’s one of the best receiving running backs in the league. As an offensive weapon and the focal point of a new head coach’s offense, it’s not a terrible deal. But I’m not here to pontificate for the Panthers or the running back faithfuls; we’re here to talk Packers.
The Packers don’t have significant cap space and have to consider signing David Bakhtiari, Corey Linsley, and potentially even Kevin King in 2021, and a Kenny Clark extension is inevitable. Jones is one of the most valuable Packers, a good locker room presence, and seems like an absolutely delightful young man, but the Packers will always own the skies first as long as they have Aaron Rodgers. Matt LaFleur’s offense prioritizes the running game much more than the previous regime, but you don’t pay a future Hall of Famer a billion dollars to not throw the football.
The Packers will only extend Jones if it can be done in a team-friendly manner. Many have suggested a deal similar to Austin Ekeler’s in Los Angeles (four years, $24.5 million). However, if Jones repeats his monstrous 2019 season in 2020, it’ll be hard to blame him for seeking more, and another team will almost certainly be willing to pay.
With the draft next week, we could get a look into the potential future of the running back position based on whether the Packers invest in the position early. A Day 2 running back is a realistic possibility.
The idea of losing Jones is painful, especially when the Packers need to commit to powering the offense up to maximize Rodgers’ chance for another Super Bowl. But Christian McCaffrey’s megadeal could complicate a long-term option.Matt Hendershott is a Packers fan and Miller High Life enthusiast from Northwest Ohio. He has a Master of Arts in Media and Communication from Bowling Green State University. You can follow him on Twitter @MattHendershott.