Before the Draft in 2020, the Green Bay Packers found themselves with a future decision to make at the Running Back position. They had two dynamic running backs in Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams. Both of them, however, were entering contract years and both would likely be valuable on the open market. They addressed this right away by drafting running back AJ Dillon in the 2nd round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Everyone knew that this would definitely spell the end for either Jones or Williams in Green Bay post-2020 season.
Sure enough, AJ Dillon ended up having a decent rookie season. He performed at a pretty high level in the extended action he did receive as a rookie and showed future promise. That was enough for the Packers. Aaron Jones signed a 4-year $48M contract with the team while they let Jamaal Williams walk in Free Agency.
Entering the 2023 offseason, it’s almost a Deja Vu moment.
Jones and Dillon’s contracts
Aaron Jones’ contract extension was actually fairly cheap in 2022 only hitting the books with a $5.9M cap hit. As of this morning, it was announced that Jones and the Packers have retooled his contract to only hit the books for $11M compared to the $20.01M previously expected. Many have viewed Jones as a cap casualty in 2023, saying he won’t be back. But GM Brian Gutekunst remained committed that Jones will be back. His contract restructure guarantees #33 will at least have one more season in Green Bay.
AJ Dillon on the other hand, is still on a rookie contract. He will only be owed $1.6M in 2023, so he’s a lock to play next year. After 2023 however, will be a different story. Barring a major 2023 breakout, Dillon has not had the type of career so far that Jones had when he went to the negotiating table. So, $48M is likely a long shot, but if I were to guess, he might command around $25-30M total if it’s a 4-year deal. This leaves him much cheaper than Aaron Jones.
In my opinion Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon are the Packers’ best offensive weapons. But we likely won’t be able to carry them both into 2024. One of them is going to have to go the way Jamaal Williams walked 2 years ago.
Who could replace them?
Many draft analysts believe this draft is loaded with potential starters at RB. The top running back prospect, Bijan Robinson, likely will be gone before the Packers draft 15th overall. He’s drawn comparisons to Saquon Barkley and while it would be nice, I highly doubt he’ll still be there. After Robinson, there’s a drop-off until you get to Jahmyr Gibbs early in the second round. I’m not quite sure Gibbs is what they’d be looking for to replace either Dillon or Jones either, however.
Most likely, I could see Tyjae Spears in the third round.
According to his prospect profile, Spears possesses modest creativity and power through the line of scrimmage but becomes more elusive once he’s up to the second level. At 5’9 204 pounds, Spears pretty much exactly matches Aaron Jones’ size, but currently lacks the explosiveness.
He has the patience to use lead blockers to his advantage which in my opinion is key for a good running back in our zone-blocking scheme.
His Senior year, Spears ran for 1,581 yards, 19 touchdowns at Tulane, and also caught 22 catches for 256 yards and 2 touchdowns. He headlined the Cotton Bowl Classic vs USC by rushing for 205 yards on 17 attempts and 4 touchdowns.
I think Tyjae Spears could be a perfect complement to whomever sticks around after 2023 season if the Packers go that route.
Prepare yourselves Packer fans. Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon are both fan favorites. But unfortunately, in this league, you can’t pay everybody. With Aaron Jones carrying the heftier price tag, as well as being near 30 next year while Dillon will be 25, I think 2023 could be the last year of Aaron Jones in the Packers backfield barring unforeseen circumstances.
We all learn that this league is a business, and we’ll be sad to see one of them go. But I’m always excited for the future and to see who could be waiting to be the next great Packers running back in their absence.
Greg Meinholz is a 24/7/365 Packers fan. When he’s not spending time with his family, he can be found meditating in his Packers shrine with a good beer. You can follow him on twitter at @gmeinholz.
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