Aaron Jones is one of the great running backs in the history of the Green Bay Packers.
However, his future with the team, as well as the future of the entire Packers’ RB group, are clouded with more uncertainty than they have been in a long time.
Jones has helped make the Packers’ rushing attack one of the better units in the league since becoming the starter, especially during Matt LaFleur’s tenure. Jones has the third most rushing yards in the 104-year history of the franchise (5,529). He ranks fourth in rushing touchdowns (45), and first in yards per carry by a running back (5.0, minimum 100 carries).
With 2023 being Jordan Love’s first season as the starter, the offense would have ideally been built on the strong running game that had been consistent for the past several years. Now with a younger and more mobile QB, it was reasonable to think the ground attack could become that much more potent.
Instead, opponents are becoming increasingly aware that this Packers team just can’t run the ball effectively.
Green Bay ranks 19th in rush yards per attempt and 21st in rush yards per game. Sunday’s game against the Chargers saw WR Jayden Reed as the team’s leading rusher, and A.J. Dillon (29) and Aaron Jones (14) each go under 30 yards rushing. Green Bay had 3.6 YPC despite Reed having 46 rush yards on just 3 carries. It’s a miracle they were able to outscore the Chargers with a relatively one-dimensional offense.
Most importantly, Aaron Jones hasn’t been healthy this season. He’s played just two full seasons in his seven year career. Even when Jones has been active this season, he has only 66 carries in seven starts. Jones is creeping up on age 30, and that combined with lingering health issues has made his on-field product a disappointing one. The explosiveness that has elevated the Packers’ offense to another level in the past is simply not there.
I thought I witnessed Aaron Jones’ last snap as a Packer when he went down with what seemed to be a serious leg injury Sunday. An emotional Jones, towel over head, had to be helped off the field.
Thankfully, and miraculously, LaFleur said the injury is not believed to be long term. Still, it means more missed time for Jones, an obstacle the offense must continue to try and overcome.
Backup RB Emmanuel Wilson then suffered a shoulder injury that could cause him to miss time. It left A.J. Dillon as the only active RB on the roster for the remainder of the game and heading into Monday. Dillon is currently listed as questionable for Thursday’s Thanksgiving matchup against the Lions because of a groin injury.
The decline of the running game isn’t solely on the backs, though. The Packers’ offensive line, another consistent unit of strength for years, has taken a turn for the worse this season. David Bakhtiari is out for the season, and several other starters have battled injury. Even when the group has been mostly healthy, they aren’t a standout run blocking line.
Josh Myers is proving himself to not be an NFL-caliber starter, not only underperforming in both pass and run blocking but being the culprit of several miscommunications where defenders run by untouched. Rasheed Walker and Jon Runyan haven’t proven themselves to be quality starters either.
In the short term, the Packers brought back RB Patrick Taylor from the Patriots practice squad. Taylor knows the system but hasn’t been effective in his 44 career carries. Green Bay also brought back RB James Robinson, who looked like a potential budding star in his first two years with the Jaguars but now bounces around practice squads. As much as what Robinson accomplished a few years ago is intriguing, clearly the NFL doesn’t seem to think he has much juice left – and he’s only 25.
There’s a real chance that the only RB of the five mentioned here left on the roster for next season is Wilson. It was a surprise to see the Packers keep three backs on the team this year instead of just Dillon and Jones, and that they kept Wilson over the more experienced Taylor. The Packers think Wilson has real potential, and he could have a chance to prove himself through the end of this season.
Jones will have a nearly $18 million cap hit in 2024 – a season in which he’ll turn 30 coming off his least productive, most injury-riddled campaign. Primarily because of the lingering effects of Aaron Rodgers’ and Bakhtiari’s contract (players they get little to no production from), the Packers will have salary cap issues for the next couple years. Cutting or trading Jones next summer could free up $12 million in cap space.
Dillon’s rookie contract expires after this season. Dillon is having arguably the worst season of his career, and it couldn’t be coming at a worse time. At this point, we know who Dillon is. He’s not a feature back and is much more suitable as a situational, backup RB. It’s hard to imagine the Packers giving him a new contract unless he accepts a lowball offer.
The rest of 2023 is essentially an audition for nearly every back on the roster. The RB room will likely look much different come next September. The Packers will almost surely take a RB or two in the 2024 draft, as the team won’t have much money to work with to sign a potential free agent back in the offseason to help take the pressure off Love.
It’ll be a sad day when Aaron Jones is no longer a Packer – enjoy seeing him on the field in green and gold while you can.——————