Packers Need to Decide: How Special Is Aaron Jones?

The Green Bay Packers announced that they will not use the franchise or transition tags on running back Aaron Jones this season. However, GM Brian Gutekunst indicated the team was still negotiating with Jones and trying to work out a long-term contract with their Pro Bowl running back.

The Packers now have a decision to make at the running back position regarding Jones. In a league that does not place a high premium on runners, Gutekunst needs to decide how much cap space the Packers are willing to dedicated to the position and if Jones is that special back who is worth a large investment.

If you ask Gutekunst, he would like to find a way to keep Jones in green and gold in 2021 and beyond. Recently, Gutekunst told reporters, “We would love to have Aaron back. I think he’s such an important part of our offense this year, he’s a dynamic player. He’s absolutely everything we want in a professional football player. So, we’d certainly like to bring him back.”

The numbers speak for themselves. Jones gained a career-high 1,104 yards this season despite missing two games. He averaged an impressive 5.5-yards per carry and caught 47 passes for another 355 yards. He ran for nine touchdowns and caught two more.

That was Jones’ second consecutive 1,000-plus yard season. In 2019, he rushed for 1,084 yards in 16 games and scored an NFL-best 16 rushing touchdowns. He also finished second on the team with 47 catches for an additional 474 yards and three receiving touchdowns.

According to several reports, the Packers have offered Jones roughly $9 million per year but the former UTEP star turned it down and is hoping to get more on the free agent market.

With the salary cap set at $182.5 million, the Packers have some tough choices to make. They clearly want Jones to return in an ideal situation. The question is how much is a running back like Jones worth in the modern NFL? There is little doubt Gutekunst can free up enough cap space to sign Jones by extending a few players and reworking the bonuses of a few others. But is this the wisest use of the cap for the Packers?

Here’s what Jones adds to the Green Bay offense:

1. Breakaway Speed

Jones is a home run threat. Any time he touches the football, he’s a threat to go all the way. In the last two seasons, he has six touchdowns of 20 yards or longer. Defenses must respect his ability to break long runs and when he does, it can often be extremely demoralizing for opposing defenses. The old saying is that speed kills and in Jones’ case, that is true.

2. Receiving Ability

Early in his career, Jones was not considered a reliable receiver by the Packers coaching staff. He worked hard to improve his receiving and now, Jones is a very capable pass catcher out of the backfield. Getting Jones the ball in space is always dangerous and he is capable of turning a short pass into a long gain if he gets a little room. His best receiving performance came against the Chiefs in 2019 when he caught seven passes for 159 yards and two touchdowns. Over the past two seasons, Jones has seven games where he had five or more catches. Aaron Rodgers knows he can rely on Jones to be in the right place for check down catches.

In addition, because Jones has the ability to both run the ball and catch passes, the Packers don’t have to give away their offensive intent when he’s in the backfield. If A.J. Dillon is in the lineup, opposing defenses know a run is more likely since Dillon remains unproven as a receiver. Jones gives head coach Matt LaFleur the ability to run or pass out of identical formations, something his offense is predicated on.

3. Blocking

Although his pass blocking was considered a liability early in his NFL career, Jones developed into a willing and capable blocker. He knows how to read blitzes well and can help give his quarterback more time to throw the ball when called upon. This is a skill valued by the Green Bay coaching staff and something that may Jones now provides to the team.

4. Chemistry and Knowledge of the System

Another thing Jones brings to the table is his knowledge of Matt LaFleur’s offense. We saw how the entire team made a substantial jump in the second season of LaFleur’s system. Bringing in a new player means that running back must start learning the system from scratch.

Jones is also a popular teammate because of his dedication and work ethic.

While these three benefits stand out, there are some drawbacks.

1. Size and Durability

While Jones is a dangerous running threat, he is not a large for a running back by modern NFL standards. Jones is listed at 5’9” and 205 pounds which makes his long-term durability an issue.

In his four NFL seasons, the Packers Pro Bowl runner has only played in all 16 games one time. He has never played in fewer than 12 games in any given campaign, but the Packers do have to try to pace Jones and make sure he doesn’t get overworked and is still fresh and ready to run late in the season and in the playoffs.

2. Age

These days, most NFL running backs don’t have lengthy careers. Jones will turn 27 before the 2021 season is over and while that’s not ancient for a running back, it is something to consider before signing him to a long-term contract.

Most NFL backs start to slow down before they reach 30 as the wear and tear on their bodies and the number of hits they take starts to slow them down. If Jones loses a step, he will lose one of his biggest assets: his speed.

If the Packers sign Jones to a four-year contract, they should anticipate that they won’t get the same level of performance in the final two years of the contract that they get in the first two.

The bottom line is that Gutekunst has a decision to make. If it takes $10-12 million per year to sign Jones, is that the best use of the Packers scarce cap money. If the Packers are all in for 2021 and want to win now while Rodgers’ is still an elite quarterback, signing Jones probably makes sense if the price isn’t too high. Of course, this means the team will probably pay the price a few years down the road.

Or would spending less but getting less production from the running back position be worthwhile if it frees up cap space to address other significant areas of need in 2021 and beyond?

It’s a difficult but crucial choice that Gutekunst needs to make. The outcome will go a long way towards determining the Packers short-term and long-term success.

You can follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers

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6 points

Comments (63)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
Leatherhead's picture

March 11, 2021 at 12:07 pm

Draft RBs, put good blockers in front of them, and don’t buy their second contract. 28 and 29 year old RBs are not as productive as much cheaper players on their rookie deal.

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Guam's picture

March 11, 2021 at 12:24 pm

Would much rather see that money put toward signing Tonyan, Sullivan and some of our other RFA's. Much more bang for the buck as RBs are replaceable.

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GilMartin's picture

March 12, 2021 at 02:40 pm

A very possible outcome. I doubt they have to worry about Sullivan and Tonyan will almost certainly be back at a reasonable price. Most NFL teams try to save money at RB and the Packers are unlikely to be different this offseason. Thanks for the comment, Guam.

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Lphill's picture

March 11, 2021 at 05:55 pm

Jones is 26 .

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Leatherhead's picture

March 12, 2021 at 07:26 am

And next year he’ll be 27, then 28 and 29. That’s who you’re paying for.

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canadapacker's picture

March 11, 2021 at 08:26 pm

In general I agree - but if he has been offered 9 +mill - he might just take it and I wouldnt have an issue with that because - maybe we are in the win now mode. But with AR we were always in win now mode although MM and TT kind of screwed that up near the end of their time with bad draft picks and bad team playcalling. But as to draft a rookie is not easy and we have other draft needs. So I would rather see us pick up an older cheaper version if Jones leaves and I think with Drew as his agent he probably will leave - unless he really wants to stay on a winner over the what just might be only a slightly bigger payday. I think if he did stay and if Dillon continues to show what he did against Tennessee that would be a real dynamic duo. Better than the Williams Jones combo.

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GilMartin's picture

March 12, 2021 at 02:41 pm

Jones and Dillon would be a very dynamic duo and each has very different skill sets. We'll see if they can keep Jones. If I were a betting man, I'd say it's unlikely. Thanks for commenting, canadapacker.

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gr7070's picture

March 12, 2021 at 11:12 am

Yep! Cheap, late round RBs are the way to go.

While Jones absolutely is special, the position he plays is not.

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GilMartin's picture

March 12, 2021 at 02:42 pm

Likely this is an accurate analysis. Thanks for the comment, gr7070.

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GilMartin's picture

March 12, 2021 at 02:37 pm

Pure logic, there, Leatherhead and very possibly how the Packers will play this. I know they want Jones back, but they are unlikely to pay much for him and they definitely shouldn't overpay. Thanks for the comment.

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mnbadger's picture

March 11, 2021 at 12:15 pm

Great review but I was hoping Gil would share his opinion. I agree with Leatherhead, too expensive to keep. I'm guessing the $9million offer came with words like "we'd love to give more, but . . . ." GPG

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GilMartin's picture

March 12, 2021 at 02:38 pm

Hey mnbadger. I would love to keep him but don't think they'll be able to. They may try to bring Williams back at a more reasonable price if they can't keep Jones. Thanks as always for commenting.

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PatrickGB's picture

March 11, 2021 at 12:27 pm

He is a great player and teammate. Bad timing for the team on his contract extension. The team cannot afford what he wants. He is gone and Matt’s offense will have to change to reflect that. I think that is already in the plan after he turned down a good offer from management.

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Coldworld's picture

March 11, 2021 at 02:57 pm

At least on offers to date, it’s not the amount but the guarantee he wants that is the issue. I have to agree with others here that, while he may get what he is looking for from another team, Giving that kind of guarantee to a RB is a risky proposition. Too risky for me given that the downside could end Rodgers’ window in practice.

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GilMartin's picture

March 12, 2021 at 02:43 pm

I think you're right, PatrickGB. Adjusting to a new RB will be a challenge for LaFleur because they will lack the home run threat if Jones leaves and isn't replaced by a back who also has that skill. Thanks as always for commenting.

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Matt Gonzales's picture

March 11, 2021 at 12:47 pm

He's plenty special, but I don't want to see the Packers trying to reset the market for a player that is most effective on a snap count. I wish him well and urge him to save his money, because it's going to dry up once whatever team signs him runs him into the ground.

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GilMartin's picture

March 12, 2021 at 02:44 pm

I think you're right: he's special but isn't likely to be back. I also would wish him well, Jones is a class act. Thanks for the comment, mattgsx.

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TarynsEyes's picture

March 11, 2021 at 01:12 pm

The Packers need to understand what the best and final offer means, and stick to it. As Jones' suitors fail to meet his demands and any return talk from Jones needs to begin with no more than the average yearly of the Top 7 RBs, since he refused the average of the Top 5.

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GilMartin's picture

March 12, 2021 at 02:45 pm

If he can't get more money elsewhere, it will be interesting what happens. The Packers reportedly already offered $9 million per. I doubt Jones would sign for less than that. Thanks for the comment, TarynsEyes, always good to hear from you.

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Savage57's picture

March 11, 2021 at 01:15 pm

Despite what Gutekunst says to the contrary, the Packers have already decided on Jones.

I'm going to say thanks for four solid seasons and get ready to move on.

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jeremyjjbrown's picture

March 11, 2021 at 01:16 pm

This is the only thing that makes sense.

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GilMartin's picture

March 12, 2021 at 02:47 pm

It makes the most sense, no doubt, but people aren't always logical. Thanks for the comment, jeremyjjbrown.

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dobber's picture

March 11, 2021 at 01:33 pm

Bingo.

Not special enough to tag to keep him off the market and buy some time to work out a deal.

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mrtundra's picture

March 12, 2021 at 07:52 am

Yep, Not putting the FT on Jones, tells you all you need to know about what the GBP think of Jones. They will let him walk and then will draft a replacement, or re-sign Jamaal Williams, at a cheaper deal, to be with AJ Dillon in the backfield. Thanks for your time in GB, Aaron Jones! It's a business with weird salary cap rules.

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GilMartin's picture

March 12, 2021 at 03:00 pm

Yeah, the cap can be tricky. If they don't re-sign Jones, I'd hope they can bring back Williams for less. Thanks for commenting, mrtundra.

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GilMartin's picture

March 12, 2021 at 02:48 pm

Gute agrees with you. I doubt he's back, some team will offer him more money to sign elsewhere. Thanks for the comment, dobber.

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GilMartin's picture

March 12, 2021 at 02:46 pm

I'll be sad to see him go, he's a good back and a good teammate, but that is the likely outcome. Thanks for the comment, Savage57.

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jeremyjjbrown's picture

March 11, 2021 at 01:16 pm

I would have paid 8 mil to tag Jones. I'd rather have an RB like Jones on a 1 year for 8 mil, than market which Sportrac says is 4 yrs, 58 mil. No way would I do that for any RB. But 1 year 8 million would give Dillon a true year in a snaps split and then he can be the featured back in 2022. If they are not willing to do that I wonder how serious they are about signing him long term. I don't think that the Packers actually plan to sign Jones despite what is being reported. Paying market value for him right now doesn't make any sense.

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PF4L's picture

March 11, 2021 at 06:28 pm

Absa freaking lutly Jeremy.

All Jones has done is score 30 TD's the last 2 seasons. How many NFL players can say that.

8 million was a steal!!

That makes about as much sense as cutting a receiver who caught 21 TD passes in his last 22 games with Rodgers.........and still....needing a receiver to this day.

In simple speak: If you are going to get rid of Nelson, Cobb, and Cook....
You might want to come up with something better than J'mon Moore, ESB, MVS, Funchess Martellus Bennett, and Jimmy Graham.

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GilMartin's picture

March 12, 2021 at 02:59 pm

Well said, PF4L. I hope the Packers can replace him adequately if they can't re-sign him. We'll see how this one plays out. Thanks for commenting.

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Stroh's picture

March 13, 2021 at 07:11 pm

Nelson and Cobb were ready to become shadows of former selves and the Packers knew it. It was the right decision to move on when they did. They tried hard to bring Cook back, but his agent upped the antenna at the last second.

As I said a second ago, it was a favor to Jones not to tag him. Jones didn't deserve that and Jones could have made it messy if they had. To the point that everyone might have lost. If you want the best for everyone and especially Jones, you would realize it

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GilMartin's picture

March 12, 2021 at 02:49 pm

I think that would have been a good option as well, but that ship has now sailed. Looks like the RB room will have a different look in 2021. Thanks for the comments, jeremyjjbrown.

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Stroh's picture

March 13, 2021 at 07:03 pm

Not tagging Jones was a favor to him! They know he deserves alot better than being tagged. Secondly Dillon would be the lead RB even with Jones on the team. They would split snaps relatively equally, but Dillon would get more carries and Jones getting most of the receptions. Either way Dillon was going to be the #1 RB with Jones as 1a. You have to manage Jones carries, but not his receptions and you don't have to manage Dillons carries. Jones wants guarantees and the Packers would be happy to pay him, but not in guaranteed money.

Forget market value, there's no way any team is giving Jones money similar to McCaffrey, Cook or Kamara. Too small, too injury prone and more likely to have his career cut short.

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Bearmeat's picture

March 11, 2021 at 01:32 pm

I'd be very surprised if Jones comes back. Dillon is there for a reason and why would you invest so much at RB? Jones is a great player, but considering the cap hell GB is in this year, I'd suggest paying a CB or DT is far more important if they can manage it. DT could be had for far cheaper too.

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GilMartin's picture

March 12, 2021 at 02:50 pm

Agreed, Bearmeat. We'll see where they spend their limited resources. I think they'll sign a veteran RB but for much less than Jones will cost. Thanks as always for commenting.

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stockholder's picture

March 11, 2021 at 02:04 pm

You never know what is said behind closed doors. If they didn't tag him. Shut it. Move on. Pay the others who want it.

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GilMartin's picture

March 12, 2021 at 02:50 pm

No tag, probably won't be re-signed. Thanks for the comment, stockholder.

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skyler's picture

March 11, 2021 at 02:21 pm

I believe Aaron Jones is alot like Frank Gore. He comes from a military family and carries that discipline in his NFL job. Barring injury, he will be in the NFL for a long time, past his second contract window. With that said, I do believe the tag not being used signals that the Pack has moved on and that they think he will get $10 million plus. Do not kid yourself, Jones will be a huge loss. No one on the current roster can get up to his productivity on the field both running and catching the football. We have not had a RB like Jones since Arman Green. Lacy was a good running, but not a good route catcher like Jones. It will be interesting to see who all steps up. Winning now is everything.

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GilMartin's picture

March 12, 2021 at 02:52 pm

I agree he will be difficult to replace. Jones is a perfect fit in LaFleur's offense and the coach will have to adjust his scheme and tailor it to the new RBs on the roster. Thanks for commenting, skyler.

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Stroh's picture

March 13, 2021 at 07:21 pm

Small, injury prone RB don't have a very long shelf life in the NFL. Jones will be lucky to get thru 2 yrs of his next contract. His new team will want their moneys worth and will run him into the ground instead of managing his workload like the Packers have and would continue to do. He and Gore are nothing alike!

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ShawnO's picture

March 11, 2021 at 02:45 pm

If signing Aaron Jones means you wouldn't be able to give a new contract to either Davante Adams or Jaire Alexander would you let him walk?

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Coldworld's picture

March 11, 2021 at 03:00 pm

Yes, in a heartbeat. I love Jones as a Packer but it’s not close if that were the choice.

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PF4L's picture

March 11, 2021 at 06:30 pm

WOW

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GilMartin's picture

March 12, 2021 at 02:52 pm

In a word: yes. Thanks for the comment, ShawnO.

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13TimeChamps's picture

March 11, 2021 at 02:47 pm

"However, GM Brian Gutekunst indicated the team was still negotiating with Jones and trying to work out a long-term contract with their Pro Bowl running back."

I really believe this is just GM-speak to appease the fans who will be upset when Jones signs elsewhere. He supposedly turned down a top-5 offer...then fired his agent and hired Rosenhaus. Now he's open to the original offer or less? I'll be shocked to see Jones in a Packer uniform in '21.

He gets his money elsewhere (and good for him!), the Packers address other positions of need...and life goes on. It was fun watching him the past two years. Good luck to him!

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GilMartin's picture

March 12, 2021 at 02:53 pm

I think you're spot on 13TimeChamps. He only comes back if nobody offers him top line money and even then, the Pack may not have cap room to sign him. Thanks for commenting, always good to hear from you.

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Stroh's picture

March 14, 2021 at 02:32 pm

Most fans won't be upset with Jones leaving. Most, unlike you seem to understand is a business decision. Its not GM - speak. They are trying to sign him but there are obstacles preventing it. Your being delusional about Gutey!

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Packers0808's picture

March 11, 2021 at 04:12 pm

Remember Dillon missed a ton of time last season, who says it can't happen again? Keeping Jones just makes a lot of sense if he can get contracted!

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MarkinMadison's picture

March 11, 2021 at 07:30 pm

That was COVID related. Presumably, these guys will be vaccinated by August.

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Packers0808's picture

March 11, 2021 at 07:51 pm

Does it matter the reason he missed time, maybe another illness or injury, you deal with what it is at the time!

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jeremyjjbrown's picture

March 11, 2021 at 08:01 pm

"Does it matter the reason he missed time"

Yes.

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Stroh's picture

March 13, 2021 at 07:29 pm

It uneqivately matters! Jones already has a lengthy injury history. Dillon does not! A worldwide pandemic is on the opposite end of the spectrum compared to Jones' 3 knee sprains! Don't be dumb

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Packers0808's picture

March 14, 2021 at 01:28 pm

Don't be dumb, you are right being dumb. Knee sprains don't kill covid does and did 8 people in I knew!

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Stroh's picture

March 14, 2021 at 02:38 pm

That's unfortunate. However, its not pertinent to the discussion. Except for the fact Dillon has covid and recovered. But the fact remains Dillon wasn't injured he was sick. Jones in the meantime has been injured repeatedly in football. Clearly you can see the difference!

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Packers0808's picture

March 14, 2021 at 03:38 pm

Hey I guess you knowledge lacks huh, Jones is signed by Packers! Doesn't matter why missing action they MISSED time!

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GilMartin's picture

March 12, 2021 at 02:54 pm

That's the big if with RBs. Don't know if they can afford him, but if they can't, they will likely add another veteran RB for depth. Thanks for the comment, Packers0808.

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Oppy's picture

March 11, 2021 at 05:30 pm

How special is Aaron Jones? I don't have a better answer than "Jones is the best RB the Packers have had on their roster since Ahman Green during his prime."

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GilMartin's picture

March 12, 2021 at 02:55 pm

Have to agree with that. But is that worth $10 million a year with the Packers present cap situation? Thanks for the comment, Oppy.

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MarkinMadison's picture

March 11, 2021 at 07:31 pm

Thank you Mr. Jones. I wish you well. You're a quality person. I'll root for you whenever you are not playing the Packers. I hope you make all the money you can.

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GilMartin's picture

March 12, 2021 at 02:56 pm

Well said, MarkinMadison. I think that's where most Packers fans will be if Jones signs elsewhere. Thanks for the comment.

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Wilment's picture

March 12, 2021 at 07:41 am

Id say that the Packers have made clear what he means to them....they offered a contract last year that would have made him in the top five backs paid, and he declined and switched agents. Ol' Drew isn't going to leave a nickel on the table. Now they have opted to not tag him. Barring some stroke of lightning at the midnight hour, he will be elsewhere next year. Im hoping that the Packers make a play to keep Williams at this point so there are two viable backs in the fold going into the season. Drafting a rookie is finie and well, but that guy isn't going to be NFL ready.at seasons start.

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GilMartin's picture

March 12, 2021 at 02:57 pm

I would also like to see Williams back at a reasonable rate if they can't bring Jones back. Thanks for the comment, Wilment, it was well thought out.

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BoHunter's picture

March 14, 2021 at 01:16 pm

Keep Swag Daddy, let Jones walk, The End
Cheers,
BoHunter

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