Why It’s Tough To See Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams Heading to Free Agency

The Green Bay Packers top two running backs are both headed to free agency next month barring a last minute deal being reached between the club and these players. Both Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams are likely to leave Green Bay this offseason and head elsewhere.

This is all part of the business side of football. It’s inescapable that players will leave in the era of the salary cap and free agency. But that doesn’t make it easy to see popular players leave our favorite teams.

Both Jones and Williams are the kind of players that are easy to like and hard to watch leave. They were both drafted by the Packers and we as fans watched them develop into the great players they have become.

The Packers selected Williams in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft. By the midpoint of his rookie season, the former BYU star was starting and carrying the load for the Green Bay offense. He had his first 100-yard game in the Packers 26-20 overtime win over the Bucs in Week 13 when he gained 113 yards on 21 carries and scored a touchdown. He finished his rookie campaign with a career-high 556 yards on 153 rushes and four touchdowns.

In four seasons with the Packers, Williams has carried 500 times for 1,985 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns. He has also caught 122 passes for an additional 961 yards and eight touchdowns. He tied for the team lead in touchdown passes in 2019 with five.

Williams has been a steady contributor for the Packers in all four years he’s been with the team. He is a smart, hard-working back with great enthusiasm on and off the field. Before games, Williams is always seen dancing on the field as he mentally prepares to play. That has become a popular sight on Packers Twitter and throughout social media.

The Packers also appreciate the determination Williams shows on the football field. There have been several occasions where Williams just wants it more than the opposing defenders who are trying to tackle him and he almost refuses to go down. Those kinds of plays are inspiring to fans and teammates alike.

Meanwhile, the coaching staff always appreciated Williams for his reliability and his strong fundamentals. In four seasons, he missed a total of four games and has never played fewer than 14 games in a season.

Head coach Matt LaFleur praised Williams earlier this season saying, “I love the energy and juice he brings to our football team. It’s infectious and I think it brings everybody kind of with him.”

In addition, Williams was the Packers best pass blocking running back and their most reliable receiver out of the backfield as well. Those qualities always ensured that he could be relied upon to get the job done when called upon.

Williams recently acknowledged he may not be back with the Packers in 2021 and expressed his feelings about that situation. “I’m thinking about free agency, but I’d really love to just be a Packers all my life if I could,” Williams said in an interview on NFL Network this week. “They gave me my first shot. I love Green Bay. It’s just a great place to be. But you know, things happen. If things don’t happen, then I’m just ready to take my shot into free agency and show my skills to any team that’s willing to take that chance on me. I’m just ready to go, man. I’m just ready to play, have fun, be myself just bring my spark to any team willing to give me that shot.”

The Packers drafted Jones one round after Williams in 2017. The former UTEP star took a little longer than his backfield mate to reach his potential. As a rookie, Jones carried the ball only 81 times for 448 yards and four touchdowns. That was still a healthy 5.5-yard average per carry and the coaching staff could see his upside.

His breakaway speed and elusiveness made him a threat to score any time he touched the ball, but the biggest impediments to Jones seeing more playing time were his route running and his ability to pass block.

To his credit, Jones put in the time and effort to improve in those areas. By his second season, he was seeing the field more often as he overcame his inexperience and previous shortcomings.

The last two seasons, Jones went over 1,000 yards, gaining 1,084 yards in 2019 and 1,104 yards last season. In 2019, Jones led the league with 16 rushing touchdowns and scored 19 touchdowns overall. He also developed into a dangerous receiver and was second on the team with 49 catches for 474 yards and three touchdowns.

In four seasons with the Packers, Jones has gained 3,364 yard rushing and scored 37 touchdowns on the ground. He has also caught 131 passes for 1,057 yards and six scores.

Jones’ ability to break a long run has been a game changer on several occasions. His 75-yard dash on the first play from scrimmage of the second half against Detroit this season helped the Packers break open a close game. In 2019, his four touchdown performance was the difference in Green Bay’s 34-24 win over the Cowboys in Dallas.

In short, Jones was a difference maker and a player that opposing defenses always had to account for when deciding how to stop the Packers.

GM Brian Gutekunst acknowledged the importance of Jones to the club after the 2020 season ended. “We would love to have Aaron Jones back,” Gute said. “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.”

Free agency is a part of the modern NFL. Players we like, respect and admire can’t always stay with our favorite team, that’s just the reality of the sport today. But we should take the time to enjoy their performances and effort and appreciate what they accomplished for the Packers over the last four years. Whether they return to Green Bay in 2021 or not, we wish Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones well.

You can follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers

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9 points

Comments (46)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
Since'61's picture

February 25, 2021 at 12:16 pm

It’s all about the $$$$. End of story.
I do believe that in the cases of Jones and Williams the Packers earned an excellent return on their investment in both RBs over the past 4 seasons.
I’m not sure what we paid them during their rookie deals and IIRC they were both drafted on Day 3.

Hate to see them move on but if they do I don’t have any complaints about their performance while they were here.
Thanks, Since ‘61

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GilMartin's picture

February 25, 2021 at 12:24 pm

well said Since'61. These guys were great members of the team and the community. It's a business and they will probably be elsewhere next season, but they gave the Packers great value after being drafted in the 4th and 5th round and were fan favorites. They will be missed. Thanks as always for commenting.

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jeremyjjbrown's picture

February 25, 2021 at 12:59 pm

It is a business, but it's sad to see them go. They are such great dudes.

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GilMartin's picture

February 25, 2021 at 03:02 pm

Exactly. This is one of the things I don't like about the business side of football. Thanks for the comment, jeremyjjbrown.

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stockholder's picture

February 25, 2021 at 12:48 pm

I just don't see how Gute can keep letting All- pros leave. Jones made his first pro Bowl and was snubbed last year. Age isn't the factor here. Need is. We now have to try and fill his void. Like; "So many others before him." I can only wonder how many years this might take! (Before we find another All-pro RB.) Jones was part of the development process. And Gute didn't take care of him. It's to bad Gute doesn't mean what he says. When push comes to shove. Expect his Knife in the back.

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Matt Gonzales's picture

February 25, 2021 at 01:34 pm

Direct byproduct of how many top draft picks were invested in the defensive backfield over the last 5 years or so. When you miss so many times on the same positions, you don't have the draft capital to address future needs at other positions, necessitating FA spending, giving you less money to retain the players you want to retain.

Even without the pandemic and resulting drop in salary cap it would have been difficult to bring everyone back for 2021 based on the FA acquisitions made in 2019.

If there is a silver lining here, the market for Williams may be soft due to all teams adjusting to lower cap numbers. Depending on what kind of offers he receives, he may find GB to be his best home if they make (or have made) a competitive offer.

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edp1959's picture

February 26, 2021 at 06:11 am

But they have draft capital to waste on a 3rd string clip board holder.

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iciice's picture

February 25, 2021 at 02:19 pm

It's not like baseball where we can go above the cap and just pay extra. There's limited resources and large number of players needed to play / survive a full season AND be good enough to win. I hear your complaint but what's your solution?

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KnockTheSnotOutOfYou's picture

February 26, 2021 at 08:47 am

Well said!

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Befuddled's picture

February 25, 2021 at 03:46 pm

They did sign an All-pro left tackle and a very good D-linemen to big contracts and teams have won Super bowls without an All-pro running back. The Packers got it done with James Starks as well as the combination of Levens and Bennett.

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GilMartin's picture

February 25, 2021 at 03:47 pm

It's a tough balancing act with players. The old cliche is it's better to let them go a year too early than a year too late. Tough to lose guys like Jones and Williams and Linsley but there are tough decisions to be made. I don't like it either stockholder. Thanks for commenting.

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Big_Mel_75's picture

February 26, 2021 at 08:32 am

Let's not forget that Jones turned down a good contract offer from the Packers cause it didn't have the guaranteed money he wanted. You don't need to pay a RB unless he is Derrick Henry or Dalvin Cook. Plus Jones has missed many games due to injury. Also he never has carried the rock 30 times in a game... The coaching staff must not think he can handle the load.... Not worth the money....

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Coldworld's picture

February 26, 2021 at 09:13 am

Football players have short earning windows and there is no definite lifespan. Teams have caps. The better you are at finding stars the harder the cap hits you.

We tend to get attached as fans. It’s been the same every time a good player leaves due to cost and or longevity concerns by the team. GMs and Cap Execs can’t be like that if they want a career. I can’t see the future, but the Packers seem to be playing the odds. It’s about the overall team, future contract needs and rolling the dice. The odds of finding a decent C versus the odds of dead money or declining play, for example.

Offering Jones what they did, as a highly talented but not every down back, and resigning Bakh suggests a relatively aggressive approach to retention in riskier situations. I don’t blame Jones for rejecting his offer, but it was in many ways a good one. The Packers drew a line that he thinks he can pass.

The Packers need to know what their ceiling is and Jones will perhaps surpass it. Such is life. Many here would leave us old and overpaying on loyalty for past glories. It takes years to shed the dead money and high draft picks to recover from sentimentalism and also tends to actually not deliver on the field due to decline and injuries.

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jannes bjornson's picture

February 26, 2021 at 06:49 pm

They had the window to get into the Big Game this year and they choked on their Home Field. Two backs coming from this draft unless Williams takes a deal with incentives.

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mnbadger's picture

February 25, 2021 at 12:54 pm

I'm still hoping that we can franchise AJones, though that may change the way he plays the game. Both have been great Packers and neither replacement is currently on the team, IMO. GPG

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Gman1976's picture

February 25, 2021 at 01:29 pm

For $8m, Jones would be a bargain with the franchise tag. We would have him for one more year; and if his game drops off due to injuries, we won’t be stuck with a long term contract; and if his game continues to excel, maybe we could keep him. He is a game changer and we don’t want to lose a game changer (until we know Dillon is one).

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Matt Gonzales's picture

February 25, 2021 at 02:38 pm

No way Rosenhaus would let him sign the tender.

I could see them using the transition tag, as that way GB has first right of refusal to match offers, in case the market for Jones is softer than what is expected, but it seems like they're willing to let him walk if he's not happy with the offer already given.

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Guam's picture

February 25, 2021 at 05:47 pm

Gman1976: It is not clear whether the franchise tag is $8 million or $12 million. OTC has both numbers on their website. Some more knowledgeable commenters thought the $12 million aligned better with the $180 million cap floor.

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GilMartin's picture

February 25, 2021 at 03:50 pm

I'm right there with you mnbadger. I think Dillon will be part of the solution but they need to add at least one more quality back. Thanks for commenting.

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Wilment's picture

February 25, 2021 at 06:03 pm

You can franchise him but what are you going to do when he ties up 8 million in cap and says hes going to sit. Id rather they tried to keep Williams at this point, but that isn't happening either. All about the Benjamins or lack there of....

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Wilment's picture

February 25, 2021 at 06:03 pm

You can franchise him but what are you going to do when he ties up 8 million in cap and says hes going to sit. Id rather they tried to keep Williams at this point, but that isn't happening either. All about the Benjamins or lack there of....

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Lare's picture

February 25, 2021 at 01:09 pm

While William's signing may be doable, Jones has priced himself out of the Packers price range.

That said, they can both be replaced by draft picks chosen in comparable rounds as to when they were selected.

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GilMartin's picture

February 25, 2021 at 04:04 pm

Thanks for the comment, Lare. they can be replaced in comparable rounds IF, and it's a big if, the team hits on those picks. That is roughly a 50-50 shot at best. Williams and Jones are about as big a hit as you can have on day three picks as possible. Hopefully, lightning can strike twice.

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The_Justicar's picture

February 25, 2021 at 09:57 pm

You may recall in the Jones\Williams draft GB also drafted a third running back in round 7 , Devante Mays. Luckily ended up with a hit rate of 66% with those picks but took 3 picks at one position in one draft which is a lot. Wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see 1-2 day 3 running back picks in trying to find a back with great speed and / or receiving skills and good at pass protection. In addition, if there is a vet rb who can provide pass catching and pass protection on 3rd downs while the rookies learn the ropes, a James White type, I can see them going that route as well. More guarantee that the vet will pan out over both rookies, especially in year 1.

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Razer's picture

February 25, 2021 at 01:17 pm

Great work by these two backs. But as we all have seen, RB is a relatively poor position to lock yourself into a big contract. If Jones lasts another three years in relatively good health, it'll be a miracle. He runs hard and takes an awful beating. Draft a 3-6 round compliment to Dillon and work FA if needed later in the season.

Too bad Mike McCarthy wasted two years of this backfield. It may have been his salvation if he knew how to use RBs or TEs. At least we got two good years out of these guys.

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GilMartin's picture

February 25, 2021 at 05:47 pm

You're right about RBs and how they are looked at in the modern NFL. I hope we sign a FA and spend a day three pick on a RB who can compliment Dillon. Hate to see Williams and Jones go, but that's life in the modern NFL. Thanks for the comment, Razer.

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hobowilly's picture

February 27, 2021 at 09:45 pm

Razer, nice post. I've been writing since MM left he had no clue on how to use TE's, that became more & more evident when Graham didn't do much and Lewis was hardly used-what a waste! Some have written both Jones & Williams can be replaced by mid round picks...not so sure about that since it takes a year or two as the article outlined well.

I am an Aaron Jones fan for a number of reasons, and i've written earlier it's a shame for both Jones and GB, Aaron switched agents to Rosenhaus; that could prove problematic. Very sad Jones just happened to have his worse game in the last 2 years in the NFCCG after GB had offered him top 5 RB pay heading into the playoffs. He didn't sign and then....

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croatpackfan's picture

February 26, 2021 at 08:19 am

Corey was 5th round pick. Bakh was 4th round pick.

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frankthefork's picture

February 25, 2021 at 01:49 pm

Have a little hope, Gil; is that Williams has value in GB in 2021. A big thanks to A Jones for services rendered, but GB can't afford more than 6M right now and your comp pick next year is at least a 4 rounder; same as Lindsey. I like mid round picks, and yes losing all pros suck, but it's all about the bingos and managing the cap. FYI- Preston Smith and others like King Jackson Lowry going too Fa in hopes that JJ comes home!

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GilMartin's picture

February 25, 2021 at 05:57 pm

Not even close to giving up. I think Williams could return if there's no big market for him next year, you're right about that possibility. This will be a very interesting offseason and the RB room will be very different than last year. Thanks for the comment, frankthefork.

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scullyitsme's picture

February 25, 2021 at 02:05 pm

8 million would be a steal for Aaron Jones, still have hope maybe something gets worked out. I’m not a jamaal Williams fan. I know he was good value the past couple years and Have nothing against him other the this year we had Dillion and Jones. That made it a little frustrating to constantly watch Williams in the backfield knowing better backs where on the bench. That’s why I hope we don’t resign him. I think he’d take way to much time away from Dillion. Jones on the other hand I’m fine with splitting carries with Dillon. If Jones goes then just draft a round 4-7 guy with a bigger upside than Jamal to back up Dillion, or a cheap vet. If they keep Jamal they’ll want to play him too much in my opinion.

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GilMartin's picture

February 25, 2021 at 06:25 pm

This is Jones' only chance for a big contract most likely so I don't expect him to take too much less to stay in Green Bay. We'll see what happens. I am apparently more of a Williams fan than you are, but to me, Williams is the back who has a better chance of returning. We'll see. Thanks for the comment, scullyitsme.

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Packer_Fan's picture

February 25, 2021 at 02:06 pm

Yes, this is tough to take. But this happens. Same with Linsley. But they drafted Dillon and now it's his turn. Gotta move on do the best you can to win a super bowl. And that will take a better defense

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GilMartin's picture

February 25, 2021 at 06:26 pm

Spot on, Packer-Fan. It's tough to take, but it is also not great. That's the modern NFL. Thanks for commenting.

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Lphill's picture

February 25, 2021 at 02:38 pm

Let Jones walk he came up small against the Bucs , work out a deal with Williams , along with Dillon they will be fine next season .

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Lphill's picture

February 25, 2021 at 02:39 pm

Let Jones walk he came up small against the Bucs , work out a deal with Williams , along with Dillon they will be fine next season .

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GilMartin's picture

February 25, 2021 at 06:29 pm

I think Williams is more likely to return out of the two. Not sure I can hold the poor performance vs the Bucs as the reason not to bring back Jones, he was far from the only one who didn't shine in that game. Still, I doubt he returns and it may be the right move given his age, size and injury history. Thanks for the comment, Lphill, always good to hear from you.

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ricky's picture

February 25, 2021 at 04:30 pm

You don't overpay RB's, you replace them. Sure, Jones became All-Pro his fourth year. Good for him. Go get another guy in the draft that has similar abilities, coach him up, and get him to an All-Pro level in year two or three. Or if not, then effective enough to keep the defense honest. The era of the "bell cow" RB is pretty much over. The teams that try to hold onto that old way of doing things are bucking the trend of the multiple RB teams of the present. Make sure your OL is as good as possible, and they'll pay dividends by opening holes for the RB's and keeping your QB upright.

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GilMartin's picture

February 25, 2021 at 06:33 pm

ricky, that's the way the NFL views RBs now, no doubt. I miss the bell cow RB, but those days are gone. Keeping the OL top notch is vital, we'll see how they go about it. Thanks for the comment.

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SierraSam's picture

February 25, 2021 at 04:46 pm

Let's not lose the chemistry. Franchise Jones, bring Williams in on a Green Bay friendly contract after Williams tests FA. With the CAP there are going to be a lot of players on the market and prices will be depressed. We can keep all three!!! This is a great combinations of backs that Green Bay hasn't had for a long time. Don't knee cap the running game while we still have Rogers!!!

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GilMartin's picture

February 25, 2021 at 06:34 pm

I love the idea in theory, but don't know if it's realistic under the cap. We'll see. Thanks for the comment, SierraSam.

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Wilment's picture

February 25, 2021 at 06:09 pm

Hate to see AJ go.....I remember that first real big moment in the disastrous season without Rodgers when he broke for that thirty yard td.....it was one of the few great moments that year. Williams showed he was a tough legit back too. Sucks to lose them both at once, but they were late picks, and we certainly got great value for them in thier time in Green Bay. I hate to see them go and hope to God neither ends up in the NFC north....

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GilMartin's picture

February 25, 2021 at 06:35 pm

Really don't want either of them in the division. Wilment, you scared me there. Thanks for commenting.

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KnockTheSnotOutOfYou's picture

February 26, 2021 at 08:56 am

Need to look forward and not backwards. I am excited to find out what Dillon brings and who we currently have that might flourish now that they are given a chance. Dexter? Ervin? Whom might Gutey pick up?

Go Packers!

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MTmind's picture

February 26, 2021 at 09:27 am

I know most fans were really hoping for the Packers to take a WR in last year’s draft, but I sure am glad they decided on using one of those picks on Dillion considering the RB situation they are now in. I recall fans and the media proclaiming that we were set at the RB position. This was completely true if you were to only be concerned with the “now” rather than stability in the future. RB’s can certainly become stars their first year in the NFL (as opposed to some positions where it’s more difficult to adjust, like TE), but it seems to me that the Packers have the best luck with players who can spend a minimum of one year learning the system before they take on a starting role. I wonder if I’ll be making a similar statement about our starting QB two to three years from now?

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