Maurice Jones-Drew’s Extended Holdout May Have Cost Him A Lot More Than Just Money

Maurice Jones-Drew When Maurice Jones-Drew first entered the NFL, he was considered a specialty back taking reps in certain series and being used primarily in a third-down role. Flash forward six seasons, three All-Pro selections and an NFL rushing title later and MJD is right back where he started.

After a 38-day holdout from Jaguars camp, seeking a new, richer contract, the 2011 rushing champ returned to his team on Sunday and was greeted with the No. 2 tailback jersey by new head coach Mike Mularkey. The role likely isn't a permanent one as Jones-Drew is still one of the best, if not the best, running backs in the game. But as in shape and physically gifted as he is, Jones-Drew still needs time to acclimate his body to the lightning quick speed of the game and the rigors of NFL tackling. Not to mention he's still new to the offensive system that Mularkey brought along in the offseason.

In reality Jones-Drew remains the best running back on the Jacksonville roster, and don't let any Rashad Jennings propaganda convince you otherwise. But given his time away, there could be a lot more at stake than just the money that MJD decidedly left on the negotiating table by caving to the pressures of new owner Shad Khan.

Jones-Drew's decision to report before the season was a wise one for a number of reasons, not the least being that he's still going to earn a hefty $4.45 million in salary this season but also to try and add more leverage to his case for a new deal as he approaches his contract season in 2013. Yet, even as Jones-Drew undoubtedly made the right call in coming back to his team, his decision to hold out in the first place could cost him more than just money in the end.

As MJD enters his seventh season in the NFL, he's slowly creeping closer to the dreaded 30-year-old marker, which is treated like the plague when talking about running backs. Asking for a multiyear deal after 30 at that position would be like a DH seeking more than a one-year pact at any point after 35 in baseball — not going to happen. For that reason alone, MoJo was rightfully empowered to seek a more lucrative deal, especially after coming off what could arguably be the best season of his career. In the end, though, it could mean less carries and even fewer red zone opportunities for the feature back.

Jennings, a seventh-round pick of the Jags in 2009, has established himself as a quality backup over the past few seasons in Jacksonville. And in Jones-Drew's stead this preseason, Jennings has taken an even bigger role in the Jaguars offense. He's been given a much bigger workload during the preseason, carrying 11 or more times in each of the four preseason contests, and finding open lanes to reel off 10-15 yard runs at times.  

Keith Totson's presence also presents an issue, as the former Rams special teamer has found open space of his own and even played through a hamstring injury in the preseason finale to the tune of 13 carries for 71 yards — not too shabby.  He also offers up a bigger frame near the goal line at 5-foot-11 and 215 pounds, which means the 25-year-old could vulture some touchdown trots from MoJo as well.

There are plenty of scenarios and situations where Jones-Drew will lose carries, touchdowns and even responsibilities this season, even in spite of his tremendous talent. He'll still maintain that elite talent, and who knows, maybe if the Jags are just as bad as in 2011 they'll decide to trade the 27-year-old back for a few high draft picks and continue their rebuilding process. That could accomplish plenty for the Jags, aside from putting butts in seats — of which Jones-Drew helps more than anyone — but MJD may not find the same sort of solace in a move to a new franchise.

He has stated time and again, even among trade suggestions from he and his agent, that he truly does want to remain with the Jaguars. That may not be possible, though, especially if the Jags find out that using a combination of Jennings and Totson can adequately make up for MoJo's production. It wouldn't be quite the same as having a 1,600-yard monster in the backfield, but sometimes it's merely about the ends and the means become irrelevant.

That is exactly what Jones-Drew doesn't want: a trip to the unimportant line. But this season in Jacksonville could serve as that exact mode of transportation. A couple of touch snipers and touchdown vultures could severely impact Jones-Drew's value to his own team, but even more importantly it could impact that value to other teams on the open market.

At times a holdout can be the perfect protest to secure a new and better valued deal (see: Darrelle Revis, at least the first time around).  But in the case of Jones-Drew, as well as that of Wes Welker and potentially even Mike Wallace, the reward might just not be worth the risk involved.

The Starting 11
The Starting 11 is a weekly feature taking a look at the big winners and losers of the past week around the NFL.

1

Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jaguars

Well, that was a waste of time. After a 38-day holdout throughout training camp, the NFL's leading rusher in 2011 decided that it was time to return to the field. The only problem? He still doesn't have a new contract. Now, the Jaguars have named Rashad Jennings as their starting tailback for Week 1 and Jones-Drew has been relegated to being the third-down back. The move likely won't be permanent, but if you ask me this can be simply defined as "Mission Un-Accomplished" — cue George Bush flying onto an aircraft carrier for the acceptance speech.

2

Don King

No not the fight promoter — although at this point I might take him as at least a back judge. Don King, the legendary replacement referee in the Giants-Patriots preseason finale, appeared to be nearly as lost making accurate calls on the field as fans were off it. King struggled and butchered his way through a number of calls, leaving fans, players and hopefully owners alike to wonder if it may be time to get Ed Hochuli and the boys on the phone after all.

3

Aaron Kromer, interim head coach, Saints

When Roger Goodell handed down the suspensions on Sean Payton (season) and Joe Vitt (six games) there was plenty of speculation about who would take the reigns of the Saints for the 2012 season. That question was answered on Sunday. Kromer, New Orleans offensive line coach for the past three seasons, has officially taken over the head coaching duties for the first six weeks of the season. This could be an unbelievable opportunity for the offensive guru as he could set himself up for a future head coach or offensive coordinator job.

4

Carolina Panthers

The Panthers looked good this preseason and last year's NFL Rookie of the Year, Cam Newton, did everything to further encourage Carolina fans for an even bigger season in 2012. But the Panthers were forced out of town — even out of state — over the weekend, as their home turf was taken over by the Democratic National Convention. Carolina found themselves practicing at the IMG Football Academy in Bradenton, Fla., in a trip head coach Ron Rivera referred to as like a "bowl game." Well, I hope the players enjoyed the trip like college kids, but let's hope they don't play as such when getting back on the field in Tampa Bay on Sunday.

5

Deion Branch, WR, Patriots

Bill Belichick and the Patriots never seem to disappoint when it comes to surprise roster moves. The hoodie and his brigade were back it again in 2012, first cutting old friends Donte Stallworth and Jabar Gaffney during the initial roster cutdowns and then leaving Branch, Pro Bowl center Dan Koppen and backup quarterback Brian Hoyer off the final 53-man roster. Branch was the biggest surprise, by many counts, and without a place in New England the 34-year-old receiver may be at the end of his career on the outside. A midseason return to New England is possible, something both Branch and the Patriots are reportedly interested in, but there are a lot of questions to be answered before then.

6

Kellen Winslow, TE, Free Agent

After a few underwhelming seasons in Cleveland, Winslow finally seemed to figure things out and really assert himself as a top-flight tight end in the NFL. A Pro Bowl appearance (2007) and a few quality years in Tampa Bay apparently aren’t enough for Winslow, though, as the 29-year-old was released in a surprising move by the Seattle Seahawks. Pete Carroll is taking that team in a different direction, but apparently Winslow just couldn’t hang with their offensive scheme. He’s likely to get picked up by someone short on tight ends, maybe St. Louis even, but it’s a tough situation to be in for Winslow either way.

7

Brian Urlacher, LB, Bears

Urlacher has been one of the most dedicated and hard-working players in the NFL during his 12-year career, so an injured knee wasn't going to stop him from playing in Chicago's Week 1 game against the Colts. The former NFL Defensive Player of the Year (2005) has had his share of injury troubles in the past, but after a resurgent Pro Bowl campaign in 2011 the now 34-year-old seemed to be back in form. He claim he'll be starting at middle linebacker in Week 1, but the real question is how many weeks can he stay on the field?

8

Trent Richardson, RB, Browns

Richardson underwent knee surgery at the start of training camp and there were plenty of questions surrounding his availability for the start of the season. Richardson answered all comers on Monday with a flashy display out on the practice field which offers a good likelihood he’ll be ready come game time on Sunday. That also means fantasy owners can breathe a sigh of relief — Phew! — as you won’t be turning to your bench for a starting tailback just yet. But don’t worry, it won’t be long.

9

New England Patriots, Offensive Line

Brian Waters was a last-minute addition to the Patriots roster last season. After being released by the Chiefs just before the start of 2011, Belichick scooped up the All-Pro guard and the relationship went off without a hitch. Waters returned to his Pro Bowl form and helped New England back to the Super Bowl. Now, the 34-year-old still has yet to report to the Pats and the team even gave away Waters' No. 54 jersey to rookie linebacker Dont’a Hightower on Monday. With only a handful of days until kickoff, all signs point towards an already struggling offensive line looking even weaker and Tom Brady likely finding himself on the ground a whole lot more often.

10
up/

Ryan Mallett, QB, Patriots

Speaking of Patriots quarterbacks, how about that Mallett kid? A pretty good training camp, combined with a few solid preseason outings, and suddenly he’s got the No. 2 job all sewn up. Hoyer, the proverbial heir to the Brady throne, was ousted on Friday as he fell victim to the final round of roster cuts. A shocking move to let Hoyer hit the market with getting value in return, but that only goes to show the confidence in Mallett’s potential. That all being said, if Brady goes down at any point, it doesn’t matter who’s backing him up, the Patriots are screwed — royally.

11

Chris Johnson, RB, Titans

CJ2K had an interesting week even though he didn't play in the Titans final preseason game. It wasn't so much his on-field work, which hasn't exactly lived up to the hype this preseason, but rather an interesting tweet he sent out late Friday night. "Aww man forgot I had to be to work at 7," Johnson said. Hey man, I'm all for you having a good time and letting us know about it. But in all honesty, tweeting about your forgetful attitude about your job as the starting running back in Tennessee probably won't go over well with the fans or your coaching staff. Probably not your wisest course of action.

Photo of the Week

This may be the only time you'll ever see Gronk scowl.

Rob GronkowskiPhoto via Twitter/@SINow

Tweet of the Week

Some things are just better left un-tweeted.

Quote of the Week

I think there may be just a little less at stake.

"It's no different than going to the Super Bowl." 
– Steve Smith on Carolina practicing in Bradenton, Fla. in preparation of Week 1

Video of the Week

Greg Jennings. One of the freshest-smelling wideouts in the league.

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