|MJD seems to be not-so-blissfully unaware of the declining values of running backs in the NFL. (US Presswire)|
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew is flat out in denial. He just doesn't see the obvious -- nor would I expect him to -- that his position is being devalued in the NFL.
Part of what makes Jones-Drew the back he has become is his ability to fight -- for both tough yards and for what he believes to be right. He thought he deserved a new deal after leading the NFL in rushing last year, even with two years left on his current one. The Jaguars thought otherwise, which resulted in a Jones-Drew staying away from all team activities until he reported Sunday, ending a 38-day holdout.
"The way I was raised is if you believe in something, you fight," Jones-Drew said. "My production stated something. I fought for it. My stats say I've been elite the past three years. I just wanted to be compensated for it."
The fighter in Jones-Drew showed up Sunday, and he certainly didn't meet the media with his tail between his legs, even if he accomplished nothing by staying away from camp. Anybody who knows Jones-Drew knows he's a stubborn man who might be little in stature but carries a giant chip on his shoulder.
Take his answer when I asked him if he understood the devaluing of the running back position.
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"No, I don't," he said. "Can I explain why I don't? In the last two years, there have been $200 million guaranteed to the running back position. Not only that, but the total contracts were nearly over $500 million in total value. I'm trying to figure out if that's devalue, what is value?"
So I explained it in terms of the way the game is played now, that the Giants were 32nd in rushing last year and won a Super Bowl.
"Yeah, they were 32nd in rushing but when they made their run in the playoffs, they averaged 120 yards a game rushing (actually 116.5)," Jones-Drew said. "When the time came to it, they were able to run the ball. I don't really think that is being devalued at all."
Jones-Drew went on to use the Patriots looking for a back and Green Bay's signing of Cedric Benson as examples of why the back still has value.
So let me refresh: He used the Giants, the Packers and the Patriots as examples? New York was 32nd in rushing, the Packers were 27th and the Patriots were 20th.
They combined to go 37-11 in the regular season and the Giants and Patriots played in the Super Bowl.
Sorry, Maurice. You made my case for me.
That makes it the second thing he lost Sunday. Because there is no doubt the scoreboard inside the Jaguars facility was flashing this final:
Shahid Khan 1, Maurice Jones-Drew 0.
Khan, the Jaguars' first-year owner, stood strong in his belief that he would not give Jones-Drew a new deal with two years left on the current one. Along the way, he publicly stated his case, almost brazenly at times, which didn't sit well with Jones-Drew.
"I was disappointed about the comments," Jones-Drew said. "I expect [the media] or people outside the organization to make comments like that, but when you do get it inside the organization with how hard you work with the time you put in through the offseason, the time you put into the facility away from your family you expect a little more, I guess, appreciation."
Khan's comment about the train leaving the station and that Jones-Drew should get on particularly seemed to irritate the running back. Asked why, Jones-Drew said, "Being told to do something. I am an adult. It is what it is."
Jones-Drew rushed for league-leading 1,606 yards, but the team went 5-11 as rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert struggled. Gabbert has looked much better this preseason, which means the Jaguars need to become his team.
It's a quarterback league, and deep down Jones-Drew has to know that. His time to cash in was now, so why not give it a shot? Next year, he's one year closer to 30 -- he will be 28 -- and probably a year closer to never getting another long-term deal.
I understand his position. The time to strike was now. But he should have showed up for the team's first minicamp, then left. It's hard to know what you're missing when he has never been around. Coach Mike Mularkey didn't meet him personally until Sunday. Neither did running backs coach Sylvester Croom.
It wouldn't have mattered in terms of a new deal -- that was never coming -- but it might have alleviated tension inside the building and maybe even helped win over some public opinion.
Truth be known, Jones-Drew wasn't the same back he was the previous year, even with the good numbers. He left yards on the field.
When I reported months ago that Jaguars sources thought he had slowed down, it was met by surprise by some inside the building and Mularkey wondered about the origin of that talk. But even Jones-Drew admitted Sunday that he was caught from behind some last season.
He said some of that was because he wasn't all the way recovered from knee troubles. Those knee issues kept him out of the 2011 preseason.
Now comes the question as to when he can get ready for the opener against the Vikings. He can practice Monday, but Mularkey has already stated he will start Rashad Jennings, who has looked good in the preseason.
Jones-Drew also has to learn the offense. He has a small playbook the coaches handed out during OTAs, but that was a small part of what the team has put in since.
"My goal is to come in and learn the offense," he said.
Then there's the fine issue. Jones-Drew can be fined up to $30,000 a day or $1.2 million. That's likely to be reduced, but Mularkey has to fine him something or the rest of the players will take note. Why go to camp if you don't have to do so?
"I am not talking about that," Jones-Drew said. "That's between myself and the Jaguars."
I say the fine is reduced to $5,000 a day or roughly $150,000, although you hear talk that Khan will help make the fine decision. When you're making $4.5 million, he can swallow that. If it were $1.2 million, you're talking more than a quarter of his wages, which is too much.
"They have to fine him something," one player said, "or else we'll all sit out camp."
Jones-Drew has been a favorite son here for a long time, a blue-collar player appreciated by the fans. But he lost some of that love with this holdout.
If he rips off a 60-yard run, all will be forgotten. If he struggles, the criticism will explode.
"Funny how people try to say I didn't make it [the decision to hold out]," he said. "That's ridiculous. Why would I listen to anybody else? I am going to make the decision and I am going to live with it. I have no regrets doing it. There was no win or loss."
I think Khan would beg to differ.