Being a running back in the modern NFL is a rough existence. You arrive to the NFL already in your prime. You also arrive in the NFL to a system which artificially depresses the earnings of rookie contracts. You then get used heavily during your low-earning years. That breaks your body down. The best-case scenario is you only suffer bumps and bruises. Then you get to free agency and the NFL typically tells you a harsh reality: You don’t really move the needle.
It is jarring when you think about how football works at lower levels. In amateur football, running backs are actually quite important. In the pass-happy NFL where defenses are filled with elite athletes, they just aren’t. I’m not here to argue that point any further. There are very thorough arguments already well laid out. My argument today is that not only would extending Aaron Jones be a bad idea for normal “running backs don’t matter” reasons, but given the current circumstances of the Green Bay Packers as a team, and the NFL as a league, it would be absolutely insane.
The only saving grace for Green Bay’s insane decision to draft AJ Dillon in the second round is the starting basis for this argument. Drafting a running back in the second round is a bad use of resources. However, at the time, I believed that it would mean the Packers would not extend Aaron Jones. This is the bargaining stage or the grief process.
While drafting Dillon was a disaster from a resource-use perspective, if it keeps Green Bay from doing something significantly worse, there could have at least been a silver lining. But it appears from reports following the Kenny Clark extension that this is not the case. So Green Bay may be doubling down on dumb decisions.
The two relatively simple reasons to not extend Aaron Jones above should be more than enough to not do it. Running backs don’t matter in the NFL, and the Packers just spent a valuable resource on a new one. But, like anything in 2020, things get worse.
The NFL is about to go through a salary cap crunch. It is unclear at this point how bad that cap crunch will be, but there will be one. The lazy idea that exists on NFL Twitter during each off-season that the “cap isn’t real” is just that: lazy. Teams can make most things fit during one specific year, but the cap problems from one year can only be passed into the future so much. The problems can be mitigated when the cap rises quickly. Borrowing from future cap years into current cap years is just fine when the cap growth is high. It’s similar to borrowing at low interest rates — if credit is cheap, you may as well use it. Since 2014, the cap has increased by 10 and 12 million dollars each season. This made it easier for teams to overcome their sins or to squeeze extra players into a single year. In 2021, this will almost undoubtedly not be the case.
The salary cap for the 2020 NFL season will be $198.2 million. The NFL and NFLPA reached in agreement in late-July to set a floor for the cap in 2021 at $175 million, though it may rise higher than that if revenues are sufficient. The revenue losses incurred by COVID are supposed to be spread out over the next three years (2021-2023). Those years align quite well with an Aaron Jones extension.
Instead of a typical year where teams were planning for the normal $10-12 million increase, teams will have to contend with a potential loss of $23.2 million in space. In reality, $23.2 million isn’t even the correct way to look at it. On the conservative side, the cap has jumped $10 million per year. What was really lost in cap space, from what was expected was $33.2 million dollars.
Aside from Aaron Jones, the Packers also have other important business to tend to. David Bakhtiari is due to be a free agent after this season and Green Bay will struggle to fit the franchise tag under the cap. Davante Adams is coming up on an important third contract decision in 2021. Aaron Rodgers’ dead cap may eat up a bunch of the Packers cap space in 2021 or 2022, depending on what they do there. The Packers also are going to have to have some uncomfortable conversations about Preston Smith soon. The Packers were in a tight cap situation before COVID. They’re in a very tight one now.
When credit markets get tight in the real world, you can’t afford luxury goods. The same thing occurs when there is a cap shock. Think of a cap shock like interest rates skyrocketing. When interest rates increase quickly, you’re probably not gonna take out a loan for that boat, or maybe you’ll buy a cheaper car or a cheaper house. Interest rates just skyrocketed on Green Bay, and they do not have the financial space to spend on a luxury player.
Is Aaron Jones a good player? Sure. Does he move the needle when it comes to winning? Probably not, and even if he does, not a lot. Will he likely face the steep decline that nearly all other second contract running backs have? Probably. Does Green Bay have the financial space to afford the luxury of a second contract running back? Absolutely not. Even discussing an extension with Aaron Jones is absurd. If they ink him to one, it will almost undoubtedly be an absolute disaster.