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Cheese Curds, 3/15: Aaron Jones signs new deal on eve of legal tampering period

One day before free agents could start negotiating with other teams, the Packers brought back their top running back.

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NFL: Carolina Panthers at Green Bay Packers Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The cliché “running backs don’t matter” has become a bit of a punching bag in NFL circles of late. For those who espouse this philosophy, it is better described as “don’t pay running backs” or perhaps “running backs are more easily replaceable than other positions.”

But however you want to phrase that approach, it’s clear from Sunday’s news that the Green Bay Packers don’t subscribe to it, at least not as far as Aaron Jones is concerned. Jones signed his name to a new four-year contract extension with the Packers, doing so on the day before negotiating would have opened up with teams around the league. Jones’ agent reports the deal as having a total value of $48 million, but it’s important to remember where that number comes from.

As with all contracts in the NFL, the details and structure of the deal will tell the final story. Agents often cite the maximum value of a contract including all incentives, while the base value may be much less than the $12 million per year number. Indeed, one report even suggests that it may be as low as $9.5 million before incentives.

In all likelihood, Jones’ cap hit will probably be fairly low for 2021 — perhaps in the $5-6 million range — with a slight increase in year two and a big jump in the third season. That’s how the Packers arranged most of their big free agent contracts in 2019, and it’s at least part of why three of the four players signed that year have restructured their deals for 2021. But what that also would mean is that this is probably another “two years, then we’ll see” type of deal.

What this almost certainly means for the Packers this offseason is that they’re done making big moves. There should be enough cap space available through a Za’Darius Smith contract extension and perhaps a Davante Adams deal to re-sign lower-level free agents and maybe bring in a veteran cornerback cap casualty on a cheap contract, but the team is probably out on big names like Will Fuller.

One thing is certain — Jones’ teammates are happy for him and happy that he will be returning to the locker room in 2021. Matt LaFleur is surely pleased about Jones’ return as well. Now let’s see what the full deal looks like before passing full judgment on it.

Finally, stay tuned starting at 12 Noon Eastern today, when the legal tampering period officially begins. Don’t expect the Packers to be major players, but we’ll be tracking reports of big contract signings around the league as the day goes along.

Aaron Jones signs 4-year deal to return to Green Bay: '(He) wanted to stay with the Packers' – The Athletic (subscription)
Jones' agent, Drew Rosenhaus, said that they were expecting bigger offers on the open market, but Jones' desire to stay with the Packers was why they took less money to stick around.

Aaron Jones gave Packers plenty of reasons to play running back roulette - ESPN
Bob Demovsky notes, correctly, that most of the league has embraced the idea that running backs are largely replaceable. Clearly, this contract is a sign that the Packers do not feel that way, at least about Jones and his fit in Matt LaFleur's offense.

Social media reacts to return of Packers running back Aaron Jones | Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
Say what you will about the contract, but Jones is a great young man who is justifiably a favorite of fans and his teammates alike. It's telling to see so many fellow Packers congratulating him on social media after news of the contract broke.

What signing Aaron Jones means for Packers RB A.J. Dillon | Packers Wire
For one, Jones' deal means that Jamaal Williams is almost certainly headed out of town. That would seem to give Dillon the job as the change-of-pace back. The question, however, is which of these two will be the one playing on passing downs, since that was typically Williams' role in recent years?

Spot duty to starter? Could happen for Jon Runyan |
Jones' contract also all but rules out Corey Linsley's return, meaning the Packers will be shuffling their offensive line in some fashion. If one of their starting guards moves inside to center, Runyan could and should be in a competition for a starting job.

There's Never Been A Confirmed Walrus Sighting In Ireland — Until Sunday | NPR
A walrus did show up on the Irish coast this weekend, and scientists think that he fell asleep on an iceberg and floated across the Atlantic Ocean.