For Aaron Jones, there really was no other option.
He wanted to stay a Green Bay Packer.
Instead of opting for free agency and potentially make a boatload of cash, Jones chose to re-up for four more years in Green Bay. It was a move that not many thought would happen, given how Jones was a breakout star in the Packers’ first two seasons under head coach Matt LaFleur. Teams would have likely been willing to back up the Brinks truck to Jones, but he really never gave that much consideration.
So on March 14, three days before the formal free agency period opened, Jones had a new deal to remain a Packer.
To him, it was an easy decision. “Green Bay means a lot to me. Green Bay is home. It’s where I started my career and (where) I hope to finish it,” Jones said at his ProCamp for young football players in grades 1-8 on Friday. “It is as close as you can get to a college atmosphere.” He also mentioned how tightly knit the community is and that is a big reason why he chose to partner with ProCamps to put on the two-day event at Green Bay Notre Dame Academy, of which Acme Packing Company was a media sponsor.
It is noteworthy that Jones’ camp was co-ed and featured both boys and girls. Jones gave credit to ProCamps for the idea, but also mentioned he fully supported seeing more girls and women involved in football, both on the field and in coaching. More women are starting to follow the trail set by Kansas City Chiefs assistant Katie Sowers, among others. “I believe women should be able to play football,” Jones said. “Football doesn’t have a gender.”
Getting back to his own career, Jones says the Packers have unfinished business after making it to within a game of the Super Bowl the past two seasons. “I feel like we’re close to something special,” Jones said. His emergence as a bona fide star played a big role in that, but the running back knows it’s time to take that next step. He made it clear: 2021 is Super Bowl or bust for the Packers. “We’ve been close the last two years and I feel it’s time to get over that hump and bring that title back to Titletown,” Jones said.
Jones will enter camp after a tumultuous offseason. A few weeks after he signed his contract extension, his father passed away. Now Jones faces uncertainty over who will be handing off and throwing him the football. Jones mentioned that he’s always tried to keep himself grounded and balanced and not get too high or too low. “Just appreciate every moment, be where your feet are” he said. “I’m enjoying every moment. Just continue to make my dad proud and my family proud.”
Jones’ father ingrained in him that sense of giving back to the community, which will be a critical way he carries out his dad’s legacy. “I was raised to give back and be in the community,” Jones said. “I want to be a face of the community and be there for the kids and be a resource.”
The future of football around the country and in Green Bay will be built around these children, and that is a responsibility Jones takes seriously. In reflecting upon his own childhood, Jones mentioned that as a kid “seeing an NFL player makes you hungrier” and pushes you to achieve more and “that is what I want to be for these kids.”
The future of the game has been in doubt in recent years due to increased scrutiny of concussions and the overall safety aspect of the game. Despite that, Jones said he feels the game is in a much safer place than it has been thanks to the new concussion protocols and the evolution of equipment including helmets. “The future of football is bright. I’m out here with these kids and I see some tremendous athletes,” Jones said. “Football is as safe as it has ever been.”
Looking ahead to 2021
Jumping back to the present, Jones experienced his breakout season in 2019 in LaFleur’s first year running the show in Green Bay and further solidified his role as star in 2020. After spending his first two years under Mike McCarthy’s tutelage, when many fans felt he was severely underutilized, Jones finally got his shot in the spotlight under LaFleur and the running back is thankful to the coach for that.
“He gave me an opportunity that I really wasn’t really given before,” Jones said. “I always tell him ‘thank you for the opportunity’ and I tell athletes ‘all you need is an opportunity and when you get the opportunity, make the most of it.’” Jones also mentioned that “even after being a great coach, (LaFleur) is a great person. He was there through the hardest times of my life,” he added, in reference to his father’s recent passing.
Looking ahead, Jones lost the other half of a solid running back tandem in March when Jamaal Williams joined the Detroit Lions, but he is now paired with a bruising back in AJ Dillon, whose legs have drawn as much attention from his Packers teammates as from the internet. “We’re walking down the hallway and I was looking at him like ‘Bro, your quads are like the size of….my midsection.’ It’s crazy to see a dude built like that.”
Don’t think of Dillon as just a one trick pony, either. “People think he’s just a power back, but (Dillon) can do a little bit of everything, catch out the backfield, he has speed,” Jones said, which is noteworthy considering Dillon’s pass catching was an area many thought he’d need to improve to succeed in LaFleur’s offense. “We’re going to compete and bring the best out of each other,” Jones remarked.
A new face of the franchise?
Meanwhile, the uncertainty over Aaron Rodgers’ future in Green Bay looms over everything the Packers will do over the next few weeks and months. For almost 30 years now, when someone mentioned the phrase “Green Bay Packers” the first names that popped to mind were either Brett Favre or Aaron Rodgers. With the possibility that Rodgers has already played his last snap as a Packer, someone else will have to emerge as the face of storied franchise.
Could that face be Jones?
For his part, the running back seems to be up to the task. “It would be an honor,” Jones said. “This is an historic team, an historic organization. To get to be the face of the team, that would be amazing. Whatever the team needs me to be, I’m ready for that.”
Even with the uncertainty at quarterback, Packers fans should at least be able to rest somewhat easy knowing that no matter who is under center, Jones will still be in the backfield. The experiences of his past and present will shape his future and that future looks bright.
The franchise could very well soon be in Jones’ hands. Judging by what we have seen so far, the Packers could not be in better hands than those.