The immediate reaction from the national media following the Green Bay Packers’ Wild Card Round win over the Dallas Cowboys was overwhelming praise for young quarterback Jordan Love — who to his credit is on an amazing stretch of play. With that being said, the light that Love casts has left running back Aaron Jones, who himself is playing some of the best football in his career, in the shadows.
Against the Cowboys alone, Jones — without AJ Dillion, who is dealing with a thumb injury, backing him up — carried the ball 21 times for 118 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. Over the last four games, Jones has posted 84 carries (21 per game) for 476 yards (5.7 yards per carry).
Going into the final month of the season, there were real questions about whether or not Jones would come back to the team in 2024. He has one year remaining on his contract, is a 29-year-old back at a position that quickly falls off a cliff in the NFL and he dealt with knee and hamstring injuries throughout this season. After this recent stretch of play, though, there’s no doubt left: He needs to be on the team in 2024.
Green Bay’s other 2024 options at the position on their current 53-man roster include Dillon, who is going to be an unrestricted free agent next offseason, Patrick Taylor, who was let go from the practice squad at one point this season, and Emanuel Wilson, an undrafted rookie who has 22 total carries to show for his young NFL career.
One of the major hangups with keeping Jones next season is his contract, which features a $17.6 million cap charge in 2024. Unfortunately, most of that number is “dead cap,” money that has already been paid to Jones and has yet to be accounted for on the salary cap. For example, if the team chose to move on from Jones he would still count $12.3 million against their salary cap in 2024.
Is the difference between having Aaron Jones or not having Aaron Jones worth that extra $5 million in salary cap space? After his last month of play, it’s hard to argue that it is. When his deal was restructured in 2023, Jones accepted $10.6 million to suit up for the Packers this season. Next year, he’s expected to make $12 million in cash. Maybe Green Bay can shave off that extra $1.4 million to have 2024 match his 2023 cash flow, bringing his cap number down a little lower, but that’s about as drastic of a reduction as you can expect for Jones next season.
Simply put: Jones is playing like he’s still in his prime and there’s little short-term benefit for the team to release Jones (be it from an on-the-field standpoint or a salary cap standpoint) in 2024. Hopefully, the team runs it back with him next year. If they want to replace him down the line, general manager Brian Gutekunst should look at the NFL draft market to find a back that can be groomed under Jones for whenever his talent does fall off — assuming it ever will.