The Pros and Cons of Pursuing Aaron Jones

The Miami Dolphins reportedly have an interest in pending free agent running back Aaron Jones of the Green Bay Packers
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Among the list of needs for the Miami Dolphins this offseason is the running back position, so it wasn't necessarily surprising to see a report indicating they're interested in pending free agent Aaron Jones of the Green Bay Packers.

At 26 years old and coming off consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, Jones will be the top running back on the free agent market unless the Packers surprisingly end up re-signing him before March 17.

There are obvious reasons why bringing in Jones would make sense for the Dolphins, but also reasons to think twice about it.

The Dolphins clearly have a need for a bona fide feature running back, just as they have a need for a bona fide franchise quarterback, a bona fide No. 1 wide receiver and bona fide cornerstone interior offensive lineman.

So the first issue is prioritizing.

At quarterback, the Dolphins will have Tua Tagovailoa back as the starter in 2021 with the hope he progresses toward becoming that franchise quarterback or they'll swing a mega deal for one of the elite players having issues with their current team.

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So then does running back take precedence over landing a top wide receiver (like Allen Robinson or Chris Godwin) or lineman (like Brandon Scherff) if the Dolphins end up having the opportunity to choose?

Here's another factor to be taken into consideration: Jones played for an absolutely loaded offense in Green Bay last year when he rushed for 1,104 yards with nine touchdowns and a hefty 5.5 average.

First, there was NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers, who opposing defenses had to make their first priority. And there was star wide receiver Davante Adams, who was a first-team All-Pro. Oh, and left tackle David Bakhtiari and center Corey Linsley also were first-team All-Pros, and right guard Elgton Jenkins was a second-team All-Pro.

That's an awful lot of talent there.

The Dolphins, by comparison, did not have a single offensive player get even one All-Pro vote.

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So would it be fair to expect Jones to come to Miami and enjoy the same kind of success he did in Green Bay?

Then there's issue of free agency vs. draft when it comes to running backs.

Wouldn't the Dolphins be better served by taking a running back fairly early in the 2021 draft, whether it be Najee Harris at number 18 or 36 or Javonte Williams at number 36 or 50?

The Dolphins actually wouldn't be in the market for a clear No. 1 running back had they used the 30th overall selection on the position last year when they had their pick of any of the six who ended up being selected in the first two rounds — Clyde Edwards-Helaire, D'Andre Swift, Jonathan Taylor, Cam Akers, J.K. Dobbins and A.J. Dillon.

But that's a different issue, one we already have addressed.

Besides money, one reason the Packers aren't expected to re-sign Jones is that they're comfortable with Dillon leading the way at running back after what he showed as a rookie.

The Dolphins went the free agency route at running back last year when they signed Jordan Howard and to say the move didn't pan out would be very kind.

And there was no reason to think the move would flop that badly given Howard's credentials coming to Miami. Is that miss going to make the Dolphins hesitant to spend big money on Jones?

That's the biggest issue there, really. 

Howard signed with the Dolphins for two years and $9 million, and it's going to take a lot more than that to land Jones. In its free agent projections, spotrac.com had Jones going to the Dolphins on a four-year deal worth $50 million.

That would Jones the team's fourth-highest-paid player behind Byron Jones, Kyle Van Noy and Xavien Howard.

If we look back to the Patriots' recent history — and it's always a decent gauge to predict Dolphins moves — the approach during Brian Flores' time there always was more running back by committee than one big-ticket player.

Signing Jones just doesn't seem to fit the blueprint of how the Dolphins are going about building the roster.

That said, there's always a first for everything and maybe Jones' talent will convince the Dolphins to change their approach for him.

Because, make no mistake, Jones is very good.

This is the scouting report from Packer Central publisher Bill Huber:

Jones figures to be paid handsomely, even with a shrinking salary cap. Great players will always get paid, and Jones is a great player.

Among all backs in NFL history with at least 650 carries, Jones ranks sixth with a 5.17-yard average. He’s averaged at least 5.47 yards per carry in three of his four seasons. He had another great year in 2020. While he didn’t find the end zone nearly as often as last year (11 total touchdowns vs. 19 in 2019), he rushed for a career-high 1,104 yards and averaged 5.49 yards per carry.

Where Jones really jumps to the forefront is with his explosiveness. His ability to cut and go without losing speed is elite. His career 10-yard run rate is 13.1 percent as defenders are constantly forced to dive at ankles. According to PFF, 33.1 percent of his rushing yards came on runs of 15-plus yards, the seventh-highest rate in the NFL. He forced a missed tackle on 18.1 percent of his carries, 11th-best among backs with 100 carries, according to Sports Info Solutions. Jones added 47 receptions.

Jones fumbled only six times in 782 career regular-season touches. But he coughed it up twice in the NFC Championship Game, including a turnover that put the Packers in a deep, deep hole to start the second half and ended his day due to injury. For such a productive and popular player, it was the most unfortunate of endings.