Aaron Jones

NFC North Notes: Fields, Pack, Vikes, Lions

Going into the Combine, the Bears are leaning toward keeping Justin Fields in place at quarterback. They are viewed as likely to trade out of the No. 1 overall draft slot, and Jonathan Jones of CBS Sports reinforces that the rebuilding team is leaning against exiting the first round with a quarterback. Fields finished a historically successful season as a running quarterback, but significant questions remain about his potential as a passer. The Bears will still meet with just about every top quarterback at the Combine, Jones adds, noting questions also exist about whether the team view this draft class as having a QB option head and shoulders above Fields. While the belief is Fields will have a shot at a third season in Chicago, questions will persist until the Bears trade the pick. Doing so would make them the first team to move out of the No. 1 spot since the Titans did so in 2016.

Here is the latest from the NFC North:

  • Aaron JonesPackers restructure will ensure he plays a seventh season in Green Bay — rare territory for modern Packers backs — and it will create considerable cap space for the team. Jones’ cap figure will drop from $20MM to $8.2MM, Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com tweets. Jones’ base salary will drop from $8.1MM to $1.1MM. Jones took a $5MM salary cut in exchange for a $8.5MM signing bonus, keeping him tied to the four-year, $48MM extension he inked before free agency in 2021. In 2024, the final year of Jones’ deal, Demovsky adds (via Twitter) his cap number will rise from $16MM to $17.7MM. The void years from Jones’ 2022 restructure remain on the contract.
  • Shifting to another 2017 running back draftee still on his second contract, Dalvin Cook will miss time this offseason because of shoulder surgery. The Pro Bowl Vikings back, whom Adam Schefter of ESPN.com notes underwent surgery this month, played shoulder pain for the past three-plus seasons, initially injuring it in 2019. Cook, 27, suffered a broken shoulder in 2019 and missed time in 2019 and 2021 as a result; he played all 18 Vikings games last season but battled a shoulder dislocation he sustained in Week 3. This surgery will likely knock Cook out for much of the offseason, with the Vikings announcing he is expected to make a full recovery “by the start of the regular season.” Two years remain on Cook’s five-year, $63MM contract.
  • Dalvin Tomlinson‘s two-year Vikings pact was set to void last week, but the team bought more time on this front. The Vikes pushed Tomlinson’s void date to March 15 — Day 1 of the 2023 league year — according to Field Yates of ESPN.com (on Twitter). This keeps $7.5MM from hitting Minnesota’s cap, though that amount will move onto the payroll if no extension is reached by March 15. If an extension occurs before that date, the Vikings will only be charged with $2.5MM in dead money, Yates tweets.
  • If Tomlinson does return, he will be a part of another 3-4 scheme. Minnesota had gone decades in a 4-3 alignment, but new DC Brian Flores confirmed (via the St. Paul Pioneer Press’ Chris Tomasson) the 3-4 look installed under previous leader Ed Donatell will remain in place. Although teams’ increased sub-package usage diminishes the importance of base sets, this is certainly notable given how long the Vikes were a 4-3 team prior to 2022, when their switch yielded disastrous results.
  • Shaun Dion Hamilton will move up from defensive assistant to the Lions‘ assistant linebackers coach, Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press notes. Hamilton is just 27, being one of the Lions’ cuts last summer, but moved quickly into coaching. Rather than hit the workout circuit, the former Washington sixth-round draftee opted to enter coaching early.
  • The Packers‘ run of extensions last offseason included executive VP Russ Ball, Demovsky tweets. Green Bay quietly extended Matt LaFleur and GM Brian Gutekunst, and Ball — a veteran cap guru elevated during the same offseason Gutekunst took over as GM — remains a key part of the franchise’s equation. Ball, 63, has been a critical part of the Pack’s front office since 2008.

Packers, Aaron Jones Agree To Restructure

The four-year, $48MM contract Aaron Jones agreed to in 2021 pointed to a 2023 restructure, and the Packers indeed showed interest in keeping their veteran running back in the fold. They completed that restructure Friday morning to avoid a separation.

Jones took a $5MM cut in salary in exchange for an $8.52MM signing bonus, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. The talented back’s $20MM cap number will be reduced — as GM Brian Gutekunst hinted it would be last month — and the sides will stay together for a seventh season.

In addition to ensuring Jones stays in Green Bay for his age-29 season, this agreement will end with the UTEP product earning $11MM in salary in 2023. Jones’ previous cap hit was set to lead all running backs in 2023 by nearly $4MM, making it a seemingly untenable number for the Packers, who will keep their Jones-AJ Dillon tandem intact for a fourth season. Jones confirmed the news (via Twitter). Dillon’s rookie contract expires after the 2023 season.

This marks the second straight offseason the Packers have restructured Jones’ deal. The team tacked on two void years to the starter’s deal to create 2022 cap space. The contract still runs through 2024.

Due to this bonus conversion, Jones’ 2021-23 earnings ($31MM) as of now trail only Christian McCaffrey among running backs, Schefter adds (on Twitter). This comes despite Jones receiving only $13MM guaranteed at signing — 11th at the position. The $8.52MM signing bonus will replace the $7MM roster bonus that was due next month, Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com adds. In doing so, the Packers reduced Jones’ cap hit.

The Packers let Jamaal Williams walk in 2021, leading to a Lions accord, and prioritized Jones. This has continued a fruitful partnership between the NFC North franchise and a former fifth-round pick. Jones led the NFL in touchdowns in 2019, with 19, and made the Pro Bowl in 2020. Despite the Packers’ offensive regression this past season, Jones totaled 1,516 yards from scrimmage — the second-most of his career.

A Packers team that had not enjoyed too much continuity at running back over the past decade and change has seen Jones provide it. Jones’ seventh Packers season will match Ahman Green‘s tenure (2000-06). If Jones can match his 17 starts from 2022, he would tie Green for 91 during his career. Green is the only modern-era Packers back to outflank Jones for starts presently. The latter could pass Paul Hornung in franchise history this season as well; Jim Taylor‘s 104 lead all Packers ball-carriers.

Packers GM Addresses QB Situation

Delivering an earlier-than-usual autopsy of the Packers’ season, Brian Gutekunst addressed what has already become a third straight offseason of Aaron Rodgers-driven uncertainty.

The sixth-year Packers GM said Jordan Love is “definitely” ready to play, indicating (via The Athletic’s Matt Schneidman, on Twitter) the three-year backup is “chomping at the bit” to become the team’s starter. When asked which quarterback would give the Packers the best chance to win next season, Gutekunst deferred to Rodgers’ four MVP honors.

[RELATED: Matt LaFleur Wants Rodgers Back In 2023]

Once the object of Rodgers ire, Gutekunst earned his way back into the future Hall of Famer’s good graces to close out a turbulent 2021. Rodgers ended up signing a three-year, $150.8MM extension in March 2022. That record-setting contract does give the Packers some flexibility, allowing a $58MM bonus to be paid at any point in 2023. That opens the door for a trade, and Rodgers said last week his Green Bay future may not be entirely up to him. Rodgers, 39, looks to also be considering retirement.

Gutekunst did not entertain the prospect of a Rodgers trade when asked about it Friday and said he can see a scenario in which Rodgers and Love are on the roster together for a fourth season, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Tom Silverstein tweets. The Packers have received criticism for using a first-round pick on Love and sitting him for three seasons, effectively squandering the rookie-contract resource that has been so valuable to teams who have taken first-round QBs since the 2011 CBA reshaped rookie deals. The Packers must decide on Love’s fully guaranteed fifth-year option in May.

Love is on Green Bay’s payroll at $3.94MM for 2023; Rodgers would check in with a $31.62MM cap number. Unless the Packers trade Rodgers or he retires, the team could conceivably run back a Rodgers-Love depth chart for a fourth straight year. Given how far the team has pushed the Love apprenticeship, it would make sense to — NFL norms be damned — extend that into 2023. But the Packers’ QB depth chart is not yet certain. Gutekunst said (via Silverstein, on Twitter) he wants both players back and that Rodgers will take his time and regularly communicate with the team.

Rodgers fell off the MVP perch this season, with the Packers’ controversial strategy at wide receiver impacting the superstar QB’s performance. Gutekunst said as much Friday, indicating (via Silverstein) the Davante Adams trade played a role in Rodgers’ numbers dipping in 2022. Thumb and rib injuries plagued Rodgers this season as well, leading to Love making an intriguing cameo in Philadelphia. The Packers staying in the NFC wild-card race kept Love on the bench. QBR was particularly harsh on Rodgers, dropping him from first (in 2021) to 26th. Trade interest would undoubtedly come, were the Packers to consider it this time around. They resisted Broncos interest in 2021, and Rodgers decided to stay in Green Bay via the extension last year.

Regardless of Rodgers’ status, Gutekunst said restructures are a near-certainty. Early projections have the Packers at $13MM over the 2023 cap, though the 2023 salary ceiling has not yet been finalized. Gutekunst expects both Aaron Jones and David Bakhtiari to return next season as well (Twitter links via Schenidman and ESPN.com’s Rob Demovsky).

Jones’ cap number balloons to $5.9MM to $20MM next season; a restructure would knock that down while adding to future cap figures. Bakhtiari’s cap figure will spike from $13.4MM to $29.1MM. While the All-Pro left tackle returned to action this season, the knee trouble that shelved him in 2021 limited him to 11 games this season. Bakhtiari, who has missed 30 games since the 2020 season (counting playoff tilts), said recently he does not intend to retire.

Packers WR Romeo Doubs Suffers High Ankle Sprain

The Packers have received another set of updates regarding more of their injured players from yesterday’s loss to the Lions. Wideout Romeo Doubs is the latest at that position to be headed for an extended absence.

[RELATED: Packers’ Gary Tears ACL]

The fourth-round rookie suffered a high ankle sprain on Sunday, reports NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport (Twitter link). While more testing will be needed to confirm an exact timeline for his return, the news is likely to keep him sidelined for between four and six weeks. Assuming that is the case, the Packers will be even more shorthanded at the position.

Green Bay was already without veteran Randall Cobb, who is currently on IR. He, like nearly every other Packers receiver, has missed at least some time during the season, one in which the team’s offense has struggled mightily to find a rhythm in the passing game. Doubs had been the only WR who suited up for every game prior to this injury.

The 6-2, 200-pounder put himself on the NFL draft radar with consecutive 1,000-yard seasons to close out his college career at Nevada. Part of an infusion of young talent at the position alongside Christian Watson, Doubs has managed 314 yards and three touchdowns in his rookie campaign. He ranks second on the team in receiving yards amongst wideouts, and third overall.

Given the team’s struggles on offense, Green Bay was involved in discussions to bring in notable additions at last week’s trade deadline. They offered a second-rounder to the Steelers for Chase Claypool, but found themselves runners-up to the Bears on that front. It was reported yesterday that they also tried to land tight end Darren Waller, and put a first-rounder on the table for the Panthers in their attempt to acquire wideout D.J. Moore. With nothing materializing, though, the team’s shorthanded group of in-house options will continue to be relied on.

In more positive news, running back Aaron Jones appears to have avoided any major injury. Testing on his ankle – which required him to wear a walking boot after the game – came back negative, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter (Twitter link). As a result, he should be able to practice this week and play on Sunday against the Cowboys. A strong running game will be crucial moving forward, with another key piece of Green Bay’s passing attack unavailable.

Packers Could Shake Up RB Depth Chart Next Offseason

The Packers had one of the best RB tandems in the NFL last season, and they’ll roll with the same duo in 2022. However, that might be the last season we’ll see the two-headed monster in Green Bay. Matt Schneidman of The Athletic writes that the Packers could move on from one of Aaron Jones or AJ Dillon next offseason.

This isn’t a huge surprise if you look at Green Bay’s cap sheet. Dillon will be entering the final year of his rookie contract in 2023, and if he can match his breakout sophomore numbers (1,116 yards from scrimmage, seven touchdowns), then he’ll surely be pushing for an extension. Considering the Packers invested a second-round pick in Dillon, they’d presumably be willing to oblige.

However, it was only a year ago that the Packers inked Jones to a four-year, $48MM extension. That $12MM AAV ranks seventh at the position, and Green Bay could save themselves $10MM by cutting the veteran running back. It’d make sense for Green Bay to pivot that cap hit to the younger Dillon.

Following 2019 and 2020 campaigns where Jones combined for more than 3,000 yards from scrimmage while finding the end zone 30 times, the Packers pretty much split the RB carries evenly between Jones and Dillon in 2021. The move worked out for Green Bay, as they got 2,306 yards from scrimmage and 17 touchdowns from the duo.

“I think they feed off each other pretty well,” running backs coach Ben Sirmans said (via Schneidman). “It’s kind of a luxury because you can keep them both fresh throughout the game and then toward the end, you can either throw AJ in there to pound and wear the defense down or put Aaron in and all of a sudden the defense is worn down and it’s an explosive play. Having a blend of both those guys, that will continue throughout this upcoming season.”

If the Packers do move on from one of the two RBs next offseason, the other running backs on the Packers roster could parlay a solid 2022 campaign into a bigger role in 2023. Patrick Taylor and Kylin Hill are still around, although the latter could start the season on PUP. Green Bay also brought in a pair of undrafted free agent RBs in Tyler Goodson and BJ Baylor.

Packers Restructure Aaron Jones’ Contract

The Packers have taken another step towards cap compliance. As first reported by ESPN’s Field Yates and confirmed by Tom Silverstein of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (on Twitter), the team has converted $3.75MM of the money owed to Aaron Jones in 2022 into a signing bonus, while tacking on two void years to his deal. 

[Related: Packers Rework Kenny Clark’s Deal]

The move creates just over $3MM in cap space for Green Bay, bringing the total number of savings the team has manufactured in the past two days to roughly $14MM. There is still plenty of work to be done, though, to get under the cap in time for the beginning of the new league year in March. It was reported yesterday that edge rusher Za’Darius Smith will not be brought back at his currently-scheduled cap hit of $27.7MM.

Jones, 27, signed a four-year, $48MM extension last March to keep him in Green Bay through the prime of his career. He was coming off of his first Pro Bowl nomination, following a third season averaging 5.5 yards per carry, and a second straight scoring double-digit touchdowns. In his first year on the new deal, he recorded 1,190 scrimmage yards and 10 total touchdowns.

Things won’t get easier for the Packers down the road when it comes to Jones and his contract. His cap hits are set to jump up to $19.25MM and $15.25MM in 2023 and 2024, respectively. Between that, and the commitments which would be required if the team is able to keep both Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams this season and beyond, the Packers will likely be facing cap gymnastics for years to come.

Packers’ Aaron Jones To Miss Time

The Packers got some relatively good news on Monday morning. Following an MRI, running back Aaron Jones has been diagnosed with a mild MCL sprain (Twitter link via Adam Schefter of ESPN.com). Jones is expected to be out for just 1-2 weeks, so the Packers won’t be placing him on injured reserve at this time. 

Jones was forced out in the third quarter yesterday after a tackle from Seahawks defender Bobby Wagner. At first, Jones tried to limp off of the field, but he ultimately had to be helped off to the sideline. It was a scary scene, but it turns out that the injury is not nearly as bad as it looked.

Without Jones, the Packers turned to A.J. Dillon, who finished out with 21 carries for 66 yards and two touchdowns. Dillon will likely get the call again vs. the Vikings next week; he may also be the primary ball-carrier against the Rams in Week 12. Fortunately for the Packers, they have a Week 13 bye, giving Jones ample time to rest up for the final stretch.

Jones has been here before — MCL injuries also cost him time in 2017 and 2018. Since then, he’s turned in some of his best work. Between 2019 and 2020, Jones averaged over 1,500 yards from scrimmage and 15 TDs, positioning him as one of the best running backs in the NFL. After that, the Packers gladly re-upped him with a four-year, $48MM deal, tying him to the club through 2024.

NFC North Notes: Gurley, Lions, Packers

The Lions have shown some interest in signing two-time All-Pro running back Todd Gurley. It’s not clear if he’s still on the radar after their meeting last week, but Georgia alum D’Andre Swift would be happy to welcome him to Detroit’s backfield.

Knowledge. Experience,” Swift said when asked how he would benefit from playing with Gurley (via USA Today). “I’d be happy if he come here as well. I just want to compete with these guys. Just to have him in the building, that’d be good.”

Aside from their college connection, Gurley also has familiarity with the Lions’ new GM. Gurley’s best years in L.A. overlapped with Brad Holmes‘ Rams tenure, including 2,500+ rushing yards between 2017 and 2018. He’s been slowed by knee trouble ever since, but he could be an interesting partner for Swift now that Kerryon Johnson and Adrian Peterson are out of the picture.

Here’s more from the NFC North:

  • Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari is ahead of schedule as he returns from last year’s season-ending ACL tear (via Matt Schneidman of The Athletic). “He’s really working hard. I think he came back and he’s in excellent shape. We’re just going to take it one day at a time,” head coach Matt LaFleur said. “I think he’s a little bit ahead of schedule but then again there’s a long way to the start of the season. We’ll see where he’s at when it comes to that time.” Pro Football Focus ranked Bakhtiari as the league’s No. 2 tackle last year before his December injury. So, regardless of which quarterback he’s protecting, the Packers are counting on his presence.
  • Speaking of which, Packers running back Aaron Jones says he didn’t chat with Aaron Rodgers about the QB’s plans before inking his extension (Twitter link via Ryan Wood of the Green Bay Press-Gazette). “This is home,” Jones said. “This is where I love to be.”

Contract Details: Trubisky, Andrews, Carson, Jones, Reiff, Joyner

Let’s catch up on the latest contract details from around the league:

  • QB Mitchell TrubiskyBills: One-year, $2MM base salary with $1.5MM guaranteed, $500K signing bonus, and $2MM available in incentives. Via Field Yates of ESPN on Twitter.
  • C David Andrews, Patriots: Four-years, $19 MM, with $6.5MM fully guaranteed. More money available in play-time incentives. Via Tom Pelissero of NFL Network on Twitter.
  • RB Chris CarsonSeahawks: Two-years, $10.425MM, $4.5MM signing bonus and $1MM guaranteed salary for 2021. $4.5MM non-guaranteed 2022 salary and $450K in per-game roster bonuses in ‘22. Up to $1.4MM in incentives in both years. Via Dan Graziano of ESPN on Twitter.
  • RB Aaron JonesPackers: Four-years, $48MM. The $13MM signing bonus is the only fully guaranteed money in the contract. A $3.5MM roster bonus is due on the first day of next league year. For 2023, a $7MM roster bonus is due on the third day of the league year. You can read the full breakdown of each year of the contract via Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com.
  • OL Riley ReiffBengals: One-year, $7.5MM. $5.5MM guaranteed. We hadn’t known the terms of this contract yet, and $7.5MM is a pretty decent price for the Bengals for a solid starting tackle. Via Yates on Twitter.
  • S Lamarcus JoynerJets: One-year, up to $4.5MM. $2.5MM is guaranteed, with a $1MM signing bonus and $1.5MM base salary. Up to $500K in per game active roster bonuses and $1.5MM in playing time and interception incentives. Via Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle on Twitter.

NFL Contract Details: Jones, Floyd, Williams, QBs

Some assorted contract details from around the NFL:

  • RB Aaron Jones, Packers: Four years, $48MM, including $20MM over first two years. $7MM roster bonus in 2023. Owed $16MM in 2023 and $12MM in 2024. Via NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero on Twitter.
  • LB Leonard Floyd, Rams: Four years, $64MM, including $32.5MM guaranteed. $14MM signing bonus. Salaries: $2MM (2021, fully guaranteed), $16.5MM (2022, fully guaranteed), $15.5MM (2023), $16MM (2024). Via Pelissero on Twitter.
  • DE Leonard Williams, Giants: Three years, $63MM, including $45MM. $22.5MM signing bonus. Salaries: $3.5MM (2021, fully guaranteed), $19MM (2022, fully guaranteed), $18MM (2023). Cap charges: $11MM (2021), $26.5MM (2022), $25.5MM (2023). Via Manish Mehta on Twitter.
  • QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, Washington: One year, $10MM, including $6MM guaranteed. Max value of $12MM. $6MM signing bonus. $3MM base salary, $1MM per-game roster bonuses. Up to $2MM in incentives. Via Nicki Jhabvala of the Washington Post on Twitter.
  • QB Jacoby Brissett, Dolphins: One year, $5MM, including $2.5MM guaranteed. $2.5MM signing bonus, up to $2.5MM in incentives. Via Pelissero on Twitter.
  • QB Andy Dalton, Bears: One year, $10MM. $7MM signing bonus, $3MM base salary, up to $3MM in incentives. Via Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle on Twitter.
  • LB Carl Lawson, Jets: Three years, $45MM, including $30MM guaranteed. $1MM signing bonus. Salaries: $6.2MM (2021, plus $7.8MM roster bonus), $15MM (2022), $15MM (2023). Cap charges: $14.3MM (2021), $15.3MM (2022), $15.3MM (2023). Up to $800K in sack incentives each year. Via Mehta on Twitter.