The 2023 offseason involved multiple teams moving pricey running back contracts off their payroll, while others — the Packers included — reached pay-cut agreements with veteran starters. Aaron Jones‘ contract runs through 2024 and sees its cap number increase significantly, seemingly putting the accomplished back on unstable ground.
GM Brian Gutekunst may be putting a stop to talk of Jones leaving Green Bay, however, indicating (via The Athletic’s Matt Schneidman) the Packers “absolutely” expect their starting running back to be on the 2024 roster. Jones has been with the Packers since 2017. Of the deep 2017 RB draft class, only he, Alvin Kamara and Joe Mixon remain with the teams that selected them.
Jones agreed to take a $5MM pay cut last February, with that deal adding an $8.52MM signing bonus. The restructure added void years to the veteran back’s deal and trimmed his 2023 cap figure to $8.2MM. The cap hit spikes to $17MM in 2024, potentially pointing to another Packers move to address their top RB’s deal.
“He was such a difference-maker when he was out there this year, the way our offense was able to move,” Gutekunst said. “He changed a lot of the way we operated when he was in there and when he was healthy. He’s just really the heartbeat of our team.”
A Jones extension would make sense, as the void years on the current deal would bring a $6.6MM dead-money hit if he is not re-signed before the 2025 league year. Though, teams are no longer making a habit of reupping backs in their late 20s. The Packers gave Jones a four-year, $48MM deal just before free agency in 2021, changing course after several years of not paying running backs. The NFL largely opted to squeeze RBs last year, bringing another value drop for a position long past its prestige peak.
Jones, 29, missed time this season due to MCL and hamstring issues. These injuries caused the seven-year veteran to miss six games. But the UTEP alum proved effective when available, finishing the season surging. Returning to action in Week 14, the former fifth-round pick closed the season with five consecutive 100-yard rushing performances. This counted two in the playoffs, springing the Packers past the Cowboys and nearly upsetting the No. 1-seeded 49ers six days later. Jones’ veteran presence certainly helped a Packer team reliant on nothing but first- or second-year pass catchers.
AJ Dillon is coming off a sluggish contract year, being set to hit free agency at a bad time — as a crowded RB market is set to form. Jones being released — a move that would come with $12MM in dead money without a post-June 1 designation — would send him to a market that could well house Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs, Derrick Henry, Austin Ekeler, Tony Pollard and D’Andre Swift. Dillon is unlikely to secure a lucrative deal on this market. The Packers losing Jones would also create a major need, albeit at a position that is among the easiest to fill.
Additionally, Gutekunst made an effort to cool down Jaire Alexander trade rumors. The longtime Packers GM said, via Schneidman, no consideration is being given to trading Alexander. Following Alexander’s coin-toss fiasco that led to a one-game suspension, a report injected doubt about the highly paid cornerback’s Wisconsin future. The Packers owe Alexander an $8MM roster bonus on March 20.
The Packers gave Alexander a four-year, $84MM extension — one that remains the NFL’s high-water AAV mark for corners — in 2022 but have seen the former first-round pick miss extensive time due to injuries over the past three seasons. After a shoulder malady cost Alexander most of the 2021 season, he missed 10 games this year. That and the costly contract dent Alexander’s trade value. That said, Pro Football Focus rated the six-year veteran in the top 25 at the position this season.