It's been a very interesting week so far for Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew. Shortly after Jaguars owner Shad Khan basically told Jones-Drew to get on the train before it leaves the station, word came out that Jones-Drew is open to being traded. While it doesn't seem likely that the Jaguars will actually deal their best player, fans from around the league have been speculating about whether or not their team could trade for Jones-Drew.
I was originally planning to hold off on even bothering with a post about the possibility of the Lions trading for Jones-Drew. However, I changed my mind after seeing NFL.com's Dan Hanzus put the Lions on a list of possible landing spots for Jones-Drew should a trade happen. Again, I stress that a deal is unlikely for any team, but let's take a realistic look at the odds of the Lions pursuing a deal for Jones-Drew.
Case for the Lions pursuing a trade for Jones-Drew
- Adding one of the best running backs in the entire NFL would instantly upgrade an offense that is already very explosive. The lack of a solid running game is the biggest problem for the offense, and you would have to imagine that adding Jones-Drew would instantly make the Lions' running game a lot better.
- Bringing in Jones-Drew would essentially solve all of the questions the Lions face at running back. Right now, Kevin Smith is set to start at running back in Week 1, but he has struggled to stay healthy in the past. What's more, Jahvid Best hasn't been cleared yet, and Mikel Leshoure is coming off of a torn Achilles. While he's expected to make his NFL debut this weekend, he will start the season suspended for the first two weeks. Once Week 3 rolls around, how long will it take Leshoure to get back into game speed, and what should the Lions even expect to get out of someone with so little experience?
- Jones-Drew is a proven player. Over the past three seasons, he's appeared in all but two games and has rushed for an average of 1,440 yards. He's racked up 6,854 yards in six years in the league and has a total of 62 rushing touchdowns and 10 receiving touchdowns. You know what you're getting with Jones-Drew: a solid running back who can contribute in a variety of ways.
- If the Lions acquired Jones-Drew and signed him to a long-term deal, they would have an offensive core of Matthew Stafford, Jones-Drew and Calvin Johnson. Those are three of the biggest playmakers in the NFL at their respective positions, and having them on the same team for years to come would be quite exciting.
- The Lions have the assets to make the Jaguars an offer. While it would probably take a lot to make a deal happen, the Lions have their top draft picks to offer in the coming years, and they also have a surplus of talent at certain positions. Defensive end is one of them, and Jacksonville native Cliff Avril comes to mind as a player who would be tradable given the possibility of him leaving in the 2013 offseason.
Case against the Lions pursuing a trade for Jones-Drew
- The contract situation for Jones-Drew isn't exactly ideal considering he's currently holding out. He is set to make $4.45 million in 2012 and $4.95 million in 2013, but he wants to be paid like one of the top running backs in the league. Considering Adrian Peterson just got a deal last year for $96 million over seven years and Chris Johnson got one for $55.26 million over six years, it'll likely take a lot more than $5 million a season to meet his demands.
- With Jones-Drew holding out, it's entirely possible that it could take him a good portion of the 2012 season to get back to his usual self on the field, as Chris Johnson showed us last year. What's more, if he's on a new team, he would have to spend time learning the playbook, so it's possible you wouldn't get a whole lot out of Jones-Drew in the first part of the season.
- Considering how often the Lions pass the ball, do they even need a premier running back like Jones-Drew? Obviously it would be nice to have Jones-Drew, but there is a salary cap to worry about. You could argue that the Lions would run the ball more with a player like Jones-Drew in the backfield, but do you really think the Lions would start taking the ball out of the hands of guys like Stafford and Johnson?
- Being more balanced certainly would be ideal, but would the Lions truly use Jones-Drew enough to make what they would have to pay him worthwhile? With today's NFL being such a passing league, would it even make sense to spend a lot of money on a running back? Teams like the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers have explosive offenses and have had playoff success without a top running back. The Lions already have a top passing offense in place, so wouldn't it make more sense to try the running back by committee approach and roll the dice with who they have rather than committing a lot of money to one running back?
- On a similar note, can the Lions even afford a player like Jones-Drew? Calvin Johnson got a huge deal this offseason, and guys like Stafford and Ndamukong Suh will soon be getting big extensions as well. The Lions already have a lot of money tied up in a few guys, which is why they didn't want to break the bank in order to get a deal done with Avril. Tying up an even more significant amount of money in a select group of players does not seem smart going forward, especially with so many key contributors on defense becoming free agents in the near future.
- What if the offensive line is truly the source of the issues in the Lions' running game? While I'm sure adding Jones-Drew would be an improvement over the guys currently on the roster, perhaps the O-line is what's truly holding the Lions back from having a great running game. What's more, perhaps that improvement from adding Jones-Drew wouldn't actually be significant enough to make a trade worthwhile.
- While the Lions do have the assets to at least make a good offer to the Jaguars, that doesn't necessarily mean that offer would be accepted. The Jaguars can't deal their best player without getting a good haul in return. While I would love it if the Lions could just trade Avril for Jones-Drew straight up, that isn't going to happen. The Lions could certainly build a package around Avril, but you can bet there will be draft picks involved, too. I'm sure the Lions would have to give up at least one first-round pick, and if I were Jacksonville I'd be seeking at least two. Even if it was just one first-rounder and a couple of second-rounders, that's a lot to give up for one player, no matter how talented.
- Jones-Drew is already 27 years old and is entering his seventh season in the league. In running back years, he's not young. Not only would it be a risk to spend the assets to acquire a 27-year-old running back, but it would be a gamble to pay him what he is seeking in order to end his holdout. This also goes back to the earlier point about the NFL being a passing league. Do you really think Martin Mayhew would want to give up the picks and/or players, as well as the money for a new contract, to add a running back nearing his 30s to a pass-heavy offense? That just doesn't seem like a good idea.
In all honesty, this is a situation where my heart wants the Lions to make a run at trading for Jones-Drew, whereas my head says it wouldn't be a smart move. Having a running back like Jones-Drew in the Lions' offense would be amazing to watch, and as a football fan, it would be a lot of fun. What's more, throwing him into the mix would likely take the Lions from having a great offense to having one of the best in the league both from a passing and rushing standpoint.
The problem is it just doesn't seem like a smart move to give up what it would take to trade for Jones-Drew and extend him at a significant amount of money per season. As mentioned, the Lions already have a lot of big contracts, and adding another one for a running back in a pass-heavy offense doesn't exactly seem like a great move, nor does spending more money on an offense that is already pretty good. While the last couple of years have showed that you don't necessarily need a great defense to make it to the Super Bowl, it certainly helps.
At the end of the day, this discussion is likely for naught considering the chances of a trade happening at all are slim. Even if a trade did happen with Jones-Drew, it'd be shocking if it involved the Lions. For all of the fun it would provide in the next few years and considering it would show how much the Lions want to win right now, I wouldn't be upset if Mayhew did end up somehow pulling off a deal. At the same time, though, I would be more than fine with the Lions not pursuing a trade, as it could potentially set the franchise back down the road.