Faced with losing Aaron Jones in free agency, the Green Bay Packers already have an ideal replacement.
Over the last two seasons, Aaron Jones has been one of the most productive running backs in the NFL. He has topped 1,400 yards from scrimmage with more than 45 catches in each campaign, with 30 total touchdowns over that span (25 rushing, five receiving). He’s also headed for free agency, perhaps as the top running back available and in line for a nice contract. There will be multiple suitors.
Jones’ primary backup, Jamaal Williams, is also a free agent. Retaining him won’t be as expensive for the Packers, but he could be gone to greener pastures (and a bigger role). Losing their top two running backs will be tough, especially with a lower salary cap to add a layer of difficulty. but preparations for that scenario have been made.
Packers already have ideal replacement for Aaron Jones
Much was made of the Packers’ draft strategy last year, as they took quarterback Jordan Love in the first round rather than add a wide receiver from a deep class at the position. In the second round, they made a similarly puzzling move by taking running back AJ Dillon. Then, of course as No. 3 on the depth chart, he barely played as a rookie (46 carries, 97 offensive snaps).
But in Week 16 against the Tennessee Titans, with Williams (quad) inactive and Jones suffering a hip injury in the game, Dillon got an opportunity. On a clear season-high 38 snaps (58 percent share), he put up 124 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries along with a catch for five yards.
Dillon was a workhorse at Boston College, with two 300-plus carry seasons (2017 and 2019) and 227 carries over 10 games in 2018. He wasn’t asked to do much in the passing game, but he did average 15 yards per catch in 2019. So it may just be a matter of getting an opportunity to show he’s more than a 247-pound, North-South bruiser.
As it sits right now, the Packers are over the salary cap wherever it precisely lands. As Dillon heads into the second year of his rookie contract, his cap number for 2021 is just $1.2 million. It makes little sense to pay big for a running back in a broad sense, and a lower salary cap adds to that this offseason.
It’ll make sense for the Packers to have a versatile running back to complement Dillon, and it doesn’t look like it’ll be Williams. But as they look to how they’ll replace Jones as the lead back, the ideal replacement is already in place.