Dougherty: Aaron Jones' agent switch likely means he wants to get deal done with Packers
GREEN BAY - Drew Rosenhaus has done plenty to cultivate the public reputation that he’s despised and feared by NFL teams and agents. Who can forget the Sports Illustrated cover story from July 1996 that proclaimed him “The Most Hated Man In Pro Football"?
But the truth is, most teams like dealing with Rosenhaus as a players agent. Former Green Bay Packers executive Andrew Brandt, for instance, always considered Rosenhaus a “deal maker,” a guy who worked hard to somehow, someway get a deal done, even if he’s had some high-profile holdouts and contract disputes (Javon Walker with the Packers, among others) over his long career.
So it was of special interest when running back Aaron Jones recently fired Leigh Steinberg and hired Rosenhaus to handle his ongoing negotiations on a contract extension with the Packers. If you only know of Rosenhaus’ persona in the media, you probably took it as a bad sign that Jones hired him.
But that’s not the case. Regardless of what has kept Jones from signing an extension with the Packers so far, the change in agents is a sign he still wants to do a deal with the Packers but feels stuck. And while it doesn’t at all guarantee he’ll end up signing an extension, his choice of Rosenhaus probably increases, not decreases, the chances.
“The one thing I do know,” said an NFL agent who works for a large firm, “is the only reason somebody hires Drew is to get something done or at least try to jump-start getting something, because that’s what Drew sells.”
Hiring a new agent doesn’t change the fundamentals of Jones’ negotiations. Contracts signed in mid-September by Alvin Kamara and Dalvin Cook have set the market for top combo running-receiving backs not named Christian McCaffrey.
The Kamara and Cook deals as reported average $15 million and $12.5 million, but that’s only in the NFL-contract speak of new money. The numbers that matter are these: Kamara is fully guaranteed $22.8 million, and over the first three years, including this season, averages about $9.8 million. Cook is fully guaranteed $26 million, and the first three years average $9.1 million.
Jones, Kamara and Cook are comparable. They came into the league in the same season and are irreplaceable in their offenses. In Jones’ case, it’s hard to see the Packers making it to the Super Bowl this season without him. He changes the way defenses play and can score from anywhere at any time. If defensive coordinators don’t go out of their way to stop him, he can beat them. He’s also skilled in the pass game.
So yeah, Jones is in line for a deal at least in Kamara’s and Cook’s vicinity.
Jones is 13 games closer to free agency than he was to start the season, so that might drive up his price some. But he also has three games plus the playoffs left in which he risks serious injury, so he still has incentive to do a deal ASAP. Both he and the Packers know his injury history (he has missed 10 games in 3¾ seasons), as well as the Packers’ efforts to limit his touches to help keep him healthy.
On Thursday, Rosenhaus declined comment via email on the chances of getting a contract extension done for Jones with the Packers. But the aforementioned agent said it’s a given Rosenhaus has been pushing talks with Packers vice president Russ Ball this week.
“He’ll hit it hard,” the agent said. “I guarantee he’s already been on the phone with them multiple times trying to get the deal done.”
One wild card in this is whether general manager Brian Gutekunst would use the franchise tag on Jones if they don’t reach agreement on a new contract, and another is what Jones would do if tagged. The tag could push the sides to compromise on a deal in the offseason, or it could make things tougher.
Over The Cap projects the tag for running backs will be about $10.8 million, which is about in line with the deals Kamara and Cook signed. Gutekunst might even consider the tag ideal in theory, because going year-to-year with running backs is safe for the team. That position is the game’s most susceptible to injury and quick decline, and Jones turned 26 two weeks ago. For a running back, 28 is like 30 at a lot of other positions in the NFL.
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Jones would have limited leverage if tagged. Sitting out the season is a nonstarter, because he would never make back that money. But he could wait until the week of the regular-season opener to sign the tender. He’d then be able to skip all offseason work and training camp without penalty but still make the full $10.8 million. If the Packers rescinded the offer, he’d be a free agent.
In its own way, that scenario could be a nightmare for the Packers, because players who miss the offseason and camp have greater risk of injury and/or playing poorly after the time off. For instance, running back Melvin Gordon held out from the Chargers for the offseason and first four games of 2019 and hasn’t been the same player since.
Under that scenario, the Packers, at minimum, would surely bring Jones back slowly to minimize the injury risk, so they wouldn’t get much more than a half-season for their $10.8 million. And that’s best case. He very well might end up being dogged by injuries or just not playing as well after the time off.
Rosenhaus’ history suggests he’d strongly advise Jones to take that route if tagged and would push hard for the Packers to trade him at that point. It would be hard to blame Jones for doing it. It would be his only leverage for getting the deal he thinks he’s worth.
But despite his public rep, Rosenhaus is a dealmaker. So don’t assume Rosenhaus’ hiring means Jones is destined to depart the Packers after this season. Far from it.
“I think you’ll have a flurry where (Rosenhaus) will badger the living hell out of the team to see if he can get something done,” the aforementioned agent said. “Usually when there is an agent change a lot of times it ends up in getting a deal done, just because you don’t make the change as a player to not do something.”