MJD Is Last Every Down Back
By Luke Sims
In the words of Clinton Portis,
"I really think he’s the last every-down back left. I think Maurice Jones-Drew plays the game the right way, and if there was one player I had to pick…I think he is a tough, fierce player, and I really wish they would have given him his money. I think the holdout is fair when you look at what he’s doing for that organization."
Ex-running back Portis was quoted in The Florida Times Union on August 26th. All running backs stick together, but Portis and MJd share similarities that make the statements seem even more accurate. Portis had over 320 attempts in four of his nine NFL seasons. He was two-time Pro Bowler who would decimate the opposition if they didn’t focus on him. He was able to run over defenders, beat secondary players, and notch touchdown after touchdown during his heyday.
Yet, like all running backs who take so much punishment, he declined in his later years, retiring in 2010. MJD hasn’t pounded the rock as much as Portis did during his first three seasons as the primary runner, but he is undoubtedly the every down back that Portis says he is.
Portis had 1,258 attempts before he finally broke down in his fifth season and only played in eight games. While he came back for two more superb seasons for sixteen games (325 and 342 attempts in ’07 and ’08 respectively) his play couldn’t be sustained. He faltered in ’09 and played in only 13 games total during his final two seasons. Portis was a force, but he declined much more rapidly than would be enjoyed by many teams.
Yet he thinks MJD deserves the money.
MJD isn’t a throwback to a bygone era of every-down backs. He is in every down because he is a leading pass threat and running threat. He can gain those tough yards and scamper past defenders with his fast legs. He’s a bowling ball and isn’t afraid to take on that bigger defender. But with 1,484 career attempts behind him you’ve got to think that maybe he’s doomed for the same thing that happened to Portis. Will this year result in a knee injury he can’t play through? What if he is surpassed by the stable of running backs chomping at the bit behind him? The pressure is mounting for MJD and he may not be worth the risk.
Are two seasons more of solid productivity worth the extension past an already lucrative contract? The Jags know what they have in Jones-Drew, but what if he becomes Portis? What if he can still give two solid seasons but not much else? If that is the case, then congrats to the Jags for the perfectly timed contract expiration! He isn’t guaranteed past that and shouldn’t be. Let’s see if he breaks down some this season first.
There are ways to extend the longevity of a running back. Often that comes from frequent use of a spell back or using a “two headed monster” or “running back by committee” approach. MJD won’t be the every down back in those situations, and shouldn’t get paid like it. For every carry that Rashad Jennings and Montell Owens takes, MJD knows his influence wains. Mike Mularkey, Gene Smith, and Shahid Khan know it too. They know they could use an every-down back, but they also know they could just as easily do what Mike Shanahan did to to Portis in Denver – use interchangeable running backs. It’s a tough reality for the every-down back, but the game is shifting.
Jones-Drew has never had the 122 yards per game that Portis had in 2003, but he has the potential for it. That potential is the only thing that keeps his contract holdout remotely relevant. If he could continue what he did last season (100 yards per game) for more than the next two years, he’d be worth it. But Portis had a point: he’s an every-down back. Every-down backs wear out and get injured. MJD isn’t a god, he’s a football players and his body will react similarly (not the same) to everyone.
I understand a reward for being that last every-down back. That reward was the contract he signed three years ago. The Jags knew what they were getting and appreciate Jones-Drew’s years of service to the team. But it’s time that he faced the facts: as the last every-down back it may be time to recognize some imminent limitations.
– Luke N. Sims
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