The Green Bay Packers recently announced that running back Aaron Jones agreed to reduce his salary for 2023 and will remain with the team. That means the duo of Jones and A.J. Dillon will both be back next season which keeps the team’s top two backs in place for at least one more year.
But the Packers are still likely to draft a running back in the 2023 NFL Draft and there are many reasons they should.
First is the age and contract status of their existing backs. Jones is 28 years old and will turn 29 during the 2023 season. That is already on the old side for most NFL running backs. The way his contract is now structured, he is likely to stay with the team in 2023 and probably in 2024. His cap hit will be almost $8.2 million in 2023 and then increase to $17.7 million in 2024.
Jones gained a career-high 1,121 yards rushing and added 59 receptions for 395 yards. He scored a total of seven touchdowns combined.
The Packers would have a dead cap hit of approximately $12.35 million if they cut Jones before 2024. Whether the Packers will opt to keep Jones for those terms will depend on his 2023 performance and his health.
Dillon has been a good compliment to Jones. While Jones’ strength is running outside and using his speed, Dillon is more of a between the tackles kind of runner who excels running to the inside.
The Boston College alum gained 770 yards last season after picking up 803 in 2021. He added 28 catches for 206 more yards and scored seven touchdowns. Those are strong numbers for a number two running back on any roster.
Dillon is younger than Jones. He’ll turn 25 before the start of the coming season. But he is also in the final year of his entry-level contract in 2023. That means he will be up for a large raise over his $1.68 million cap hit he carries this year.
With the lack of emphasis placed on paying running backs in the present day NFL, the Packers will be very unlikely to keep both Dillon and Jones beyond the coming season. It just doesn’t make economic sense.
If they decide to keep Jones, he’s likely to be in Green and Gold for just one more season (2024) and they’ll need a replacement for Dillon immediately and Jones the following year. If they release Jones, they’ll take on a big dead cap hit and have to pay Dillon a sizeable contract plus add a new back. That seems quite unlikely.
Right now, the Packers also have Patrick Taylor and Tyler Goodson on their roster. Taylor split last year between the practice squad and the active roster but has yet to show he can be a regular back in the NFL. He has contributed a bit on offense when called upon and helped on special teams. In two NFL seasons, Taylor has run the ball 33 times for 120 yards.
Goodson had a strong preseason but was placed on the practice squad because he needed work on his pass blocking and blitz pickup. He will battle for a roster spot again in 2023 as the Packers will see if he’s improved enough in those areas to become a contributor next season.
The 2023 NFL Draft is full of quality running backs who the Packers can select in the middle or late rounds and develop for a bigger role in 2024. That is what they did with Dillon who was a second-round pick in 2020 who was third string that year behind Jones and Jamaal Williams.
Running back won’t be the team’s top priority in the 2023 NFL Draft. Even if they get extra draft picks for trading Aaron Rodgers or Jordan Love, they are unlikely to spend a first round pick on a running back. That means the Packers are unlikely to get either Bijan Robinson of Texas or Alabama’s Jahmyr Gibbs who are expected to go early.
But the Packers have found some gems at running back on days two and three of the draft. Jones was a fifth round pick in 2017 while the Pack added Williams in the fourth round that year.
Look for the GM Brian Gutekunst to add a running back with an eye towards the future. Like Dillon, that back will likely be third string as a rookie and assume a bigger role the following season.
Follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers
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