Jacksonville Jaguar fans in Cayman should be happy.
The team got rid of cancers like Matt Jones and Jerry Porter and brought in a big-time defensive stopper in Tra Thomas.
Now they have a young, productive long-term fix in the run game.
Running back Maurice Jones-Drew signed a five-year, $31 million contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars that includes $17.5 million guaranteed.
Jones-Drew was one of the most productive running backs in the NFL for the last three years, totalling 6,003 all-purpose yards and scoring 40 touchdowns despite splitting time with Fred Taylor.
With Taylor out of the picture, the Jaguars expect even more from Jones-Drew.
‘It really was a matter of wanting more Maurice,’ Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said. ‘We want Maurice on the field more often. We believe he’s a feature guy and it’s his time. We’re excited about that.’
Jones-Drew replaces Taylor, who parted ways with Jacksonville in February as the team’s all-time leading rusher. Taylor, who signed with the New England Patriots after getting released, ranks 16th in NFL history with 11,271 yards. The Jaguars believe Jones-Drew was capable of filling the void.
‘I’m very confident this is the type of young man that will go out and continue to display the things that have made him so popular to begin with,’ Del Rio said. ‘He’s gonna get plenty of work. We’re excited about getting him the ball more often.
‘We were doing the best that we could as a staff of recognizing the talent and paying the respect to Fred while he was here and couldn’t wait to get Maurice in the game. Now, he’s our guy.’
Jones-Drew has 2,533 yards rushing and 1,408 yards receiving since Jacksonville made him a second-round draft pick in 2006. He has averaged 4.8 yards a carry, 9.5 yards a reception and been at his best in goal-line and short-yardage situations.
He rarely fumbles, has few dropped passes and has a knack for making big plays and scoring touchdowns. He has become a leader in the locker room and a fan favourite because of his fearlessness, friendliness and flair for turning negative plays into first downs.
‘I still love the game,’ Jones-Drew said. ‘I’m going to play the way I play. Nothing’s going to change. You see some guys get paid and they kind of shut it down. That’s not how I was raised, that’s not how I ever played the game before. I’m going to continue to play and work hard and do everything I can to help this team win.’
Jones-Drew led the team with 824 yards rushing last year, ranked second with 62 receptions for 565 yards and scored 14 touchdowns.
He was one of the few bright spots on a team that was hampered by three key injuries along the offensive line and chemistry issues in the locker room and struggled to a 5-11 record.
The team still has ways to go to be a contender. With the likes of Indianapolis and Tennessee in their division the Jaguars need a big-play receiver for QB David Gerrard to throw to plus a top tier cornerback and a legitimate stopper at defensive tackle.
Nevertheless the signing of Jones-Drew is huge. It’s not enough to give Jacksonville more wins next season but fans in Cayman have at least one solid reason to study the Jags.