Why did Packers choose Josh Jacobs over Aaron Jones at RB?

GREEN BAY, Wis. — The Green Bay Packers did not set out to sign a big-name running back, but when talks with Aaron Jones broke down over a pay cut late last week, they quickly pivoted over the weekend and decided to go after free agent Josh Jacobs.

By early Monday afternoon, the team made one of its most seismic shifts at a position in recent history — aside from last year’s transition from Aaron Rodgers to Jordan Love — when they cut Jones and agreed to a four-year, $48 million deal with Jacobs, who spent his first five seasons with the Las Vegas Raiders.

Based on information from several parties with knowledge of the events, it was clear that things changed quickly — especially considering that when Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst was asked less than six weeks ago whether Jones would be back, he said “absolutely.”

Jones was due to make $12 million in salary and bonuses in 2024 and had a salary cap number north of $17 million. The Packers had asked Jones to cut those numbers significantly; this after Jones took a $5 million pay cut from $16 million to $11 million last year. At one point early last week, the Packers thought Jones might be open to a deal.

But by Friday, Jones and his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, informed Gutekunst and vice president of football operations Russ Ball, the team’s contract negotiator, that they would not take a pay cut as sizable as the one the Packers proposed.

The Packers didn’t want to leave Jones hanging over the weekend, so they essentially told him they would have to move on and turn their attention elsewhere.

They could have held on to Jones until Wednesday, when the new league year begins and contracts can officially be signed. But they didn’t want to put Jones in a position where, if he changed his mind about a pay cut, the Packers would have to tell him the offer no longer stood.

So, given his long history of loyalty to the organization and the respect he has from the organization and the fans, they released Jones on Monday so he could immediately begin talking to other teams. On Tuesday morning, he agreed to terms with the Minnesota Vikings on a one-year, $7 million deal, about $1 million more than the Packers’ final offer.

It was a risk, given that the Jacobs deal could, theoretically, fall through between now and Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET, when free agents can formally sign with new teams.

In a statement released by the team Monday, Gutekunst called moving on from Jones “one of the hardest decisions we’ve had to make in my time with the Packers and not one taken lightly.”

“He has not only had a significant impact on the field and in the locker room, but he is one of the most beloved players in the community,” Gutekunst added.

Gutekunst and coach Matt LaFleur no doubt liked Jacobs in part because at age 26, he’s three years younger than Jones, so they could potentially have their starting running back spot solidified for the next three to four years. If Jones, 29, came back, this would almost certainly be his final season in Green Bay.

While Jacobs might not be a guy LaFleur would line up in the slot or outside as a receiver like he did at times with Jones, the Packers believe his versatility as a rusher and receiver makes him dynamic. In terms of play style, the Packers see him as similar to Eddie Lacy in his prime — a powerful back who defenders don’t want to tackle in the open field.

The Packers will have to add at least one more running back via free agency or the draft, but it won’t have to be expensive or come in an early round. AJ Dillon, who backed up Jones the past four years, is a free agent and likely will land elsewhere. They still have Emanuel Wilson, who got a qualifying tender offer as an exclusive rights free agent Monday.

Exactly how much Gutekunst and Ball spent Monday won’t be known until the structure of all deals become available, but it’s safe to say it was their biggest spending spree since the opening day of free agency in 2019, when they spent $182 million in 24 hours by signing Adrian Amos, Preston Smith, Za’Darius Smith and Billy Turner.

In addition to Jacobs, they agreed to terms with former Giants safety Xavier McKinney on a four-year, $68 million deal. Like the Raiders, the Giants tried to retain McKinney, but the Packers outbid them. McKinney became their top target after the Buccaneers placed the franchise tag on Antoine Winfield Jr.

In order to make room for Jacobs and McKinney under the salary cap, the Packers also released left tackle David Bakhtiari on Monday and will release linebacker De’Vondre Campbell on Wednesday.

Gutekunst might not be done in free agency, but the bulk of his work came Monday.

First appeared on www.espn.com

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