There is only one scenario under which the Broncos should consider a trade for Maurice Jones-Drew:
He'd have to drop his demands for a new contract.
Anyone see that happening?
The Twittersphere is, um, atwitter (sorry) with speculation that Denver might be interested in trading for the disgruntled Jaguars back. Let's examine why that's not only highly unlikely to be true, but a terrible idea.
Consider the background:
When Jacksonville drafted MJD in the second round of the 2006 Draft, they did so planning for a future without Jaguars icon Fred Taylor. Three years later, Taylor had moved on to the Patriots, and Jones-Drew had shown himself worthy of the primary back role, but was entering the final year of his rookie contract.
The Jaguars wisely gave Jones-Drew a four-year extension with $17.5M in guarantees and a total value of $30.95M over five seasons. Of course, MJD has outplayed the value of that contract by all measures, averaging 1,795 yards from scrimmage and 11.3 touchdowns on 4.53 yards per rush for three years.
He's due to make $4.45M this season, and $4.95M in 2013. Players of MJD's caliber tend to make about double that.
At 27, Jones-Drew has reached an age where top running backs are generally looking for their last big contract.
The problem with that, of course, is that veteran running backs are almost never worth the hefty contracts they're paid, as I was just discussing with my pals Terrell Davis, Shaun Alexander, and Chris Johnson.
And while we honor old friend Clinton Portis in his retirement, it's only fair to point out that CP delivered just four full seasons on the eight-year, $50.5M deal he signed with Washington to facilitate the Champ Bailey trade; the contract included $17M in guarantees. In 2008, CP got $15M more in guarantees as part of a restructuring.
Jacksonville's brass is either cognizant of these cautionary tales, they just don't feel like paying MJD, or both.
The response from Jones-Drew and his representation is that he's open to being dealt to another team. This can easily be translated to read, "I am willing to be traded to whichever team will give me the contract that Jacksonville won't."
For some current-day context, Johnson received $30M in guarantees from Tennessee last year, while this summer Matt Forte got $17M from Chicago, Baltimore gave Ray Rice $25M, Houston promised Arian Foster $20.75M, and Seattle handed Marshawn Lynch $18M in guarantees.
It's probably safe to say that MJD, who led the NFL in rushing yards last season, and trailed only Rice in yards from scrimmage (by 88 yards), won't sign a deal for less than $20M in guaranteed money.
We already know that running backs are not really worth that kind of scratch.
And of course, any deal for Jones-Drew would also require sending the Jags some serious compensation in the form of a high draft choice.
So you're looking at around $20M or more in guarantees, plus a high draft choice, all for a 27-year-old back with 1,762 touches on his tires. If you're wondering, Terrell Davis logged 1,824 touches in his entire career.
It's certainly possible that MJD is the next Emmitt Smith, Tiki Barber, or Curtis Martin, and will be highly effective into his thirties. But there's just no way of knowing.
The cost alone would appear to be prohibitive.
The Manning factor
And we haven't even touched on the fact that Denver has already sunk $18M into Peyton Manning this season.
For years now, we've been asserting that winning in the NFL is about passing the football. John Elway & Co. know this, as evidenced by their stunning acquisition of Manning. They understand that nothing is more key to winning a Super Bowl than a great quarterback, so they've put all their eggs in the Peyton basket.
Having made those commitments, in terms of both finances and on-field strategy, it would make no sense to invest draft choice(s) and a hefty contract in a veteran running back. Putting PMFM behind center means not having to overpay for a back.
There are two ways of acquiring a talented running back without breaking the bank: drafting one, or picking one off the scrap heap (as either a veteran, or an undrafted rookie, ala Foster).
Denver has already gone both routes in the past two offseasons:
They paid Willis McGahee $3M last year and owe him just $1M for this season. The balance of his contract will pay him $4.5M over the 2013 and 2014 seasons, but of course, none of these figures are guaranteed.
In April, they drafted Ronnie Hillman in the third round (67th overall) and will pay him $3M over four seasons.
That's a maximum of $8.5M for three years of McGahee and four years' worth of Hillman.
We've been saying since the very beginning that Hillman was likely not drafted to be a change-of-pace or scat-type back. And as Ted explained just days after the Manning signing, there are very few substitutions in the offense Peyton ran in Indy and that we expect to see in Denver. This is especially true for the running back, who tends to play an entire series at a time.
Hillman is often labeled a scatback, presumably due to his slight stature - he's listed at 5-9. Of course, that's two inches taller than Jones-Drew's 5-7 listing. Additionally, Hillman bulked up to 200 lbs. prior to the draft, which places him just ten pounds lighter than MJD.
Granted, a hamstring injury has prevented Hillman from playing in either of Denver's first two preseason games, and this is undoubtedly contributing to the hubbub envisioning an MJD/Broncos union.
But Ronnie's back on the practice field, and we may get a glimpse of the soon-to-be 21-year-old as early as Sunday afternoon against San Francisco.
How about we see what Denver's got in Hillman before pondering a move for another back?
Unless, of course, Jones-Drew decides he's willing to play out his contract, but not in Jacksonville.
Yeah, didn't think so.