Another veteran running back is hitting the open market.
The Jets announced today that they will release Thomas Jones later this week.
Jones, 32, joins LaDainian Tomlinson and Brian Westbrook, who were released by the Chargers and Eagles, respectively.
Unlike those two, though, Jones had a great 2009 season, finishing third in the NFL with 1,402 yards while averaging 4.2 yards per carry. He got in the end zone 14 times. Jones has run for over 1,100 yards in five straight seasons.
Consider this: As recently as two seasons ago (2007), Tomlinson (1,474 yards), Westbrook (1,333) and Jones (1,119) ranked first, third and 10th in the NFL in rushing. Now, each guy is searching for a team. Just incredible how quickly things change for running backs, although as I mentioned, Jones has not fallen off yet.
So the obvious question is: Should the Eagles take a look at Jones?
For an organization that likes to project rather than pay guys for their past accomplishments, Jones wouldn't appear to be a fit. But when you consider how many veterans the offense has lost in the past couple of years (Westbrook, Tra Thomas, Jon Runyan), perhaps it's an option worth exploring.
As I spelled out after the Eagles cut Westbrook, they really have three clear options in addressing their running back situation. Each one counts on LeSean McCoy to be the primary ballcarrier. That part is a no-brainer. But here they are:
1. Sign a veteran running back. There are several who will be on the market, including Jones, Tomlinson and Chester Taylor.
2. Draft a running back. This is riskier because they'd be counting on two young guys to carry the load. Then again, McCoy proved that a rookie can have an impact in this offense and play well.
3. Go with who they have. This would involve counting on Leonard Weaver to take on a bigger role.
The good news is we'll start getting answers on Friday when free agency begins.
A friend who works in the industry and who I trust on all matters with the Jets provided his take on Jones to me in an e-mail:
There is no denying that Jones has put up big numbers and is a great presence in the locker room. Arguably his biggest contribution has been being a leader and setting the tone for the right work ethic on the field and in the weight room.
With that said, he has put up the least impressive 2,700 yards over a two-year span that I've ever seen. He is a steady, hold the fort running back. If the offensive line opens up a hole that should get you 4 yards, he will almost always get the 4 yards. That is his beauty and his downfall. He never seems to make a guy miss, rarely breaks a long play and once in awhile will barrel over a defensive back. In the second half of the season and into the playoffs he really seemed to wear down. This was really accentuated by the power and speed of Shonn Greene.
I don't think Jones was ever a great back, and at the age of 32, his best days are likely behind him. The one caveat is that he is a workout warrior and has not taken a ton of hits because the first four years of his career he was riding the pine. He also isn't a great third-down back. He has done it in a bind, but he won't overwhelm you with his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. He can pick up the blitz, but hasn't really had an opportunity to do it on a conistent basis.
To me, he is not going to be a third-down back, and is more likely to be a first- and second-down RB. He will not contribute on specials, and losing a step makes him a roster liability. He might have more in his tank than Edgerrin James, Shaun Alexander, Jamal Lewis, etc. before him, but I wouldn't be thrilled with him toting the rock on a regular basis. He could be a decent stop gap, but anything beyond that is not going to be a great situation.
Some other links:
* The Bears are believed to be interested in Chester Taylor, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune.
* People familiar with the situation tell Jason Reid of the Washington Post that the Redskins are expected to pursue Julius Peppers. I'll write more about this tomorrow, but Friday will be all about Peppers. Which teams will make a run right away? How much are they willing to pay? What will his demands be? Despite the limited number of unrestricted free agents, there will still be some excitement.
* Sources tell Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune that the Redskins could make a run at Chargers running back Darren Sproles. So the more things change, the more they stay the same. It looks like Daniel Snyder will shoot to make a big splash in free agency once again.
Earlier we posted our Jason Avant year in review.
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