JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Jaguars are going to let running back Maurice Jones-Drew test the market in free agency and then decide whether to try and re-sign the second-leading rusher in franchise history.
It also appears that the Jaguars are going to keep quarterback Blaine Gabbert, the team’s first-round draft pick in 2011, around for the final year of his contract — unless they draft a quarterback with the No. 3 overall pick.
Jaguars general manager David Caldwell said Tuesday he didn’t envision re-signing Jones-Drew, who has rushed for 8,071 yards and holds the franchise record with 81 touchdowns in eight seasons, before free agency beings in March. Caldwell also said he’ll wait for Jones-Drew to get an offer from another team and then decide to match it or not.
Jones-Drew said Monday that he wants to finish his career in Jacksonville but that decision will come down to money. He also said he has a number in mind but would not elaborate and Caldwell would not speak on that, either.
“I think he’ll leave that up to his representation in terms of finding him the best value for his deal,” Caldwell said. “I’m not pessimistic at all about it. I think he’s earned the right to go to free agency. He’s been a great player in this organization and he’s had a great career and I think he’s earned the right to go see what his value and his market is.
“It’s our right to decide if we want to match it and bring him back.”
The Jaguars have indicated that they want him back, but it will likely be a role in which he shares carries more than he has in the past. Jones-drew ran for 803 yards and five touchdowns this season but his 3.4 yards per carry was the worst of his career. He says his production was down somewhat because he is little more than a year removed from Lisfranc surgery and was bothered by ankle, knee and hamstring issues this season.
Jones-Drew said Monday that he’s still a feature back, and now that he’s able to fully participate in offseason conditioning, he’ll prove it in 2014.
“There are some guys that don’t need the offseason. They can just go out there and play ball,” Jones-Drew said. “For me, the offseason is critical. I have to be able to train my body to be able to take the pounding that it takes each week, to be able to recover. I’ve been taking a lot of shots at my legs the last couple of years. I want to be able to get them back in shape and get ready to roll.
“This is going to be a critical offseason for me starting with the next couple of weeks, just getting back and ready to play.”
But it could be an accumulation of the pounding that he has taken over his career. Jones-Drew, who will be 29 years old in March, is a physical runner despite his 5-foot-7, 210-pound frame. He has a lot of mileage on his legs, too. He has carried the ball 1,804 times, caught 335 passes for 2,873 yards, and returned 70 kickoffs and 15 punts.
Caldwell said the Jaguars will address the running back position either through the draft or free agency even if Jones-Drew returns. First-year player Jordan Todman showed he can be a complementary back but the Jaguars will likely release veteran Justin Forsett. Rookie Denard Robinson is still transitioning from quarterback to running back.
Caldwell also said the Jaguars will address the quarterback position in the offseason, which could mean the end of Gabbert’s time in Jacksonville. He said it would be hard to keep Gabbert if they re-signed Chad Henne and drafted a quarterback with the No. 3 overall pick, but he also said the Jaguars aren’t automatically going to draft a quarterback with their first pick.
Henne’s contract expires in March and he said Monday he would like to be back in Jacksonville. Caldwell said it’s a possibility the team could re-sign him before free agency begins, but there’s no guarantee.
There’s also no guarantee the Jaguars won’t cut Gabbert regardless of what happens. The Jaguars would like to keep at least one player on the roster who is familiar with the offensive system and Gabbert could beat out Henne for the backup spot. If Henne were to not re-sign it’s likely Gabbert would remain.
“He’s made great strides this year,” Caldwell said. “You guys probably haven’t seen a lot of it because he’s done most of it at practice.
“There’s no downside [to keeping Gabbert].”
Gabbert has not developed into the franchise quarterback the team hoped he would be after they traded up to select him with the No. 10 overall pick in 2011. He has thrown for 4,357 yards and 22 touchdowns with 24 interceptions in 28 games (27 starts).
He has battled injuries throughout his career, too. He missed the final six games of the 2012 season with a right forearm injury and had four injuries this season: a sprained ankle in training camp, a fractured right thumb in the preseason, a cut on the back of his hand that kept him out in Week 2 and 3, and a right hamstring injury in Week 5. He didn’t play again after that game.
He wants to be back, though.
“This is a great team, great staff, and a great atmosphere and I want to be a part of it,” Gabbert said. “We’ll see what this offseason entails but I’ll be back here in April and read to compete and get after it again.
“I’m still under contract and I want to be part of this team. I don’t want to be anywhere else.”
- Covered University of Florida for 13 seasons for ESPN.com and Florida Times-Union
- Graduate of Jacksonville University
- Multiple APSE award winner