With no end in sight of his holdout, fantasy football players are starting to get concerned about Maurice Jones-Drew. Yet a look back at past running back holdouts show while there is cause for concern, there is just as much hope for another top-five season.
Like many of you out there, I am currently in the midst of the Maurice Jones-Drew dilemma. He was a lock to be my keeper in two leagues after playing a big part in two fantasy football titles last season. However, the long holdout with no end in sight has me reconsidering my pick. Do I let the NFL leading rusher go in hopes of drafting a suitable replacement or am I being overly paranoid after watching Chris Johnson’s disappointing 2011 campaign? What does a fantasy player do?
[adinserter block=”2″]I have read numerous blogs and listened to dozens of podcasts pontificating about the decline of MJD. “Look at Chris Johnson,” is what everyone says regarding MJD’s potential once he returns from holding out. Then I started thinking about watching Emmitt Smith return from his holdout and pick up where he left off the previous season and wondered if all of these fantasy experts are falling into the Chris Johnson trap. Are these concerns for MJD legitimate or is everyone’s judgment being clouded by the most recent similar situation with Chris Johnson?
This is why I started to dig deep into Google and take a look back at some of the most high profile running back holdouts and how those running backs fared once they rejoined their respective teams. Some will put your mind at ease if you already have MJD on your roster while others will probably give you a few more restless nights. You decide for yourself in looking back at these high profile RB holdouts and their post-holdout production.
Emmitt Smith, Dallas Cowboys 1993 – Smith is probably the most famous holdout of the previous generation of NFL players. Smith wanted to get paid after finishing the previous two seasons with consecutive rushing titles, and oh yeah a Super Bowl win. Unfortunately Smith had a stubborn owner who believed that the team was greater than its part. Oh how wrong he was.
Smith finally got his new deal after the Dallas Cowboys went 0-2. Smith held out all of the preseason and the start of the regular season. Once Smith shook the rust off, he immediately jumped back into regular season form. After missing two games and one start, Smith reclaimed the rushing title and helped the Cowboys win a Super Bowl.
If you are looking for a great case to draft MJD, here it is. It doesn’t get much better than the Emmitt Smith case. Now keep in mind the situations are much different. MJD is returning to one of if not the worst offense in the NFL while Smith was returning to the best team in football. Yeah I’d say that is a pretty big difference.
Larry Johnson, Kansas City Chiefs 2007 – Now if you want cause for concern, LJ is your man. Johnson grabbed the starting job in Kansas City due to injuries to Priest Holmes in 2006. Johnson became the man in Kansas City finishing with 17 TDs, only three less than the previous season.! He finished with an NFL record for most carries in a season, was second in rushing in the NFL, and led the Chiefs to the playoffs. Now that LJ had some leverage, he wanted to get paid!
Johnson missed most of the preseason and camp before getting his new deal. Johnson signed on August 21, just in time to get him ready for the regular season. Johnson had a terrible season, ending it early due to injury in Week 9. Johnson’s stats were miserable and never had more than five touchdowns in a season the rest of his career. As a matter of a fact, Johnson only scored 8 TDs the rest of his career after signing his new deal!
Now before you jump off of a bridge if you own Jones-Drew I’ll say this. These are two completely different players. Johnson’s attitude and pride as a football player were much different than that of MJD’s. Jones-Drew wants to be the best, Johnson wanted to get paid, and there is a huge difference between those attitudes as an NFL player.
Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams 2008 – Steven Jackson is generally regarded as one of the “nice guys” in the NFL, yet even S Jax had his squabbles over money with management. Jackson had a breakout season after Marshall Faulk retired (and Mike Martz left) in 2006. Jackson busted ran for 1,528 yards and 13 touchdowns. Jackson was first among RBs catching 90 balls for 806 yards and had a total of 16 TDs, but slipped quite a bit in 2007. Jackson was entering the final year of his rookie deal in 2008 and held out until he was paid as the highest paid running back in the NFL.
Unfortunately Jackson has never come close to producing like the number one running back in the NFL since then. Jackson has been efficient but has not had double digit TDs since 2006. I wouldn’t point to Jackson’s holdout as the reason for the decline, as he never missed a regular season game. Nonetheless the numbers are what the numbers are.
Eric Dickerson, Indianapolis Colts 1990 – In 1988 Dickerson became the first Colt to lead the league in rushing since 1955. He also became the fastest player at that time to pass the 10,000 yard mark. He had seven straight seasons of 1,000+ yards rushing by 1989 and guess what? The man wanted to get paid!
Dickerson’s holdout was one of the nastiest in NFL history. Dickerson became a holdout, not by choice during the 1990 season. The Colts placed him on the inactive list after heated contract talks that went nowhere. Dickerson stayed on the list for seven weeks! Dickerson returned but only managed a measly 4 TDs on the season. To be fair Dickerson did rebound quickly from a holdout early in his career, but he was much younger and the situations were different.
Quite frankly the MJD-Jaguars talks could go this way. The Jags aren’t contending for anything so what do they have to gain by bringing MJD back with a new deal? There is a very real possibility a head coach who hasn’t even met Jones-Drew yet and a new owner would be willing to proceed without MJD, leaving MJD at home most of the season. That would be the absolute worst case scenario for MJD owners!
Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans 2011 – This is the case that most experts use when analyzing MJD’s holdout and prospects upon his return. Most fantasy football players ignored the warning signs and took Johnson with their first picks in the midst of a holdout. Johnson coming off back to back double digit TD seasons was worth the risk right? Well ask those players today and they may tell you different.
Johnson signed a new deal on September 1, missing every camp and all of the preseason with the Tennessee Titans. No problem right? After all, he is just a running back. Big problem! Johnson had a disappointing season for the Titans. Johnson finished with 1,228 yards and 9 TDs, as opposed to the 2,006 yards and 14 TDs he accumulated the previous season. Johnson’s stats last year are a bit of a mirage as he started out real slow but came on fairly strong at the end of the season.
[adinserter block=”1″]How much of a barometer is Johnson’s 2011 season in measuring MJD’s 2012 expectations? It is tough to say. Like the Larry Johnson situation, I just believe that MJD’s attitude about football is much different than Johnson’s. I will say this. Johnson was returning to a much better team, but was the same fire there than MJD would have upon his return this season? I don’t think it is but when you start to predict performance based on perceived attitudes, you wind up with the first pick in your next year’s draft.
What do I take away from all of this? I tend to believe that Maurice Jones-Drew takes an approach to football more similar to Emmitt Smith than someone like Larry Johnson or Chris Johnson. However, MJD is not coming back to a Super Bowl contender. I think the biggest risk with MJD is the team having little interest in negotiating which turns into a holdout that could last all season. I think he is worth the pick if Jones-Drew can settle a new deal before the season starts,. If not, you probably just threw away your fantasy season.
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