There doesn't seem to be much of a debate on the surface. A year after leading the AFC in rushing, Jones put up his first career 1,400 yard year. Things aren't quite that simple, though. Thomas has a $3 million roster bonus due. He is at an age, 31, where backs usually decline sharply. Beyond that, the Jets have a successor in place. Shonn Greene experienced a coming out party in the Playoffs. He looks like a star in the making. Greene has more speed than TJ and is more apt to break tackles. Leon Washington should be back and is also a more dangerous runner. If all things are equal, Jones might break camp as the number three back.
Thomas is entering the final year of his contract. He made it clear a year ago he wants a new deal. Given the bad track record of backs in their 30's aging, that's probably not going to happen. Jones didn't hold out in 2009. Will he and agent Drew Rosenhaus be as patient in the final year of a deal? The Jets in theory might find a taker for Jones in a trade. Maybe there's a team out there looking for a short term stopgap at back. Still, Jones would probably request a new contract. Is any team going to invest too much long term in a guy who will be 32 when the season starts? The return would be minimal, a mid to late round pick. Remember, Eric Mangini isn't calling the shots in Cleveland anymore. Mike Holmgren is. Forget about landing Josh Cribbs or Shaun Rogers.
There are some compelling reasons for hanging onto TJ. For starters, he has shown no sign of slowing down despite his age. With three backs in the fold, the Jets could limit his carries and keep him productive. Keeping three isn't a terrible idea. Greene has a punishing running style. It might be worth keeping his carries down early in the year to keep him fresh for December and January. Washington's 2009 injury showed the value of backfield depth. The Jets had a quality back in Greene to bring into the rotation after a catastrophic injury.
Ultimately, though, I'm inclined to think Jones is going to make too much money for the third best back on a roster. The possibility of a contract standoff is too much of an unnecessary risk of distraction. The fact we're even having this discussion shows how brutal the business side of football can be. Jones has been nothing but a positive force on the field and in the locker room. If it was based on merit, he's right. He's earned a new contract. It's just investing too heavily in an aging running back makes no sense, particularly with a pair of productive backs on the roster. Running back might be the easiest position to fill in the league. Guys literally come out of nowhere every year as either late Draft picks or scrap heap signings. The Jets can find a third guy behind Greene and Washington for cheap.
I reluctantly vote to move on.
How do you vote?