Aaron Jones isn't going anywhere. That was the message from Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst during his end-of-season press conference on Thursday.
Gutekunst had every chance to give a non-answer to questions about Jones' future. He didn't have to commit either way. But Gutekunst's response left little doubt when asked whether the Packers' star running back would return in 2024.
"Yeah, absolutely. We'd love to have Aaron back," said Gutekunst. "He was such a difference-maker when he was out there this year. The way our offense was able to move. He changed the way we operated when he was in there and when he was healthy."
"He's such an influential leader in our locker room and he's just kind of the heartbeat of our team. That's kind of the anticipation, that he'll be back."
And it's the correct call.
Packers must figure out Aaron Jones' contract, but return is right decision
Any question about Jones' future wasn't a result of his talent. And it certainly had nothing to do with his leadership. He is a star and means everything to this young Packers team.
As is often the case in the NFL, it's about the contract. According to Spotrac, Jones' cap hit rises to $17.58 million in 2024, the final year of his deal.
Gutekunst left little doubt that Jones will be back in Green Bay, which takes any cap savings from releasing or trading him off the table. It leaves the Packers with a few options: Restructure, extension, or do nothing.
According to Packers cap expert Ken Ingalls, Green Bay could save around $7.4 million on the 2024 salary cap by restructuring his deal. There are pros and cons. The benefit is reducing his significant cap hit in the short term, freeing up money to build the roster. However, reworking the deal pushes money into future seasons. Jones took a pay cut last year. That's another option if he is willing to accept.
The Packers could offer Jones a short-term extension, which gives them flexibility to spread out cap hits. But if Jones isn't part of the team's plans beyond 2024, the result would be similar to restructuring his contract—a lower cap hit in the short term but a greater dead cap hit in the future.
The final option? Do nothing. If the Packers can make cap savings elsewhere, they may prefer to eat the $17.58 million cap hit this season. Jones is in the final year of his deal. They could take the hit now rather than push money into future years.
But that's for Brian Gutekunst and Russ Ball to figure out. The Packers win, regardless. Jones is a star. Gutekunst put it perfectly by calling him the "heartbeat" of the team. Jones' explosive plays help the offense reach an elite level, and his leadership is vital for a young roster.