The Maurice Jones-Drew era is over in Jacksonville.
That’s a pretty heft pill for many Jaguars fans to swallow, even if they knew the former all-pro’s departure was all but set in stone. You can’t fault anybody for sulking a bit after hearing news that he has signed a three-year contract with his hometown Oakland Raiders.
After notching over 8,000 yards and 68 touchdowns in eight seasons, Jacksonville’s most prolific player is gone.
‘MJD’, a former second-round pick out of UCLA, has been a human highlight reel in Jacksonville for many years, dating back to 2006 when he was a key contributor in the dismantling of the Indianapolis Colts in a game where the Jaguars rushed for 375 yards. Jones-Drew was responsible for 166 of those yards in addition to three touchdowns, including a kick return for a score, which all but iced the game. The Colts would eventually go on to win the Super Bowl later that season.
I will also never forget when ‘Mojo’ lit up Shawne “Lights Out” Merriman in a 2007 contest, pancaking the intimidating pro bowler – much to the Jacksonville crowd’s approval – as David Garrard tossed a one-yard touchdown pass to tight end Marcedes Lewis. Later that year, ‘MJD’ helped the Jaguars snag their first playoff victory in nearly eight years when they defeated the mighty Pittsburgh Steelers on their turf in 2008. ‘Mojo’ had a touchdown and a key kick return that was inches away from a score, in turn halting Pittsburgh’s momentum.
As we all know, ‘MJD’ took over for the New England-bound Fred Taylor in 2009 solidifying himself as not only the feature back, but the face of the franchise as well. He went on to appear in three consecutive Pro Bowls while leading the league in rushing in 2011, in what many consider to be the apex of his career.
After that, however, things began to go awry.
A lengthy offseason holdout – which, in hindsight, was probably a smart endeavor for the sake of his financial future, though it ultimately didn’t work out in his favor – caused friction between he and new owner Shahid Khan, eroding a relationship before it really even began. ‘MJD’ ended up competing in only six games before fracturing his ankle in a game against Oakland. He’d miss the rest of the season.
Then, last season, while he was relatively healthy all season, for running back standards, his production fell off as he only ran for barely 800 yards, averaging a mere 3.4 yards per attempt – his lowest career figure by a wide margin. Even more depressing was actually watching him play: he lost his trademark burst and explosion, that quick-twitch wiggle in the open field, and, apparently, his desire to be a Jaguar.
Post 2013 season, long story short: general manager David Caldwell didn’t make him an offer; he tested the market and ultimately signed with Oakland. Boom.
It is unfortunate that Jones-Drew chose to go out in the manner that he did, failing to thank Jacksonville or its fans for his tenure in The River City and I’m still a bit perplexed that he’d go from one 4-12 team to, essentially, another 4-12 team, even if it is his hometown. I’m fully convinced the Jaguars’ arrow is pointing up while the Raiders have already plateaued given the state of their franchise, but I digress.
It’s unfortunate the head case that is Gene Smith was running the franchise during the peak of MJD’s prestige, which prevented him from being a part of a winning squad for an extended period of time. Putting aside the fact that he’s a multi-millionaire playing a game for a living, a part of me felt bad for him during those four years. He could have been a key catalyst on a playoff team; instead, he was stuck in the doldrums.
Best of luck to ‘MJD’ and I hope to see him in the prestigious “Ring of Honor” one day. Based on his tenure with the team, I’d say he’s earned it.
Follow Matt on Twitter @bymattgonzales.