I'm trying to figure out exactly what gives here. It seems that the local media is more obsessed in covering ex-Lions players than they are the current ones. Funny that just a couple of months after Tom Kowalski, and others, applauded the move to cut Kevin Jones -- they are now bemoaning the fact that they cut him, and practically worshiping him -- despite a video in which he (barely) manages to outrun a former Olinemen and a running back who if Out-Of-Football!
Also, if you look at Nicky's comments in the Freep, he implies he was there and that if we were there, we'd have been impressed too! Umm...he wasn't there. He watched the same video. I'll let you judge for yourself, but watching that video and knowing what I do about Football led me to believe the Lions made the right choice -- not a bad one.
Lets take a moment, and push aside all negativity, all positivity, and all emotion and take a good last look at this situation -- what the facts and odds were, and what the Lions stood to gain and lose from both keeping him or cutting him not just this season, but in 2009 and beyond as well.
First of all, unless someone else signs Jones to a 3.281 million dollar contract (guaranteed base salary plus bonus) this season and he plays as a number one back from game one through 16 -- then it was a good move on the Lions' part. That was their cost to keep him, and even if he gave them that I think they reasoned they could (and I'm betting will) get that kind of prodcution without Jones and with an eye toward continued success beyond 2008. I'll lay out my argument here, and see if you agree.
The first situation is Jone's injuries. No matter how he always seems to make light of them, or pretend he can come back 100% in half the time it takes the average player -- he has been hampered by injuries both minor and major since he entered the league. Even his rookie season, by far his best year, he missed time due to injury. The knee injury last season was an indirect result of his foot injury, no matter what Jones' or the Lions' spin doctors say.
I have, as we all do when we get older, various aches from old injuries (football, car wreck, being a stupid young daredevil for a while). When my leg hurts, I tend to put more weight on my other leg -- which means I also but more pressure on my hip in the small of my back, which makes my back hurt. Because my lower back hurts, I sit and walk differently to try to make it feel better, which places more pressure on my legs and makes my knee hurt...then as I sit differently my shoulder on the opposite side hurts. Now, I'm not anywhere close to incapacitated by any means -- they are just annoying aches. But you can see the pattern -- now project that onto a major foot injury... Jones admittedly had so much pain he couldn't walk til Wednesday, and didn't practice at all. Now, how many offenses can function when their number one back only plays or practices on game day in extreme pain.
He ran differently by favoring the foot, and trying to change his style to minimize the impact of his foot not being 100%. It's not all Jones' fault, as the Lions have a history of rushing players back from knee injuries (for example, Brian Calhoun who re-injured the same knee, and Charlie Batch who couldn't plant to throw but was under center - and injured his knee coming back form a broken leg.)
If you look around the NFL the trend is there -- players who attempt to come back too early from injury get re-injured, or suffer an indirect injury. If he doesn't come back early, he still is not 100% for camp, not 100% fr the season. Keep in mind, he has NEVER played a full season in his first 4 years in the league.
Next we get to the business decisions. Kevin Jones is only 25, about to be 26. But he is entering his 5th year in the league. He has had two major and a half dozen minor to moderate injuries. He was also in the last year of his contract, and counting 3.281 million against the cap. (as per his 2008 base salary and Signing bonus allocation per NetRat's cap spreadsheet). How much juice did he have left? It was not only a matter of salary, but a matter of future salary and roster space.
First, roster space. Is there the opportunity to fill the roster spot vacated by him with a player who would contribute at least as much, possibly in more ways, for at least the same cap number or less? I think we can agree that answer is yes. Is there any doubt that Kevin Smith will in all probability be able to play more than 13 games per season and get more than 600 yards as the #1 back? Granted the Lions didn't have Kevin Smith when they cut Jones, but they knew who was available in the draft -- and that was about a dozen backs who would be safe bets to replace the production Jones had shown over the last 3 seasons -- and at least a dozen more who would have been gambles, but relatively safe ones. The Lions needed more back-ups to have more positive contributions on special teams. But if you have KJ and a drafted back (Smith) as your #1 and #2 back...you have 2 of 4 active RB each week who are only playing offense.
Michael Turner, Tomlinson's backup, also played on the special teams coverage and return units. With the 53 man roster, and further limited number of game-day players, every position is important and everyone beyond your immediate starters needs to be able to contribute on special teams, or in multiple ways.
The next point is about not just the current cap savings of 2.54 million, but what about his 2009 pay? Killer got it right the first time around, and now he's back pedaling. The Lions never said Jones was washed up. They didn't say he couldn't be a productive back in the NFL. They didn't even say he couldn't fully recover and be a great back in 2009. What they did say is that he wouldn't be likely to win a starting job back until the 2nd half of the season, if at all.
These are the scenarios I picture the Lions considering at that time:
1. Jones makes it into camp, is able to participate some, and then is ready to start the season full tilt by say, game 3. then he makes it through the whole season and gets over 1,000 yards. Now what? Do you pay him a megabucks contract? That hasn't worked so well for the last few teams that have done so (think S. Alexander, Thomas Jones with NYJ, Dominic Rhodes, Edgerrin James). Marinelli has been more like the Colts or Patriots in player signing strategy lately than the Cardinals or Redskins (which is a good thing). So even if he does come back, odds on are the Lions were still going to have to draft a replacement for him, just to be sure (unless you think Tatum Bell is long-term insurance vs. one year "just in case") -- do you pay Jones big money, or let the new guy get in there and compete?
2. More likely, Jones come in and contributes the second half of the season. If Smith, for instance, had locked up the starting role, then what of Jones? He'd at that point be a very expensive third down back, unlikely to be resigned for the reasons above.
3. Jones doesn't recover to his rookie form, performs average and is not resigned at the end of the season, as some other team will out-bid them hoping another year will get him back to his Rookie form.
In all the scenarios the Lions were essentially in a situation where Jones was in a 1 year contract, and they could pay him -- or his replacement and a couple of badly needed solid free-agents.
Considering the upside and the downside for the Lions, it really made sense both in terms of potential contribution to the roster, current salary cap, and spending in the future.
Also, for those who point to signing Tatum Bell to "replace" Jones, they signed him to compete and be sure they had at least one healthy back going into the draft to give them options.
As we have seen and been talking about, the RB position is strong with great competition from talented players who are all pushing each other to try for a roster spot. How would Jones have fir into that competition? Cap wise, it is the same argument we are using for Bell possibly being cut. I checked, and cutting him would save 1.1 million to the cap. KJ -- had they brought him to camp -- would have been a 2.48 million savings. Based on likelihood to contribute, I find it hard to believe that with all the factors in play, KJ would have ended up on the final 53 barring a miracle. I think the Lions saw that too, and let him go early to help give them the latitude to sign needed veterans like B. Kelly, D. Smith, and C. Darby.
Whether or not Jones succeeds elsewhere in the League is not really relevant. For the Lions, based on the current situation, the costs of keeping Jones did not outweigh the benefits both for this season, and beyond -- even in the best case scenarios. It happens all the time around the league -- Drew Brees anyone? -- Jamall Lewis? -- Cory Dillon? -- Ahman Green? (to the Pack, not Houston) -- and plenty more. What really needs to be looked at is: what are the costs and relevant benefits - opportunity cost in economic terms. And for Jones, the opportunity cost of keeping him was higher than the benefits to be gained by releasing him. I'm sure they wouldn't hesitate to bring him back at the veteran minimum to compete in camp -- which I can guarantee is what New England and Tennessee were offering. Right now his agent is doing what agents do -- trying to get someone else to bid on his client, to get KJ something above Vet minimum. Not so sure that he'll get anyone to bite.
Honestly, and you can refer to this later, I don't care if he does go to Tennessee and plays us later in the season. Just as motivated as he will be to come back, the current backs will be motivated to show they are better than Jones, and the D will be motivated to kick his butt since he has now already implied that he'd run all over them given the chance. Not a real complimentary statement about the Lions D (true though it was last season) -- and one it seems guys would take offense at, should it come to that. Personally, I think a team like Arizona or Houston, in need of an additional back, will take a shot on him hoping he does come on by the second half of the season and will be able to contribute. But only, as Bob Barker liked to say, if the Price is Right...
That is my final take, and final word on Jones.