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Like Aaron Rodgers, Aaron Jones ‘would love to be a lifelong Packer’ — but will he?
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Like Aaron Rodgers, Aaron Jones ‘would love to be a lifelong Packer’ — but will he?

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GREEN BAY — As much that has been made about the Green Bay Packers selecting quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ heir apparent last month, he’s not the only Aaron who saw a potential replacement arrive via the draft.

Just as the Packers’ first-round selection of Utah State quarterback Jordan Love signaled the likelihood of Rodgers no longer being the team’s starting quarterback in the not-too-distant future, general manager Brian Gutekunst’s second-round pick of Boston College running back AJ Dillon has to be viewed as — at the very least — an indicator the team is prepping for life without running back Aaron Jones.

Jones is coming off a breakout season in which he eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the first time (1,084), surpassed 1,500 total yards from scrimmage (1,558) and tied for the NFL lead in total touchdowns (19). But he also is entering the final year of his rookie contract, and as he spoke with Wisconsin reporters during a Zoom video conference call Wednesday from his hometown of El Paso, Texas, Jones insisted neither the arrival of Dillon nor his own contract situation will ratchet up the pressure on him in 2020.

“Whether it’s my first year or my last year on a deal, I’m going to be just as motivated,” Jones said. “It doesn’t change just because a contract is on the line for me. I’m going to continue to work and do everything in my power. I trust my agency and the Packers.

“With that, I would love to be a lifelong Packer. That’s my take on that.”

A fifth-round pick in 2017, Jones was terrific when healthy during his first two seasons, averaging 5.5 yards per carry and scoring 13 total touchdowns, bringing a vastly different element to the Packers’ underutilized running game under previous coach Mike McCarthy. But he only played in 12 games each of those first two seasons and ended both on injured reserve with knee injuries.

In his first year playing for Matt LaFleur, Jones had more carries last season (236) than he did his first two years combined (214), caught more passes (49) than he did in his first two years (35) and carried the offense during a four-game stretch in which No. 1 wide receiver Davante Adams was sidelined with a toe injury.

“Certainly, Aaron was dynamic for us,” Gutekunst said earlier this offseason. “Him and Davante, from an explosive play (standpoint), they were kind of carrying us a little bit there. So, I think I was impressed with his ability to stay healthy and stay out there.

“He certainly had more touches than he’s had (in previous seasons). So that proved a lot to us. He’s such important part of what Matt’s trying to do on offense. He’s a versatile piece. You can move him all around. Really makes it tough on defenses. So, really excited to see him in Year 2 of Matt’s offense, as well.”

Jones is set to earn a $2.147 million base salary this season, having earned a major pay raise through the league’s proven performance escalator. But with the running back market depressed in recent years — save for the four-year, $64 million extension Carolina’s Christian McCaffrey received earlier this spring and Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott’s six-year, $90 million deal signed last September — it’s hard to know what Jones’ earning power is.

And with the selection of Dillon in the second round, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Jones might end up elsewhere in 2021, especially given the other key players who also are in the last years of their deals. That list includes left tackle David Bakhtiari, nose tackle Kenny Clark, cornerback Kevin King, center Corey Linsley and No. 2 running back Jamaal Williams.

“I bet on myself and I feel like I can play at a high level for a really long time. I’m not looking at the running back market, I’m just focused on myself,” Jones said. “I feel like I can play at a really level and elite level for a very long time, so I’m just going to do what I can and hopefully that leads to me being a Packer for life. That’s my goal.”

Like Rodgers with Love, Jones said he is “excited to work with” Dillon and vowed to “help him as much as possible.” Jones said Dillon has been texting him for pointers on the playbook ever since the team’s virtual offseason program began.

Asked specifically about the addition of Dillon and how it impacts the running back position, Jones replied: “I mean, I know I have no control over that, so it doesn’t disappoint me to know they’re bringing in competition to keep the rooms competitive, to make sure everybody’s competing and just raise the level of competition. It’s not that I’m surprised or anything. It’s the NFL, and you never know what can happen.”

That’s also true of real life, as Jones became a father over the offseason when his girlfriend, Crystal Molina, gave birth to their son, Aaron Jr., on April 17.

“Having a baby in the midst of a pandemic, it was a little different,” Jones said. “I’m glad I was able to be here (in Texas) and still able to be here with my baby. He’s doing great, healthy. It’s definitely been a blessing, but it’s definitely been different, as well.”

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