The NFL is a cut throat business. That is never more true than for running backs where the prevailing thought is a short shelf life that goes downhill fast at age 30. Maurice Jones-Drew just turned 29-years-old and has struggled with injuries the past two seasons that have sent the message to NFL teams, he's no longer a feature back in this league.
An All Pro just three seasons ago, he was not retained by the Jaguars this off-season and spent more than two weeks of free agents receiving little interest. He was reported as having visited the Steelers but left without a deal. From the sounds of it, it wasn't just the Steelers who declined.
After surveying the interest out there, or perhaps the lack thereof, a return home to play for his favorite team growing up in the Bay Area became the best option so he flew out and a 3-year deal was quickly struck.
"I have a ton left in my game," Jones-Drew said over conference call Friday. "I think people seem to look at running backs and say ‘Oh, you're 29, you don't have anything left' well, last year I was coming off a major foot surgery which most people don't even play until a year after and I played 15 games with. Then I didn't get an off-season to work out, I just kind of toughed it out through the season and then did everything I could to help us be as successful as possible. This year I get a full off-season. In 2012 I missed most all of training camp and played five games and missed most of the year with that injury and so only being the starter for three years and a backup for three I believe I have ton left in the tank. So, I get an opportunity to show that here in Oakland."
The idea of playing for his favorite team is inspirational and all but an NFL player choosing a team is about a lot more than that. They have to hear the right things from the team's management to know it's the right place for them and make a smart career decision. What Jones-Drew wanted was to hear he had a legitimate chance to prove he could still be a feature back.
"From who I've talked to and what I've heard is it's gonna be an open competition and that's really all I ask. There's some teams we talked to that, it was ‘we want you to help coach a guy' or ‘we want you to be a backup' and all I really wanted was a chance to compete and play and so the Raiders gave me that opportunity and I'm gonna take it and run with it."
"Oakland was willing to give me a 3-year deal, an opportunity with incentives to make plays and that's all I've asked is to be able to go out and show what I'm worth. That's what I'll be doing here."
Both sides believe this is not a one and done situation. Perhaps the day will arrive that he is more of a mentor and/or backup. But that time has not arrived yet.