JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jacksonville Jaguars want running back Maurice Jones-Drew back next season.
Jones-Drew is doing all he can to make it happen.
He's sharing carries, playing through injuries and complaining about nothing. He's all in, fully committed to what's happening in Jacksonville under coach Gus Bradley, general manager Dave Caldwell and owner Shad Khan.
"I want to be here," Jones-Drew said. "It's a fun environment. It's different than I've ever been a part of. It works. It takes time to build anything. It's starting to turn around for us, and we're starting to play well. That's exciting."
It also might keep Jones-Drew from testing the free-agent market.
Jones-Drew has three games remaining on a five-year, $31 million contract he signed in 2009. He's earning $4.95 million this season.
Caldwell has made it clear he wants Jones-Drew back — at the right price. Caldwell declined to discuss details, not wanting to tip his hand before negotiations begin after the season.
But some believe the Jaguars will start with a two-year, incentive-laden deal that could be worth up to $10 million.
"Seeing what I've seen and been through the business part of it, you want to work that thing out as best as possible," Jones-Drew said. "But sometimes it doesn't do that. We've seen it. Look at Peyton Manning. Who would have thought he wouldn't be playing for the Colts right now.
"It happens. Hopefully, things work out well. And if they do, we'll be back."
Jones-Drew sat out the entire 2012 offseason as well as training camp and most of the preseason, hoping to get the team to renegotiate his deal. The Jaguars never budged, even though former general manager Gene Smith and owner Wayne Weaver essentially promised him a new contract in 2011.
MJD led the NFL with 1,606 yards rushing that season. He injured his left foot in October 2012 and missed the final 10 games of last season.
He returned this season and has carried 208 times for 719 yards and five touchdowns. The Jaguars rank last in the league in total offense and rushing, but Caldwell believes Jones-Drew can be a reliable runner even as he creeps closer and closer to his 30th birthday.
One of the best pass-blocking backs in the league, MJD also could help break in a new quarterback next season.
It's not a role he would have excelled in a few years ago, but MJD's more mature these days.
"I just want to be a leader," he said. "Back when I was young and doing some wild stuff, we had older guys that would be like, 'All right, calm down.' Well, now I look around here and I'm like, 'All right, where are these older guys at?' Oh, I'm one of them. So you've kind of got to change some things, especially with what we've been going through."
The Jaguars (4-9) have won four of their last five games — a modest turnaround after a winless first half of the season that included eight double-digit losses.
As Bradley tells it, getting Jones-Drew onboard with the team's "get better" approach was a huge help in the locker room, in the meeting rooms and in the huddle.
"The cool thing was it made a lot of sense to him," Bradley said.
It took some time, though.
Bradley recalled his first day with the team in March. Players were going through conditioning tests, and Jones-Drew balked at one of the requirements. Bradley was 12 minutes away from his first team meeting when an assistant told him Jones-Drew wanted to talk.
Bradley briefly considered brushing Jones-Drew off until after the meeting, but instead opted to let him vent. They talked it out, and Jones-Drew has been a model teammate since.
Even through mounting and frustrating losses.
Even through the staff's request that he share carries with Jordan Todman.
Even through nagging injuries, the latest one being a strained hamstring that could cause him to miss Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills.
"He's been great, he really has been," Bradley said. "When you're an elite running back — he had like 1,600 yards — those guys want the ball all the time. It's a different mindset now. When you say, 'Let's try this,' he could bow up. He could say, 'What's going on?'
"And if he did do that, I would understand. He fought it a little bit, then he said 'OK.' I'm sure he's not waving pompoms and is ecstatic over it. But the truth of the matter is he's doing better."
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