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Insider Blog: Saving Tread

Posted Mar 10, 2010

Jones' signing is a win-win for both the veteran and the youngster in KC's backfield

All offseason we’ve heard about the “mutual fit.” The hiring of Charlie Weis, Romeo Crennel and Emmitt Thomas all qualified as solid “mutual fits.” A press conference has yet to be held to welcome Thomas Jones to Kansas City, but you can bet that “mutual fit” comes up in that discussion as well.

Could there be a better partnership for the Chiefs, Jones or Jamaal Charles in this instance?

Jones’ signing in Kansas City is a win-win-win for the above trio. Add in the Chiefs fan base and the signing represents a win-win-win-win. Wins all around for KC, which will hopefully translate into tangible victories next fall.

Jones represents an aging player, which isn’t a bad thing…and by aging we’re talking about celebrating a 32nd birthday in 2010. What Jones benefits from in this deal is the protection of a role that helps allow him continued success at this level. He’s a player who has gone against the trend that others before him have set, churning out increasingly productive seasons aged 30 and up (2008 and 2009).

Even as an exception to the rule, a feature role for a back aged 30 and up will take its toll, and productivity will naturally decrease as a result.

Give a +1 for Jones and his new role as a supplement to Charles. His home in Kansas City should help extend the productivity he’s enjoyed each of the past two seasons.

Jones’ backfield mate, on the other hand, gets protection as well. Too many times we have seen young runners get pounded into the ground with carry after carry before ultimately suffering injury and never being the same. Atlanta’s Jamal Anderson is a prime example after establishing a league-record 410 carries in 1998.

For the Chiefs, we’ve seen the Anderson-factor before as well with RB Larry Johnson. Since Johnson broke Anderson’s record with 416 carries in 2006 he has yet to put together a full NFL season. The prospects of that happening again don’t look promising.

There are no guarantees when it comes to durability, but you’d have to believe that Charles’ productivity would be in danger of shortening with a full season of the workload he saw to close out 2009. Let’s also give a +1 to Charles for his some support in helping protect and extend his greatest asset – speed.

Believe it or not, the Chiefs passing game improves as well with the addition of Jones and it’s not because Kansas City could become a more run-oriented team. Having another respected ball carrier allows far more flexibility to utilize Charles in space. Motions out of the backfield, lining up outside of the tight end and splitting wide will all demand opposing defenses to take a more honest approach with Thomas standing in the backfield.

Yes, there is a possibility we could see both Charles and Jones in the backfield at the same time. If only we could crawl into the mind of Todd Haley right now and see some of the plans that he has in store. Those days will come to us in the fall.

Jones’ signing also sends to us a reminder that there is no need to panic at the beginning of free agency. How different is the feeling this morning in Kansas City compared to the feeling on Monday morning, before the Chiefs had re-signed Chambers and acquired Jones? It’s like night and day.

Jones has truly broken the aged-30 running back barrier and he’s shown no signs of slowing down. The dreaded 3-0 has taken many elite runners down with it, particularly those asked to play a feature role in the backfield at that age.

Take a look at the NFL’s rushing champions since 1999 who have been asked to play the role of feature back at age 30.

*Edgerrin James (rushing titles in 1999, 2000)

· Age 30: 2008 season

· 2008 Result: career lows in both rushes (133) and rushing yards (514)

· Seasons after 30th (1): currently out of football – broke previous career lows in 2009

Priest Holmes (rushing title in 2001)

· Age 30: 2003 season

· 2003 Result: numbers dipped, but still elite (320 carries for 1,420 yards)

· Seasons after 30th (4): only 19 games played over the span of four seasons – injuries played a major role as a feature back

Curtis Martin (rushing title in 2004)

· Age 30: 2003 season

· 2003 Result: rushed for 1,308 yards

· Seasons after 30th (1): won NFL rushing title at age 31 in 2004, but finished 2005 on injured reserve and retired from football in 2006

Shaun Alexander (rushing title in 2005)

· Age 30: 2007 season

· 2007 Result: worst rushing totals since rookie season (207 carries for 716 yards)

· Seasons after 30th (1): only played in four games in 2008, totaling 11 carries for 24 yards

LaDainian Tomlinson (rushing titles in 2006, 2007)

· Age 30: 2009 season

· 2009 Result: career lows in both rushes (223), rushing yards (730) and yards per carry (3.3)

· Seasons after 30th (0): TBD

Adrian Peterson (2008) and Chris Johnson (2009) have yet to celebrate their 30th birthdays.

*James began the 2008 season as Arizona’s feature back before Tim Hightower took over the duties mid-season.

The only player missing from the above list is Ricky Williams. He’s also the only former rushing leader since 1999 to truly rotate in a platoon situation since age 30. Williams turned 30 in 2007 and has benefited from both a few years out of the game and another go-to running in the backfield (Ronnie Brown). The saved tread showed in 2009 when Brown went down to injury and Williams responded with a 1,100-yard season.

Jones has already charged through the age barrier with increasing productivity. It’s the same point that each of those elite rushers began to stumble. He now finds himself in an ideal situation to continue to elongate his rushing skills.

We talked about it earlier this week (Insider Blog: Solo Dance?). The top rushing teams in this league, outside of Tennessee and Chris Johnson, utilize a two-back approach. When it comes to Charles and the Chiefs, adding Thomas is a solid decision for both the long and short term.

Charles could very well lead the NFL in rushing one day. With the addition of Jones, Charles’ probability of joining the above list may decrease.

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