JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The Jacksonville Jaguars opened a new era Tuesday without their star player.
All-Pro running back Maurice Jones-Drew skipped the opening day of the team's voluntary orientation for veterans in what appears to be a contract dispute.
Jones-Drew is scheduled to make $4.45 million this season, considerably less than fellow running backs Chris Johnson, Arian Foster and Marshawn Lynch.
"It would've been nice to have Maurice Jones-Drew here," new coach Mike Mularkey said. "I can't ask any of them to be here. We want them to be here ... just to kind of get a feel for how we are, what they can expect from us and he just was one of the no-shows."
Jones-Drew was one of two players under contract not on hand for the start of the three-day session. Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton is sitting home following eye surgery. Place-kicker Josh Scobee also is not attending, but he has yet to sign the team's franchise tender and is hoping to get a long-team deal done.
Jones-Drew seemingly wants one, too.
He led the NFL in rushing last season, gaining 1,606 yards for the league's worst offense and making his third consecutive Pro Bowl. He has two years remaining on a five-year deal worth $31 million that he signed in 2009. The deal included $17.5 million guaranteed.
Mularkey said he had an idea Jones-Drew would not attend the minicamp because he skipped the last two weeks of offseason conditioning, but added that he was unaware whether Jones-Drew's absence was contract related.
Jones-Drew married his longtime girlfriend April 1 in California.
"Maybe he's on a really, really good honeymoon," Mularkey said.
Jones-Drew was not required to attend, but surely Mularkey would have liked to have his best player and a team captain on hand for the start of his first season in Jacksonville.
"As I told the team, I appreciated their effort to be here," Mularkey said. "Absolutely voluntary. No hard feelings, nothing held against you if you're not here. All we said was if you were not going to be here, please let us know that you will not be or if you're going to miss a day. That's all we asked about him."
General manager Gene Smith did not respond to an email from The Associated Press regarding Jones-Drew's absence, and Jones-Drew's agent, Adisa Bakari, did not return a phone call.
Jones-Drew is entering his seventh season. He has 6,854 yards rushing, 2,473 yards receiving and 74 total touchdowns. He carried a career-high 343 times last season, averaging 4.7 yards even though defenses knew he was the focal point of Jacksonville's offense.
It makes sense that he would want a new deal after a career year. Plus, he's considered underpaid compared to some of the league's other top backs. Johnson is getting $13.5 million annually. Foster is making $8.7 million a year. And Lynch is earning $7.75 annually. St. Louis' Steven Jackson, Carolina's DeAngelo Williams and Minnesota's Adrian Peterson also make more than Jones-Drew.
Jones-Drew, a California native, has missed offseason workouts in Jacksonville before and been fine.
"I think he knows how to condition himself at this point in his career," Mularkey said. "We'd like him to be here, but again, for some reason" he's not.
Teammates expressed less concern.
"When Maurice gets here, he goes to work," tight end and college teammate Marcedes Lewis said. "Obviously, he's doing things his way right now. Hopefully we'll get him out here soon. It is what it is. I'm not mad at him. It's the decisions you make. I know Maurice works hard, so once he gets here he's going to be on his horse."
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