Tony Jones Jr. is the backup RB the Saints always wanted

Tony Jones Jr., New Orleans Saints. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
Tony Jones Jr., New Orleans Saints. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images) /

The New Orleans Saints released veteran running back Latavius Murray on Tuesday, which paves the way for Tony Jones Jr. to take the backup role this season.

According to ESPN, New Orleans wanted Murray to take a pay cut but he refused. In a different year the Saints may have wanted to negotiate further, but with second-year RB Tony Jones Jr.’s recent rise to the top, the Saints were ultimately willing to part with Murray after two productive years in NOLA.

In 2019, Murray signed a four-year $14.4 million contract and paired up with running mate Alvin Kamara to round out the Saints’ RB room. In two seasons, Murray racked up 1,293 rushing yards, 411 receiving yards, and nine touchdowns, starting in about half of the games he played.

Obviously Kamara gets the perennial honor of being the Saints’ No. 1 RB star, but when he sat out a few games due to injury in 2019, Murray stepped in as an every-down back and gained valuable yards in both those games.

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Murray will be missed, but his successor, the young and undrafted Tony Jones Jr., is the cheaper but better value option the Saints need in 2021.

New Orleans Saints backup running back Tony Jones Jr. is a gamble worth taking

As a rookie, Jones appeared in one game for the Saints and logged three carries for 13 yards. But his stock (and fantasy value) soared in preseason when Jones led the team with 106 rushing yards in two preseason games, adding one touchdown and six catches for 42 yards.

Jones doesn’t have the seven season pro tenure that Murray has, nor does he have a 1,000-yard season or a single Pro Bowl under his belt.

His value lies solely in his potential for making an impact on the Saints, and we’ll just have to see how Sean Payton decides to run his offensive scheme this year. Kamara could get even more touches than before after Murray’s release, but New Orleans have liked what they’ve seen from Jones so far. Who’s to say he won’t develop into an even better RB than Murray?

Based on his college stats, Jones may not provide as much value as a receiver — he only caught 21 passes for 261 yards and two touchdowns in his last two seasons at Notre Dame. He did become his school’s No. 1 ball-carrier as a senior, though, and he averaged six yards per carry that year.

If Jones doesn’t work out, the Saints have still retained Dwayne Washington and Ty Montgomery, who have some experience at the running back position.

But depending on those guys is just manifesting a bad season for Jones, which we don’t think he’ll have.

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As Murray scours the league for another team (the Ravens, perhaps?), Jones will suit up and prepare for the biggest career moments of his life in 2021. The Saints won’t regret this decision one bit.