GREEN BAY – It has been quite the offseason for Aaron Jones.
The Packers' Pro Bowl running back reworked his contract in February, watched his cousin Tristen Newton make a colossal NCAA tournament run with UConn during March Madness and is now one of six current and former players participating in the 17th annual Tailgate Tour across the state of Wisconsin this week.
It all culminates in the start of the 2023 offseason program next Monday, a fitting capstone to what's been a flurry of activity in recent months for Jones.
"It's been great," said Jones of his offseason prior to departing from Lambeau Field on Tuesday morning. "Just getting it back in, getting that grind in, getting back stronger and getting myself back up for the grind. It's been a lot of fun. I fall back in love with it every time."
The 28-year-old running back is coming off one of his best statistical seasons after rushing for a career-high 1,121 yards on 213 carries (5.3 yards per rush) in 2022. Still, Jones and the Packers had to iron out some contractual matters this winter, as the organization sorted out its salary cap situation for next season.
It's a reality most contending teams have had to come to grips with in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. The trickle-down effect has seen front offices tighten their belts in order to stay under the cap threshold, causing players leaguewide to take stock of their own situations.
For Jones, the decision was simple – he wanted to be in Green Bay and two sides quickly came to a new arrangement to keep the Packers' third all-time leading rusher in the mix for 2023. Jones felt it was a win-win for both sides, too. He is still one of the highest-paid players at his position, while the Packers retained their biggest offensive playmaker amidst a critical transition from Aaron Rodgers to Jordan Love at quarterback.
"This is home for me," Jones said. "Those guys in the locker room, those are my brothers. The people upstairs, they believe in me, and they believed in me since I've gotten here.
"This is still the most I've ever made, and it still has me as the second-highest paid for the backs, so it matched up with the market. I didn't want to be greedy. I'm a team player. I want to help the team and help them get as many guys in here as we can. So, if that means free up a little money, then I will."
Jones spent his offseason training at Bommarito Performance Systems in Miami but still found time for family and friends. During the NCAA men's basketball tournament, he and his twin brother Alvin traveled the country to cheer on their cousin during UConn's thrilling run to the program's fifth national championship.
Like the Jones twins, Newton starred at Burges High School in El Paso, Texas, before matriculating to East Carolina University. Newton started three seasons before transferring to UConn last year. He scored 19 points with 10 rebounds and four assists during last week's 76-59 win over San Diego State in national title game.
Afterwards, Aaron and Alvin joined Newton on the court for the championship celebration.
"It was surreal," Jones said. "As a kid, you dream of playing in that tournament, the tournament of all tournaments, and to go and win it all, and have faith in him. I called it from the beginning, so I'd like to pat myself on the back. No, I'm just very proud of him. That was his goal going in and transferring, and they did it. Not a lot of people believed in them, but they believed in themselves as a team and got it done."
After UConn advanced to the Final Four last month, Jones took a short a flight from Las Vegas to California to work out with Love and his longtime coach, Steven Calhoun. While developing chemistry with Love is crucial, Jones also was eager to work with Calhoun on his own route-running and pass-catching.
Second-year receiver Romeo Doubs has been working out with Love, too, though he wasn't there the day Jones was in town. As the Packers continue working toward a trade of Aaron Rodgers to the New York Jets, Jones is staying locked in on what's in front him but came away from the workout impressed by Jordan Love's continued development.
"He was comfortable, throwing the ball with swag," Jones said. "He knows where he wants to be and he's going to keep working to get there."
A switch from a four-time MVP quarterback to a first-year starter could result in more responsibility being placed upon Jones and fellow running back AJ Dillon. If that's the case, Jones says the two will be ready for it. But regardless of who's under center, Jones wants his QB to know there are "guys in your corner that no matter what happens we're gonna play for you." That starts with Jones being the best version of himself.
"Control the controllables, do what I can control – and that's work on my game and continue to evolve," Jones said. "Help whoever's back there at quarterback when the time comes. The only way I can do that is to continue to put in work and make sure I'm on the top of my game."