Ex-Packer Aaron Jones gets a fresh start as the Vikings enter their post-Kirk Cousins era

Published 9:48 pm Thursday, March 14, 2024

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EAGAN, Minn. (AP) — Aaron Jones sauntered into the room, wearing a wide smile, designer sunglasses and a purple hat.

In case this fresh look for his introductory news conference at the Minnesota Vikings’ headquarters wasn’t unfamiliar enough, the former Green Bay running back — as he got up to leave when it was over — clapped his hands above his head and broke into a brief “Skol!” chant in tribute to the stadium ritual performed at each game by the fans who rooted hard against him just a couple of months ago.

“I wanted to go where I was wanted,” Jones said Thursday, “and that’s here.”

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The NFL is never a more fast-moving business than in March, as Jones was fully part of this week. The Packers publicly declared their desire to bring him back for an eighth season in green and gold, but as is often the case in this league, they were ultimately only willing to do so at their price.

Released on Monday — when the Packers were working on a new deal with his replacement, 2022 All-Pro Josh Jacobs — Jones had a contract with the Vikings by the next morning.

As he took questions from reporters about the switch to Green Bay’s fiercest rival, following the path blazed by Ryan Longwell, Brett Favre, Greg Jennings and Za’Darius Smith among others, Jones deftly avoided dropping any hint of bitterness toward his former team like he was dodging tacklers on the field. He kept his focus squarely on Minnesota, raving about how the organization had treated him and his family upon arrival.

“It’s not strange at all. It’s football,” Jones said. “You change teams and you change teammates. That’s part of the game.”

Like Jones, the Vikings themselves were in the nascent stage of their fresh start at quarterback after the departure of Kirk Cousins for Atlanta.

“Sometimes things just don’t work out. I think the most important thing is that alignment and the understanding that our plan is in place,” coach Kevin O’Connell said. “In the end, as much as I would’ve liked to have Kirk here, the right thing moving forward for our team is where we are today.”

Newcomer Sam Darnold, the third overall pick in the 2018 draft who was signed to be at least a temporary sub, sat next to Jones about two hours after Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell had shared the same podium to discuss their path forward.

“We’ve been very clear that we think we could win a Super Bowl with Kirk Cousins, but we have a sport that only gets you a certain number of draft picks, a salary cap, competition versus other teams. It’s a resource-constrained thing, so we don’t get the chance to just say, binary, yes or no,” Adofo-Mensah said. “There has to be planning and strategy in involved.”

The Vikings continued to fill other vacancies on Thursday by agreeing to terms on contracts with defensive tackle Jerry Tillery and wide receiver Trent Sherfield.

Tillery was a 2019 first-round draft pick — 28th overall — out of Notre Dame by the Los Angeles Chargers. The 27-year-old was waived midway through the 2022 season and claimed by Las Vegas, which released him last week. The 6-foot-6, 295-pound Tillery played in all 17 games for the Raiders in 2023, with 31 tackles, six quarterback hits and two sacks.

Sherfield has played for Arizona, San Francisco, Miami and Buffalo after entering the league undrafted out of Vanderbilt in 2018. He played in all 17 games for the Bills last season, with 11 receptions for 86 yards and one touchdown.

The Vikings also introduced three new defensive players destined for key roles: edge rushers Jonathan Greenard and Andrew Van Ginkel and inside linebacker Blake Cashman.

The Minnesota native Cashman was having a hard time grasping his good fortune, getting to go to his hometown team along with a friend in Greenard as they both departed Houston. They also received the welcome news that six-time Pro Bowl safety Harrison Smith accepted a pay cut and decided to return for a 13th season in the NFL, all with the Vikings.

“That tells me everything I need to know about who he is,” Cashman said, “and what type of organization this is.”