Chris Thompson signed with Jacksonville during the latter stages of offseason free agency this spring. But it wasn't for lack of interest from the Jaguars. Thompson told local media on Tuesday that he engaged with the Jaguars earlier on in the process, but due to his lengthy injury history, a new contract was slow to materialize.
But Thompson and the Jaguars were able to come to a final agreement, and the former Florida State star will have a homecoming in more ways than one. He signed a one-year deal worth just over $1 million.
Thompson is from the state of Florida and played his college ball at FSU in Tallahassee. And he's excited to return home to continue his professional career.
"That is one thing that I am super excited about," said Thompson. "Just to be back in my home state and be a lot closer to what I would say is my fanbase that has been there for years, even back to people that watched me play in high school. I am super excited about that, and then my family is an hour-and-a-half away now, so they will be able to come and watch me play and be able to spend some more time with me than they have been able to the past seven years. I think it will be good. I missed a lot of time, I missed a lot of holidays, and I will be able to make that time up. I am super excited about that. I just had a daughter, too. She is four months old, so I am happy about that and for my parents to be able to spend some time with her."
Thompson spent the last seven years in DC, playing for the Redskins. Being away from his family was trying for Thompson, and the return to Florida will afford the 29-year old runner more time with his loved ones.
But that's not the only reason signing with Jacksonville will feel like a homecoming for Chris Thompson. Jay Gruden was Thompson's head coach from 2014 to five games into the 2019 season before he was unceremoniously fired. They spent six years working together, and the two share a special bond.
"He is one of the biggest reasons I was able to have the success that I had in Washington and to be able to stick around there," said Thompson of Gruden. "The first year he got there, I was on the practice squad. I ended up being cut and put on the practice squad, but he talked to me afterwards for a while, after the last preseason game and told me what the situation was. He let me know from day one – 'I know this is going to be a hard year for you. You are probably mad and upset at everybody because you got cut, but I want you to come back here because I know the type of player you can be. I know you are going to play a bigger part in the future here with Washington, and I know you will be able to have a great impact on this team and on the players on this team.' He had that talk with me, and I really appreciated that. That was one reason why I ended up coming back and spending that practice squad year with Washington. It was tough, but having him and knowing that he had my back, it really meant a lot. Throughout this whole process and all my time there in Washington, he believed in me. He gave me every single opportunity that he possibly could."
And Gruden, who is now the Jaguars' offensive coordinator, helped Thompson land another opportunity here in Jacksonville. Playing for his former head coach once again should feel like home. The versatile running back will bring a wealth of experience in Gruden's offensive system that will be invaluable for the running back room and the offense as a whole.
"I'm a big lead-by-example type guy, so I think the biggest thing is just understanding how to be a pro and how important consistency is. That's the only thing. I'm just coming in here and just trying to help these guys with that part and any questions that they have. I'm in a situation where I know this offense pretty well, so being able to help these guys get an understanding of the offense as I know it and just on the field being able to help however I can. Whatever the situation might be after camp and everything, I'm going to do whatever I can to help those guys out. I know Leonard is the guy, so whenever he needs a break, I'm trying to go in there and just pick up where he left off. The biggest thing is just for guys, especially young guys, to just learn how to be a pro and what it takes and the work mentality that you have to put in. Physically, everybody has what they have. You are what you are. But on the mental aspect, just how to approach the game, how to approach every single day, and that's pretty much it."
While Thompson has plenty of experience in Jay Gruden's offense, and will undoubtedly help the other running backs, he'll need to be able to stay on the field to have the type of impact the Jaguars are hoping for. Thompson is a pass-catching specialist and has been a vital chess piece for Jay Gruden over the years.
The one problem?
Injuries. Thompson hasn't played in more than 11 games in a season since 2016, which was his best year as a pro. Thompson appears healthy heading into the summer, and he'll try to keep it that way as the regular season inches closer. But his homecoming could be short-lived if Thompson can't avoid the injury bug early on.
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