The Atlanta Falcons have worked hard to find some relief this offseason from what was a crippling salary cap situation. Trading quarterback Matt Ryan and his historic dead cap money to the Indianapolis Colts helped, but there are other veterans on the roster who represent hefty hits against this year’s finances.
One senior player, who like Ryan played for the Falcons in Super Bowl LI against the New England Patriots, was widely expected to be traded or cut. It’s a surprise then, one Falcons insider has reported the team now intends to keep this six-year pro, despite both his cost and the many moves made to overhaul personnel at his position.
The Falcons are trusting this holdover player and his attitude “won’t be a distraction” this season.
Expensive LB Staying Put
Deion Jones has spent the last few months as the subject of trade rumors. He’s also been touted as a likely cap casualty, but Jeff Schultz of The Athletic reports Jones is going nowhere:
It’s a surprising update about a player whose days in Atlanta appeared numbered. Jones has been dealing with a shoulder injury after a difficult season transitioning to the 3-4 defense preferred by coordinator Dean Pees. The recovery from surgery landed Jones on the PUP list to start training camp, per ESPN’s Michael Rothstein.
Those issues are compounded by Jones’ cap hit for 2022, a figure put at $20,018,431 by Spotrac.com. That number’s a potential drain on the continued efforts of general manager Terry Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith to rebuild the roster.
Trade rumors had Jones linked with the Dallas Cowboys by Bleacher Report’s Kristopher Knox, who noted how any trade partner would have to be “willing to take on some of the $24.9 million in dead money remaining on his contract.”
That financial burden is likely why the Falcons haven’t found a new home for a former Pro Bowler who still made 137 tackles and broke up six passes last season. If there’s no takers, the Falcons are right to keep Jones in the fold.
The problem, as Schultz detailed, is the Falcons won’t make significant savings by releasing Jones this offseason, even though the 27-year-old’s future is still far from certain:
If, as Schultz pointed out, things were to shift with Jones, it would likely be due to his inability to get on the field this season. There are simply too many new options in front of him.
Jones Odd Man Out in Rotation
Things have changed at inside linebacker, and changed enough to leave Jones on the outside looking in during 2022. Fontenot was busy during both free agency and the draft restocking the position.
The veteran market yielded former first-round pick Rashaan Evans, who played two seasons for Pees while the latter was defensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans. Evans’ fellow free-agent arrival, Nick Kwiatkoski, also has familiarity with this regime. He was drafted by the Chicago Bears in 2016 when Ryan Pace was general manager. Pace is now working in Fontenot’s front office.
Both Kwiatkoski and Evans are bulkier than 227-pound Jones and more suited to the physical demands of the 3-4. It’s a similar story with second-round pick Troy Andersen, a 6’3″ 243-pounder.
There’s also the presence of Mykal Walker, who has been playing alongside Evans with the starters early in camp, per The Athletic‘s Josh Kendall. Jones suddenly finds himself the forgotten man in a five-deep rotation.
While he’s safe for now, Jones still looks like a prime candidate to be traded before the deadline on November 1.