Deion Jones appears destined to leave the Atlanta Falcons this offseason. The second-round pick from 2016 is one of the few members of the roster who played in the franchises’s last Super Bowl appearance, but Jones has consistently been mentioned as a potential trade candidate this year.
Declining skills, a few injuries and a high salary all point to Jones finding a new home sooner rather than later. So does the middle linebacker’s questionable fit in the 3-4 scheme defensive coordinator Dean Pees wants to run.
The Falcons have taken action and made a decision about Jones with veteran participation at training camp less than a week away. It’s a decision that keeps a lot of options, including a trade, still on the table.
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Falcons Take Action Regarding Jones
Jones was officially placed on the PUP list on Thursday, July 21, per ESPN’s Michael Rothstein:
Although Jones isn’t required to miss six weeks, like he would be if he were added to the PUP list during the season, this is still a setback for a player whose status is uncertain. Specifically, it could mean more missed practice time if he’s not taken off the list by the time veterans report to camp on Tuesday, July 26.
He missed OTAs during June while rehabbing a shoulder problem, according to Falcons beat reporter Tori McElhaney. The problem is thought to have required offseason surgery, something reported by NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.
The injury is a concern, although Jones has generally been durable during his six-year career, beginning with starting every game as a rookie His debut campaign ended with losing to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI. Jones missed 10 games in 2018 after foot surgery but has sat out just one game in the three seasons since.
Timing is the issue with this latest setback. Jones can’t afford for there to be any doubts about his status when the Falcons have recruited so many new faces at his position.
Jones Still Falcons’ Most Viable Trade Candidate
Those new faces include free-agent arrivals Rashaan Evans and Nick Kwiatkoski, along with second-round draft pick Troy Andersen. They are all more physically suited to the system Pees is calling.
At 6’1″ and 227 pounds, Jones isn’t a good fit for the 3-4 front, where inside linebackers often need to take on guards in the trenches. Kwiatkoski tips the scales at 6’2″ and 242 pounds, while 6’4″, 235-pounder Andersen also offers more size than Jones.
There’s also greater scheme-related experience on the depth chart this year. Kwiatkoski played in a 3-4 defense during four seasons with the Chicago Bears, before joining the Las Vegas Raiders in 2020.
Evans has more immediate knowledge of the playbook, having spent two seasons playing for Pees when the latter was defensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans. It leaves Jones as the odd man out in the rotation.
His problem is compounded by a hefty salary set to count for $20,018,431 against this year’s salary cap, per Spotrac.com. It’s why Jones is so often mentioned as somebody the Falcons should trade before the start of this season.
One scenario put forward by Bleacher Report’s Kristopher Knox involves Jones being dealt to the Dallas Cowboys for a sixth-round pick in next year’s draft. Jones’ exit has been called “almost-certain” by Jeff Schultz of The Athletic, although he acknowledged “getting another team to take Jones’ guaranteed salary of $13.64 million (base and bonuses) won’t be easy — even for a low draft pick.”
The Falcons have a strong financial motive to hold out for a trade, as Pro Football Focus’ Brad Spielberger explained:
Any lingering injury could scupper those plans, but perhaps that’s why Jones has been put on the PUP list with camp looming. It gives Jones time to fully recover and won’t expose him to any more injuries during practice sessions.
In the meantime, the Falcons will hope one linebacker-needy team decides Jones is worth trading a future draft pick to acquire.