Marcus Peters is a free agent, but the Baltimore Ravens can secure a more versatile replacement for the veteran cornerback in 2023 NFL free agency. A raid on the New England Patriots can yield two-time Super Bowl champion Jonathan Jones, who enjoyed a breakout season in 2022.
Jones makes sense for the Ravens at a position where Peters’ potential exit would leave them short for next season. Signing 29-year-old, former undrafted free agent Jones would let Ravens’ defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald continue moving the other members of his secondary around to create different looks and confuse quarterbacks, an approach that worked well this season.
Patriots Offer Good Scheme Fit for Ravens
The Ravens will struggle to find a better scheme fit on the veteran market than Jones, according to Brad Spielberger of Pro Football Focus: “Jones’ versatility as a cornerback who can play outside — as evidenced by a strong 2022 season — and in the slot makes him a good fit for a creative Ravens defense that does a lot of mixing and matching on the backend. Cornerback Marlon Humphrey and safety Kyle Hamilton will also rotate into the slot based on matchups, and Jones could allow them to continue to move defensive backs all over the formation.”
Being able to slide defensive backs into different positions helps the Ravens disguise coverage and pressure. Those disguises are why Baltimore’s defense ranked third in points and ninth in yards during Macdonald’s first year calling plays.
Showing different looks is something defensive players get used to in New England. Patriots’ head coach Bill Belichick has long mastered the art of keeping offenses guessing, often showing one type of coverage, only for his defensive backs to sink into a different technique.
Jones is one of many unheralded cornerbacks who have thrived in Belichick’s schemes. It was Jones who helped to replace J.C. Jackson when the latter left for the Los Angeles Chargers last offseason.
The new starter responded with career-highs of four interceptions, 11 pass breakups and three forced fumbles, despite moving from the slot to the outside. Those statistics were borne from the Patriots trusting Jones to stay on the field more often, per Spielberger: “Jones played a career-high 914 snaps in 2022 — his first season playing primarily outside — and did see his performance tail off a bit down the stretch, but he still earned very respectable 68.1 overall and 67.9 coverage grades. Jones is also a good run defender and tackler, earning 75.0-plus run-defense grades in back-to-back seasons.”
More than his numbers, Jones developed a knack for being able to play on an island in single coverage and still make plays, something PFF highlighted early in the season:
Jones became adept playing in off-man coverage, where he could still read quarterbacks and jump other routes. That’s what he did when snagged this interception, highlighted by Casey Baker of Binge Sports, against Lamar Jackson and the Ravens in Week 3:
Given how often the Ravens use pattern-read coverages, Jones would quickly find a home in Macdonald’s system.
Ravens Have Developed More Nuanced Coverage
Macdonald replacing Don ‘Wink’ Martindale as coordinator led to the Ravens developing a more nuanced form of coverage. Whereas Martindale often preferred man coverage, usually Cover 0 without safeties over the top, Macdonald has kept safeties deep and played matchup zones.
It’s the gameplan the Ravens used in three games against Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals, including the 24-17 defeat in the Wild Card Playoffs. The scheme was broken down by ESPN analyst Matt Bowen:
Adding Jones to this blueprint would give the Ravens perhaps the most diverse defensive backfield in the NFL. Macdonald would be able to continue mixing zone and man-coverage principles to create turnovers.
He’d also be able to field a formidable cornerback tandem by pairing Jones with Pro-Bowler Marlon Humphrey. The latter was the stingiest cover man in the league this season, according to PFF BAL Ravens:
Humphrey and Peters have excelled playing together, but a Jones and Humphrey duo is better equipped to bring Macdonald’s playbook to life. Jones may be 30 in September, but the Ravens wouldn’t make a smarter investment in free agency this year.