Jets Called ‘Team to Watch’ as Pro Bowler’s Release Is ‘Almost-Certain’

Jeff Ulbrich

Getty His coaching ties to defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich make this veteran a potential fit for the New York Jets.

Earlier in May, we mentioned that the New York Jets could be “in the running” for former Pro Bowl linebacker Deion Jones, should the Atlanta Falcons make him available.

The veteran came up as a name to watch on the trade market because of his contract and the connections to the Jets and Dallas Cowboys coaching staffs are obvious. His ex-linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich is now defensive coordinator in New York and his old head coach Dan Quinn is now DC in Dallas.

On May 23, The Athletic’s Jeff Schultz provided an update on Jones, and it only added fuel to the fire of a potential reunion with the Jets or Cowboys.

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Post-June 1 Cut Is ‘Likely Imminent’

Schultz didn’t mince words in his article. The Falcons have been unable to find a trade partner for Jones and the divorce is “likely imminent” following the June 1 deadline. He explained:

Some NFL teams have held off cutting or trading players until June to minimize the 2022 salary-cap hit by pushing dead money to 2023. Count Jones’ almost-certain exit from Atlanta among the casualties. He is paid far too much money for far too little production and clearly isn’t part of the team’s long-term rebuilding plan.

Jones’ contract, which was extended in 2019 and amended in 2021, has a team-high salary-cap hit of $20.05 million in 2022. Cutting Jones before June 1 would create a $24.32 dead-money hit. That drops slightly to $18.98 million with a post-June 1 cut, still a massive hit but a savings of $1.07 million, with the advantage of him being off the books for 2023.

Schultz also noted that the writing is on the wall after the decisions during the offseason. The Falcons signed veteran inside linebackers in Rashaan Evans and Nick Kwiatkoski, and also drafted ILB Troy Andersen. Those additions joined three new outside linebackers — Arnold Ebiketie, DeAngelo Malone and Lorenzo Carter.

Even if the savings are minimal, Jones’ presence on Atlanta’s roster does more harm than good at the moment.

“Trading Jones after June 1 would be the team’s preference,” Schultz continued. “It would transfer most financial guarantees to Jones’ next team, and the dead-money hit to the Falcons would be only $5.34 million. But 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.”

Based on the relatively quiet market since the initial report that the Pro Bowler could become available, it’s a safe bet that potential suitors are waiting on Jones’ eventual release.

BREAKING NEWS UPDATE

A May 26 update from Ari Meirov confirmed that “Jones underwent should surgery and will miss the offseason workout program.”

D. Orlando Ledbetter of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that the Falcons expect Jones “to be ready for training camp in late July” — assuming he’s on the roster. Realistically, this only adds more reason to believe he’ll be cut by Atlanta in June.

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Will the Jets Make a Play on Jones?

Football news site uSTADIUM was all over the Jones coverage in early May and they were involved again on May 24. After sourcing Schultz, the analysts at uSTADIUM called Gang Green a “team to watch” if the linebacker were to hit the open market.

It makes plenty of sense based on the Ulbrich ties we mentioned above, but is Jones still a fit with his former DC? Here are some questions to consider.

Are the Jets looking for a linebacker?

Supposedly, the Green & White were “very interested” in veteran Kwon Alexander, who bears some similarities to Jones as a former coverage LB with experience. So far, nothing has materialized with the ex-San Francisco 49er that has ties to head coach Robert Saleh.

The Jets have also praised their starting linebacker duo of C.J. Mosley and Quincy Williams, and it feels unlikely that they’d bench a rising prospect like Williams for a regressing vet like Jones. Having said that, the position group gets real shallow real fast after those two and if the Falcon is willing to play the role of the third linebacker in this system (roughly 25-35% snap share), he’d definitely be an upgrade in that regard.

Is Jones a “need” fit?

Jones would gel in the 4-3 system as a scheme fit but does he address the Jets’ needs? At this stage of his career, Mosley has turned into a liability in coverage but is still a top tackler. Williams has a similar skill set, excelling as a strong-side backer that can be disruptive in the backfield against the run and the pass.

Ulbrich’s defense needs a weakside linebacker that can cover when needed and stay disciplined against the run. The franchise signed Marcell Harris already but they could still double down.

At his best (2017-20), Jones was a tremendously consistent coverage LB according to Pro Football Focus with a grading high of 91.1 in 2017 and a low of 70.6 in 2020. Last year, he floundered.

Some believe this was due to a scheme change in Atlanta but the Jets will have to assess if Jones can still shadow running backs and tight ends. Otherwise, he wouldn’t serve much purpose — the vet was never a great run defender with a career-high mark of 72.0 in 2018 and plenty of sub-65 grades throughout his career.

Is Jones a culture fit?

This will always be something to consider so long as Saleh and Joe Douglas are running the show at One Jets Drive. It’s unclear how Ulbrich views his former star linebacker but Schultz made it clear he’s not known for his relationship with teammates.

“If Jones had a leadership presence for younger players, the team could justify keeping him in 2022. But he has been anything but that,” the beat reporter voiced in the article referenced above.

Don’t expect the Jets to target Jones to start opposite Mosley but they might show interest in the veteran if he’s willing to take on more of a reserve role as the third linebacker in Saleh’s scheme.

While the culture, remaining talent, and newly reported shoulder surgery are still a concern at age 27, Jones would be a major upgrade on the Jets’ current depth at the position, especially if the former Pro Bowler agrees to sign on the cheap. Keep in mind that he’s already getting paid handsomely by Atlanta, so his decision in 2022 may not come down to money.

The final factors would be a willingness to sign in New York, and roster space. With players like Del’Shawn Phillips and Javin White still on the roster at linebacker, the Jets have the room, but would Ulbrich’s presence be enough to entice Jones?

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