9:21am: The Jones release has not, in fact, helped win Smith a spot on the 53-man roster. The former Matt Rhule draftee has been waived, per ESPN’s David Newton. Smith’s draft stock was boosted by his athletic traits, but they have yet to translate to production at the NFL level. The Panthers will be able to retain him via the practice squad if he goes unclaimed.
8:10am: Deion Jones did not end up with a team until the first week of training camp, and the former Falcons standout will not be part of the Panthers’ 53-man roster. Carolina is releasing the veteran linebacker, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets.
This move will put Jones’ career at a crossroads of sorts, as he was unable to carve out a regular role as a Browns starter following an in-season trade. Previously attached to a top-market off-ball linebacker contract with Atlanta, Jones will pass straight into free agency as a vested veteran.
Jones, 28, started 83 games for the Falcons from 2016-21 and earned a four-year, $57MM extension from the team back in 2019. The Thomas Dimitroff regime authorized that deal. GM Terry Fontenot cut bait in his second year running the Falcons, incurring substantial dead money to do so. Jones still counts on the Falcons’ payroll this year, but the Panthers did not guarantee the former second-round pick anything.
Carolina is set at the top of the LB depth chart with Shaq Thompson and Frankie Luvu each on the books for at least one more year. The team also added Kamu Grugier-Hill in free agency, and 2022 fourth-rounder Brandon Smith resides on the roster as well. The latter has faced questions about his roster security this summer, but the decision to move on from Jones certainly helps his chances of remaining with the team moving forward.
As teams sort out their 53-man rosters and practice squads in the coming days, Jones will seek out a new fit which could offer a clearer path to playing time than what he faced in Carolina. The chances of that could be slim, however, and he may be resigned to taking another one-year, low-cost deal with an interested team in the hopes or rehabbing some of his free agent value. It will be interesting to see how much of a market he generates ahead of Week 1, and his ability to carve out a role on his next team.