Christian Jones

Bears To Sign LB Christian Jones

Christian Jones is heading back to Chicago. The free agent linebacker is signing with the Bears, the team announced on Twitter. Terms of the deal haven’t been reported.

The 2014 undrafted free agent out of Florida State spent the first four seasons of his career with the Bears, starting 31 of his 63 appearances. The linebacker eventually evolved into one of Chicago’s most reliable defenders, culminating in a 2017 campaign where he finished with career-highs in tackles (90), QB hits (three), and sacks (two).

That performance earned him a two-year, $6.35MM deal with the Lions in 2018, and he eventually added another year to the pact via an extension. In total, Jones spent three seasons in Detroit, appearing in 45 games (42 starts). He saw time in 16 games (13 starts) this past season, collecting 57 tackles and no sacks.

Now, Jones will be heading back to Chicago, and there should still be some familiar faces. For instance, defensive coordinator Sean Desai was around during Jones’ first stint with the organization, serving as the defensive quality control coach. Jones was also teammates with one of the players he’ll likely be backing up, linebacker Danny Trevathan.

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Lions Cut Christian Jones, Russell Bodine

The Lions have released center Russell Bodine and linebacker Christian Jones, per a club announcement. In a related move, the Lions have also re-signed defensive back Mike Ford

The Lions will save just over $3.5MM between the two moves. Jones, the more expensive of the two, was set to earn $3.17MM this year — instead, Detroit will gain $2.55MM in additional flexibility. Jones hooked on with the Lions before the 2018 season and wound up starting all 16 games in Matt Patricia’s first year as coach. Then, midway through the 2019 season, he was re-upped on a two-year extension. He now exits with 177 tackles and three sacks across three seasons as a Lion.

Bodine, 29, opted out of the 2020 season at a time when he could have competed for a reserve spot behind interior linemen Joe Dahl, Frank Ragnow, and Jonah Jackson. A 2014 fourth-round pick by the Bengals, Bodine started 64 consecutive games for Cincinnati . He went on to appear in ten games for the Bills in 2018, but didn’t play an NFL snap in 2019, so he’s two years removed from live action.

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Lions Activate Kerryon Johnson Off IR

The Lions are set to have an opportunity to see their top running back in action two more times this season. They are activating Kerryon Johnson from IR in advance of their Week 16 game in Denver, Field Yates of ESPN.com tweets.

Johnson has been out since Week 7 with a knee injury. He returned to practice nearly three weeks ago and will be back on Detroit’s 53-man roster. With Johnson having spent much of his career on IR, these two lower-stakes (for the Lions) games will take on greater importance for the second-year running back.

This move appears to come with some risk, especially in a lost season. The 2018 second-round pick missed six games as a rookie with a knee injury. Johnson, who’s played in six games this season, remains the Lions’ top backfield investment and figures to go into 2020 as the team’s starter. But given the Auburn alum’s injury issues, these two games could help determine whether the team opts to add backfield competition next year.

This season has obviously not gone well for Johnson, whose yards-per-carry average dropped to 3.3 from the 5.4-yard mark he posted as a rookie. He’s totaled 434 yards from scrimmage in 2019. The Lions have seen considerable backfield turnover this season and have recently used second-year back Bo Scarbrough as their starter.

To make room on their 53-man roster, the Lions placed linebacker Christian Jones on IR. They also promoted defensive end Jonathan Wynn from their practice squad. Jones joins fellow starting linebacker Jarrad Davis on IR.

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North Notes: Vikings, Conner, JuJu, Lions

The 2017 draft class will become extension-eligible in January, and Dalvin Cook‘s contract figures to be one the key talking points once the calendar flips to the 2020 offseason. The Vikings are one of the few teams to have paid a running back top-market money, via Adrian Peterson‘s $14.4MM-AAV pact from 2011. With Cook’s contract not containing a fifth-year option like Christian McCaffrey‘s does, the Vikings will likely have to address his deal sooner than the Panthers will need to negotiate with their All-Pro candidate. Ezekiel Elliott‘s $15MM-per-year deal represents the new running back benchmark. Although Cook has been injury-prone, he will surely seek a contract in the Elliott-Todd GurleyLe’Veon BellDavid Johnson tax bracket (north of $13MM annually).

Running backs are valuable,” Cook said, via ESPN.com’s Courtney Cronin. “For guys to get rewarded for how physical, how much they get their bodies ready each and every week to go take that pounding, guys [are] getting rewarded for that. The running back value kind of went down, but I think we’re just as valuable as any position.”

Here is the latest from the North divisions:

  • Adam Thielen will not play Sunday night. The Vikings ruled out their highest-paid wide receiver for Week 10’s Cowboys contest. Thielen has dealt with this hamstring injury since Week 7, missing Minnesota’s game against the Redskins and exiting last week’s Chiefs game after seven snaps.
  • One of Cook’s 2017 draft classmates, James Conner, will also need at least another week to recover from injury. The Steelers ruled out Conner for Week 10. They also added JuJu Smith-Schuster to this week’s injury report Friday. Pittsburgh’s top wideout is questionable to face the Rams with a toe injury.
  • Lions safety Miles Killebrew suffered a concussion during Thursday’s practice, Kyle Meinke of MLive.com notes. The Lions moved Killebrew to linebacker last year, but the trade of Quandre Diggs and Tracy Walker‘s knee injury prompted the team to shift Killebrew back to safety recently. UFA addition Tavon Wilson, third-round rookie Will Harris and rookie UDFA C.J. Moore are the Lions’ only healthy safeties. Killebrew and Walker are out for Sunday’s Bears tilt
  • The Lions’ two-year extension for Christian Jones features a short-term sacrifice for a 2020 payment. The deal reduces the linebacker’s 2019 salary from $2.45MM to the veteran minimum, which will be worth approximately $426K for the season’s remainder. In exchange, Jones will receive a $1.97MM signing bonus, Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com tweets. The through-2021 deal averages $2.92MM. Detroit tacked on a voidable 2022 year, in order to spread the bonus across three seasons instead of two.

Lions Give LB Christian Jones Two-Year Extension

The Lions are locking up one of their own. Detroit is giving linebacker Christian Jones a two-year contract extension, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL Network (Twitter link).

Jones’ contract will now run through the 2021 season. Financial terms were not immediately disclosed, but we’ll keep you posted as soon as we hear those. Jones originally entered the league as an undrafted free agent back in 2014, and spent his first four years with the Bears. He jumped to the NFC North rival Lions before last season, and ended up starting all 16 games in Matt Patricia’s first year as coach. So far this season he has started all seven games for Detroit, racking up 28 tackles, two sacks, and four passes defended.

Jones signed a two-year, $6.35MM deal last offseason, and will presumably be getting a raise now. The Florida State product has been a solid inside linebacker this year while also contributing on special teams. The Lions are 3-3-1 and struggling to stay afloat in a highly competitive NFC North. They have a pivotal game against the Raiders coming on Sunday.

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Contract Details: Jordy, Glennon, Incognito

Let’s take a look at the most recent new contracts and restructures around the NFL:

New Contracts

  • Jordy Nelson, WR (Raiders): Two years, $14.2MM. $13MM guaranteed (Twitter link via Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com).
  • Mike Glennon, QB (Cardinals): Two-year, $8MM deal contains void years in 2020 and 2021. $4MM signing bonus (Twitter link via Josh Weinfuss of ESPN.com).
  • Spencer Long, C (Jets): Four years, $27.5MM. $6MM guaranteed (link via Jason Fitzgerald of Over the Cap).
  • Jaron Brown, WR (Seahawks): Two years, $5.5MM. $2.75MM guaranteed. $1.95MM signing bonus. $750K available annually via receptions, yards, and touchdowns incentives (Twitter link via Brady Henderson of ESPN.com).
  • Christian Jones, LB (Lions): Two years, $6.35MM. $2.8MM guaranteed. $1.75MM signing bonus (Twitter link via Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com).
  • Kyle Wilber, LB (Raiders): Two years, $2.75MM. $1.4MM guaranteed (Twitter link via Adam Caplan of SiriusXM).
  • Billy Turner, OL (Broncos): One year, $2MM. $750K guaranteed. $500K signing bonus (Twitter link via Mike Klis of 9News).

Restructures

  • Richie Incognito, G (Bills): 2018 base salary reduced from $6.325MM to $3.65MM. Earned $1MM bonus. Bills created $1.675MM in cap space (Twitter link via Yates).
  • John Jerry, G (Giants): 2019 contract season eliminated. 2018 base salary reduced from $3.05MM to $1.075MM, $525K of which is guaranteed. $400K roster bonus added and paid on 3/21. Per-game roster bonuses increased from $250K to $500K (all Twitter links via Dan Duggan of NJ.com). Giants created $525K in cap space.

Lions To Sign LB Christian Jones

Former Bears linebacker Christian Jones plans to sign a two-year deal with the Lions, a source tells Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (on Twitter). Jones’ new contract is a two-year deal worth $7.75MM, including a $2.8MM signing bonus, per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). Jones had spent the previous four seasons with the Bears.

Jones, 27, made 11 starts for Chicago last season. On the year, he racked up 84 total tackles and two sacks with two passes defended. Jones graded out as Pro Football Focus’ No. 64-ranked linebacker last season. That’s not excellent, but Tahir Whitehead and Jarrad Davis were the only Lions LBs to finish higher.

The intra-NFC North defection will represent more turnover for the Bears at inside linebacker this offseason. The team already cut Jerrell Freeman, whom Jones replaced in the starting lineup. Freeman initially replaced Jones after he signed with Chicago in 2016, with Jones — a former UDFA — starting 13 games for the Bears in 2015. He returned to the first unit by making 11 starts last season and now figures to play a prominent role in Detroit.

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Bears Re-Sign Christian Jones

The Bears announced that they’ve re-signed linebacker Christian Jones to a one-year deal. Jones was a restricted free agent, so Chicago presumably inked him for something less than the $1.797MM original round RFA tender.Christian Jones (Vertical)

Jones, 26, was a full-time starter for the Bears as recently as 2015, when he started 15 games for the club. That year, he played over 70% of Chicago’s defensive plays and picked up 59 tackles. But when the Bears signed veteran ‘backers Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman last offseason, Jones lost his starting gig.

The Bears shopped Jones before last season, but after not finding any takers, they placed Jones in a special teams role. Although he appeared in all 16 games in 2016, Jones only started two contests, instead picking up most of his playing time through 323 special teams snaps. He posted five tackles in that space, and will likely continue on as a special teamer in 2017.

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Bears Shopping Three Defenders

The Bears have told other clubs that defensive lineman Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton, as well as linebacker Christian Jones, can be had via trade, sources tell Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune. As Biggs notes, Chicago is unlikely to acquire anything meaningful for any of that trifecta, and all three are in danger of being cut.Christian Jones (Vertical)

The Bears are in the process of overhauling their defense, and GM Ryan Pace clearly isn’t interested in keeping players who were brought in by the team’s previous administration (all three of Ferguson, Sutton, and Jones were acquired in 2014). Of the three, Jones is the most experienced, as he played over 70% of Chicago’s defensive plays a year ago, starting 13 games and picking up 59 tackles. But given that the Bears have signed both Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman, there doesn’t seem to be a role for the 25-year-old Jones.

Sutton and Ferguson, meanwhile, played roughly 40% and 10%, respectively, of the Bears’ defensive plays during their sophomore campaigns.

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How The Cowboys Could Replace Rolando McClain

For the second consecutive season, Cowboys linebacker Rolando McClain will serve a suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on substance abuse. In 2015, Dallas only had to survive without McClain for a quarter of the season, but given that McClain is facing a 10-game ban for 2016, the Cowboys will need to more seriously consider how they’re going to make up for the loss of their middle linebacker.

We’ve examined how Dallas might go about finding a replacement for McClain, looking at players already on the Cowboys’ roster, free agents sitting on the open market, and veterans who could be on the roster bubble with their respective clubs. Let’s dive in…

Internal options:

The primary name being floated to replace McClain in the middle is third-year linebacker Anthony Hitchens, whom the Cowboys selected in the fourth round of the 2014 draft. Thing is, Hitchens was already a starter — he played on the inside in Anthony Hitchens (Vertical)McClain’s absence last year, and then moved to the outside, ultimately seeing action on about half of Dallas’ defensive snaps. So if Hitchens is being counted on to man the middle full-time, including in sub packages, the Cowboys would need to find a replacement at strong-side linebacker, meaning Kyle Wilber and/or Andrew Gachkar could see meaningful snaps after spending most of their respective careers as special teams players.

[RELATED: Updated Dallas Cowboys depth chart]

Gachkar, meanwhile, is another option to fill in at middle linebacker, and he has experience at the position. If chosen, Gachkar would likely be a two-down player, as Pro Football Focus’ grades have shown him to be effective against the run but a liability in pass coverage. The 27-year-old has never been a major defensive contributor — he was forced to step into the starting lineup when the Chargers suffered a variety of injuries at the linebacker position in 2014, but even then, he only played on 36.5% of San Diego’s defensive snaps.

The “wild card” in this race is second-year player Mark Nzeocha, according to Bryan Broaddus of the Cowboys’ website. A seventh-round pick in last year’s draft, Nzeocha only appeared in two games during his rookie season, managing 14 snaps, all of which came on special teams. Extremely athletic, Nzeocha was all over the field at Wyoming, playing safety and all three linebacker positions. His learning curve might be steep, but he clearly has all the physical tools to play the position.

A source tells PFR that the Cowboys are, for the most part, satisfied with the current state of their linebacker room, and are looking forward to have their young players compete for playing time while McClain is suspended. Dallas, says the source, hasn’t shown a lot of interest in scouring the free agent market for substitutes, so one of Hitchens, Gachkar, or Nzeocha might be the favorite to earn significant snaps this fall.

Free agents:

Donald Butler — After selecting Denzel Perryman in 2015 and Joshua Perry in this year’s draft, the Chargers parted ways with Butler, who had spent the past five seasons with the club. At age-27, Butler is the youngest free agent option on this list, but he’s coming off the worst season of his career, having posted just 40 tackles during the 2016 campaign. Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune accused Butler of “losing interest” after receiving a massive extension prior to the 2014 season, so perhaps some other clubs have made that same assessment.Justin Durant (vertical)

Justin Durant — Durant started 12 games for the Falcons last year, but prior to his time in Atlanta he spent two seasons with the Cowboys, so at the very least he’d offer some familiarity with Dallas defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli‘s playbook. Versatility is another point in Durant’s favor, as he played mostly inside linebacker with Atlanta and Detroit, roamed the middle during his Jacksonville tenure, and moved between both positions with the Cowboys.

A.J. Hawk — The Bengals signed Hawk to a two-year deal before the 2015 campaign, but despite injuries limiting fellow linebacker Vontaze Burfict to just 10 games, Hawk rarely saw the field, playing on roughly a quarter of Cincinnati’s defensive snaps. Hawk recently told Jim Owczarski of the Cincinnati Enquirer that although he’s aware a club might not express interest until late in camp (or perhaps after the season begins), he’s staying in shape in the hopes of receiving a phone call.

David Hawthorne — Like Durant, Hawthorne offers positional versatility, having seen action at both inside and outside linebacker. In 2015, Hawthorne was shifted to the weak side in favor of rookie Stephone Anthony, but was then benched, declared inactive, and ultimately released after an unproductive season. Still, he’s got 83 career starts under his belt, and would presumably feel comfortable in the middle of the Dallas defense.

Keep reading for more external options that could be on the Cowboys’ radar…

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