Deion Jones

Julio Jones, Rest Of Falcons In Camp

Led by star receiver Julio Jones, all players who did not attend Falcons OTAs arrived for the first day on minicamp, the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport tweets

That list includes the recently franchise-tagged Grady Jarrett, defensive end Vic Beasley and linebacker Deion Jones.

In addition to arriving for mandatory minicamp, Julio Jones is not worried about his contract and is sure a new deal will get done, ESPN’s Vaughn McClure writes.

“The situation will get handled. It’s just a matter of time when they’re going to do it. Mr. Blank has spoken, so what more do I need to say or talk about?” Jones said.

McClure notes that in addition to a reworked deal for the pass-catcher, the Falcons also hope to sign Jarrett and Deion Jones to extensions. In addition to Julio not worried about his deal getting done, Falcons owner Arthur Blank sounds just as confident.

“I’m not worried about getting the deals done. I’m speaking on behalf of Atlanta and Atlanta fans. [General manager] Thomas [Dimitroff] is working hard to get them done. Coach [Dan] Quinn is supportive, as well. It will happen. It’s just a matter of when,” Blank said.

Though he did arrive at the three-day minicamp, Julio will not be participating due to a foot injury. Jones is coming off his fifth consecutive 1,400-yard campaign and led the league with 1,677 receiving yards in 2018.

Latest On Falcons’ Extension Candidates

For a second straight offseason, the subject of Julio Jones‘ contract has been a key offseason Falcons talking point. But next week, the All-Pro wide receiver will be with the team when it conducts its minicamp.

Dan Quinn confirmed (via The Athletic’s Jeff Schultz, on Twitter) the ninth-year receiver will show for minicamp, which begins June 11. So will fourth-year defensive end Vic Beasley. It is not yet certain if franchise-tagged defensive tackle Grady Jarrett will join them, though Quinn anticipates he will. Skipping mandatory minicamp would cost the trio nearly $90K each.

Regardless of the statuses of Jones, Jarrett and fellow extension candidate Deion Jones, the Falcons expect to re-sign all three. He did not specify a plan for Beasley, who joined the group in staying away from Falcons OTAs.

We have a salary cap. We have limits that we have to think about not only today but tomorrow, and we have to balance all that off,” Falcons owner Arthur Blank said, via Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com. “But these are three great young men that we care deeply about, both personally and professionally. They are going to be Falcons for life.

I’m not worried about getting the deals done. I’m speaking on behalf of Atlanta and Atlanta fans. Thomas [Dimitroff] is working hard to get them done. Coach Quinn is supportive as well. It will happen. It’s just a matter of when.”

A new deal for Jones has been rumored for weeks now, and it will almost certainly make the 30-year-old receiver the league’s new highest-paid player at the position. Two seasons remain on the five-year, $71.25MM extension he signed in 2015. Jarrett is tethered to a $15.2MM franchise tag. Jones would have the most to gain by signing an extension before the season. The former second-round pick’s rookie deal pays him just $1.45MM. The Falcons picked up Beasley’s fifth-year option (worth $12.8MM) last year.

The Falcons, though, are light on cap space ($6.5MM, the fifth-lowest figure at the moment), so it will take some work to fulfill Blank’s vision.

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Falcons, Deion Jones Discussing Extension

The Falcons and inside linebacker Deion Jones have begun extension talks, according to Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com (on Twitter). Jones still has a year left on his rookie deal, but Atlanta is looking to lock him down ahead of time. 

[RELATED: Falcons Use Franchise Tag On Grady Jarrett]

Jones is scheduled to make just $1.07MM in 2019 and is due for a serious pay bump. The 2016 second-round pick made an immediate impact as a rookie, registering three interceptions, two pick sixes, and 106 tackles. He followed that up with three more interceptions, 138 tackles, and a sack in 2017, leading to his first Pro Bowl selection. Last year, Jones missed the majority of the season thanks to a broken foot suffered in Week 1, but still managed two INTs, a pick six, 53 tackles, and a sack.

Currently, Panthers star Luke Kuechly leads all inside linebackers in compensation at $12.4MM per year. By locking up Jones now, the Falcons can avoid forking over similar cash to the 24-year-old.

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Injury Notes: Vikings, Packers, Colts, Bucs, Falcons

The Vikings received some excellent news on Monday when an MRI revealed cornerback Xavier Rhodes suffered a “very, very mild” hamstring injury, head coach Mike Zimmer told reporters, including Ben Goessling of the Minneapolis Star Tribune (Twitter link). While Minnesota does have depth in its secondary (Mackensie Alexander, Holton Hill), the club had already lost rookie first-round corner Mike Hughes for the season. And missing Rhodes, who was named All-Pro in 2017, for any amount of time would have been devastating. After beating the Packers on Sunday night, the Vikings now have a 63% chance of earning a postseason berth, per FiveThirtyEight.com.

Let’s take a look at more injury news from around the NFL:

  • Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari suffered two knee injuries and an ankle injury against the Vikings last night, but there is still hope he’ll be able to play against the Cardinals in Week 13, as Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com writes. After being defeated by Minnesota, Green Bay will almost surely need to win out to have any chance at making the playoffs, and losing Bakhtiari certainly wouldn’t help matters. Arguably the league’s best pass-blocking tackle, Bakhtiari missed six games over his first five seasons in the NFL. If Bakhtiari’s not able to play against Arizona, former second-round pick Jason Spriggs would take over on Aaron Rodgers‘ blindside.
  • After going down with a concussion against the Dolphins, Colts running back Marlon Mack is “iffy” for Week 13, tweets Mike Chappell of Fox59. Mack missed three games with a hamstring injury earlier this year, but has averaged 16.5 carries per game since as Indianapolis’ lead back. The 6-5 Colts face a winnable game against the Jaguars next Sunday as they fight for a playoff spot, and would turn to Jordan Wilkins and Nyheim Hines to play more snaps if Mack can’t go.
  • Buccaneers receiver DeSean Jackson is headed to New York to get a second opinion on his thumb injury, per Jenna Laine of ESPN.com (Twitter link). Jackson was originally injured in Week 11, and while he played against the 49ers in Week 12, it still sounds as though the issue is bothering him. Elsewhere in Tampa Bay, tight end O.J. Howard — who is already on injured reserve — is facing a four-to-six week recovery timeline for his ankle ailment, tweets Laine. Given that the Bucs are already out of postseason contention, Howard isn’t a candidate to return this year.
  • Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said linebacker Deion Jones looks excellent but stopped short of saying Jones will be ready for Week 13, reports Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com (Twitter link). Jones was activated off injured reserve in advance of Week 11, but he still has yet to see the field. After originally suffering a foot injury in Week 1, Jones hasn’t played since, and his — and other key defenders’ — absences have contributed to Atlanta’s disappointing 4-7 record.

South Rumors: Pees, Kelly, Saints, Falcons

New Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees had to be hospitalized during Sunday’s game against the Colts because of a medical issue. But the 69-year-old assistant is back healthy and working with the the Titans, Mike Vrabel said Wednesday. Pees was coaching on the Titans’ practice field during their first Week 12 workout, per Jim Wyatt of TitansOnline.com. The veteran DC stayed at an Indianapolis hospital overnight but returned to Nashville, Tenn., on Monday. He’s expected to make the trip to Houston for the Titans-Texans’ Monday night game.

Here’s the latest from some other South teams on Thanksgiving Eve.

  • The anchor of an improved Colts offensive line will not be available Sunday against the Dolphins. Ryan Kelly has an MCL sprain and will miss Indianapolis’ Week 12 contest. The third-year center feared a much worse injury occurred in Sunday’s win over the Titans. “I was worried about the ACL, but that’s intact. It’s reassuring,” Kelly said, via CBS4’s Mike Chappell. Kelly said he underwent knee surgery in high school and is receiving a second opinion, per Chappell. This malady does not require a corrective procedure, and it’s possible Kelly may be back soon. An addition off the Rams’ practice squad, Evan Boehm will start in Kelly’s place.
  • Signed to essentially take Dez Bryant‘s place on the Saints‘ roster, Brandon Marshall signed for the 13th-year veteran’s minimum, Nick Underhill of The Advocate tweets. He signed for $1.02MM and will count $259K toward New Orleans’ cap. Bryant signed for slightly more than the veteran minimum — $1.25MM — with incentives tied to his deal. It’s not known if Marshall has incentives attached to his pact. He’s yet to suit up for the Saints.
  • The Falcons activated Deion Jones last week but did not deploy him against the Cowboys. The acclaimed Atlanta middle linebacker will also miss the Falcons’ Thanksgiving game in New Orleans, being declared out in advance of the NFC South rivalry matchup. Jones suffered a foot injury in Week 1 and spent two months on IR. He’s on Atlanta’s active roster now, and it’s possible the Falcons are giving him an extra 10 days to prepare for a Week 13 return. However, at 4-6, the Falcons can ill-afford any more losses if they want to preserve their fleeting playoff hopes.

Falcons Activate Deion Jones

The Falcons have had awful injury luck this year, but finally got some good news today. Linebacker Deion Jones will be activated off injured reserve, according to Adam Caplan of Sirius XM (Twitter link).

The team waived offensive lineman Rees Odhiambo in a corresponding roster move. The news couldn’t come at a better time for the Falcons, as their defense was shredded by Baker Mayfield and the Browns this past week. Jones went down with a foot injury all the way back in Week 1, and hasn’t played since.

A 2016 second round pick, Jones had blossomed into one of the best coverage linebackers in the NFL. He was great at covering running backs out of the backfield, and the Falcons have been shredded by opposing backs in the passing game since he went down. In the one game he played this year, Jones had nine tackles, an interception, and two passes defended.

Jones is one of a slew of Falcons defensive players who have had extended absences. Safety Ricardo Allen is done for the year with a torn achilles, and Keanu Neal was lost for the season with a torn ACL he suffered in Week 1. Atlanta is still a ways away from full health, but this is a massive boost to the defense.

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Falcons LB Deion Jones Returns To Practice

Depleted on defense for most of the season, the Falcons stand to soon see one of their top players return to action.

Deion Jones participated in practice on Wednesday and has been designated to return from IR, per Pro Football Talk. A broken foot forced the stalwart Atlanta linebacker to IR after Week 1, which turned out to be a brutal game for Falcons injuries.

Jones has three weeks to be activated or must spend the rest of the season on IR. He tested his injured foot during a sideline session last week and has progressed back to being able to join teammates at practice. Having missed seven games, Jones would first be eligible to return for the Falcons’ Week can return at any point for the Falcons’ Week 11 contest.

Atlanta’s won three straight games, with its defense holding Washington to 14 points. But the weakened unit still ranks 29th in points allowed. Jones, a 2017 Pro Bowler who made 138 stops in his second NFL season, would bring a vital reinforcement to the suddenly back-in-contention team.

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Falcons Place Deion Jones On IR

Deion Jones‘ foot injury is serious enough an IR trip will occur. The Falcons placed their top linebacker on IR Tuesday, meaning he will be out until at least November.

The Falcons announced the move but also expect the third-year defender to return this season. However, a corrective procedure will be required for Jones, who joins Keanu Neal as Falcons starting defenders whose Week 1 injuries will result in IR trips.

Following the game last Thursday, Deion reported soreness in his foot, so we sent him for further tests,” Dan Quinn said. “We got the results of those tests back today, and he unfortunately will require a procedure that will result in us having to place him on injured reserve. We are bummed for Deion, but we do expect to get him back at some point this season.”

Running back Brian Hill will take Jones’ place on Atlanta’s 53-man roster, with Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com reporting the Falcons will promote the Wyoming product. Devonta Freeman also left the Falcons’ Week 1 game with an injury, but he’s believed to have avoided a serious setback.

Jones and Neal were both 2017 Pro Bowlers and critical players to the Falcons’ cause of pushing for a Super Bowl appearance in their home stadium. Neal is out for the year, and Jones will be shelved for at least eight weeks.

Pro Football Focus’ No. 1 coverage linebacker last season, Jones intercepted a pass against the Eagles and made nine tackles. He made 138 stops last season. McClure notes outside linebacker Duke Riley could slide into Jones’ middle spot. The Falcons are thin at linebacker, having now only five healthy second-level defenders. They did sign former Broncos backup Corey Nelson, however, likely in preparation for a Jones absence. They may be on the lookout for more help at this spot as well, now that Jones will miss at least the first half of the season.

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Impact Rookies: Atlanta Falcons

The old adage that defense wins championships may or may not be true, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a title-winning team that didn’t build heavily through the draft. Rookie classes, naturally, are evaluated on the perceived upside of the NFL newcomers, but which rookies are ready to contribute right out of the gate? And, how do they fit in with their new team schematically?

To help us forecast the immediate future of these NFL neophytes, we enlisted the help of draft guru Dave-Te Thomas who has served as a scouting personnel consultant to NFL teams for multiple decades.

First Round – Keanu Neal, S (Florida, No. 17 overall)

When the Falcons drafted Neal, they did so with the idea that he would start at strong safety from Day 1. That’s exactly how the Falcons are going to use the youngster just as soon as he rebounds from his “trunk” injury that has dogged him in recent weeks. Keanu Neal

Neal is a smooth, fluid mover who has done quite a nice job of making plays at the opposite side of the field, thanks to his burst, second gear, and ability to sift through traffic to get to the ball. He shows excellent ball reactionary skills, along with the quick decision-making process to close on the play with good urgency. He can change direction in an instant and does a nice job of maintaining position when challenged by lead blockers assisting vs. the ground game.

He has the nimble feet you would want in a free safety, along with the loose hips to recover quickly when a receiver gets behind him. He can turn and run with the speediest of receivers, as he is a savvy player who knows how to disrupt the route’s progression by using his hands to knock his coverage assignments off stride. He has the loose hips and sudden burst to close on the ball in a hurry and shows good body control in transition. Neal has excellent hand/eye coordination, along with the leaping ability to get fine elevation going up to get to the pass at its high point (team’s active interception leader). He is quick and fast, which allows him to keep plays in front of him and mirror even the swift flankers and split ends in deep secondary coverage.

While he is too valuable as a centerfielder to remove him from either safety position, he has the speed, range and mirroring ability to excel as a slot cornerback, as he is fluid and calm in one-on-one confrontations with split ends and flankers, along with showing the physicality to reroute tight ends and slot backs working in the short areas. Neal has the quickness, agility, and speed needed in the slot to more than handle any NFL No. 3 receiver. His play is reminiscent of Ryan Clark in terms of his ability to quickly locate the receiver and stay on the hip of his man throughout the route.

Neal came into this draft with experience at both safety positions, but thanks to the recent success that the Cardinals and Rams had in utilizing big safeties to play the Cover-2 linebacker role, Neal drew extra attention. Handling Cover-2 assignments at the next level will see Neal return to his roots as he was a second level defender during his days at South Sumter High School.

Continue reading about the Falcons’ rookies..

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Falcons Sign Entire Draft Class

The Falcons have now signed their entire draft class, as Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com writes. Strong safety Keanu Neal (whose signing was completed days ago), linebacker Deion Jones (second round), tight end Austin Hooper (third round), linebacker De’Vondre Campbell (fourth round), guard Wes Schweitzer (sixth round), and wide receiver Devin Fuller (seventh round) have all put pen to paper. Deion Jones (vertical)

Jones, an LSU product, finished out his college career in style with 88 total tackles, 12.5 tackles for a loss, two interceptions, one forced fumble, and three passes defensed. Jones started only one game through his first three years in Baton Rouge, but he exploded when given the opportunity in his senior season. Jones impressed scouts with a 4.38 second 40-yard-dash at his Pro Day and despite concerns about being undersized, he drew interest from a host of teams looking for a tough linebacker.

In other Falcons news, linebacker O’Brien Schofield is lobbying hard for a reunion. Meanwhile, free agent cornerback Leon Hall remains on the open market after his visit with Atlanta.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.