September 14th, 2022 at 12:09pm CST by Sam Robinson
Mentioned in trade rumors throughout the offseason, Deion Jones is currently on injured reserve. The Falcons linebacker, who underwent shoulder surgery in May, cannot return to action until at least Week 5. The Falcons may be planning ahead regarding a Jones move, however.
The team converted $8.5MM of Jones’ base salary to a signing bonus, according to ESPN.com’s Field Yates (on Twitter). This creates $6.8MM in cap space for Falcons while also dropping Jones’ 2022 base to $1.14MM.
The adjustment, which dropped Jones’ cap figure from $20MM to $13.2MM, marks the second straight September in which the Falcons’ current regime has restructured Jones’ contract. Jones remains tied to the four-year, $57MM extension he signed during the Thomas Dimitroff GM tenure.
Jones’ contract served as a previous impediment to a trade, a scenario that has been rumored for months. But this recent restructure stands to make the seventh-year defender easier to trade. The Falcons could now trade Jones and save $6.2MM. Previously, the team would barely have been able to save $1MM by dealing away its longest-tenured defender. While a Jones trade would come with a $7MM dead-money hit this year, that number is way down from where it once stood.
Atlanta added three void years to Jones’ deal, which runs through 2023. The former Pro Bowler carries an $11.99MM base salary next season. GM Terry Fontenot‘s Matt Ryan trade — which triggered an NFL-record $40MM dead-money charge this year — showed the team is willing to pay the necessary costs if a worthwhile deal emerges. The restructure, however, also would make it costlier for the Falcons to cut Jones in 2023.
Jones would need to flash some of his previous form in order for the Falcons to collect a decent asset, and the cap space added would help the team in the event no deal commences before the Nov. 1 deadline. The former second-round pick is still just 27 and has 83 starts on his resume. Jones’ five pick-sixes are also one shy of the linebacker record (shared by Karlos Dansby and Hall of Famers Bobby Bell and Derrick Brooks). It would not shock to see a linebacker-needy team make the Falcons an offer, should Jones re-emerge healthy ahead of the deadline. Prior to this season, Jones had missed just one game over the past three years. Jones registered 137 tackles in 2021; he has notched 25 tackles for loss since 2019.
The Falcons made several moves at linebacker this offseason. Former Titans first-rounder Rashaan Evans is back with DC Dean Pees, starting for his new team in Week 1. Evans started alongside third-year ‘backer Mykal Walker. The Falcons also have second-round pick Troy Andersen and veteran Nick Kwiatkoski in the fold. Jones would crowd this position group upon returning.
With one of the free roster spots, the Falcons brought back linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski. The team had included the former Bears and Raiders defender among its Tuesday cuts. Atlanta also re-signed defensive lineman Abdullah Anderson and offensive lineman Colby Gossett.
Linked in trade rumors for months, Jones underwent shoulder surgery in May to quiet those. He did not return to practice until late August. The seventh-year defender is set to count for a Falcons-most $20MM against the 2022 cap. The team added Kwiatkoski, former Dean Pees Titans charge Rashaan Evans and second-rounder Troy Andersen at the position — one also housing third-year cog Mykal Walker — this offseason. That and the Falcons having moved on from most of their Super Bowl LI nucleus, as they attempt to rebuild, has naturally inserted Jones’ name into departure rumors.
It should not be completely ruled out Jones could be dealt by the Nov. 1 deadline, but Thursday’s transaction — continuing an injury hiatus into the season — further complicates that status.
The Falcons had a familiar face back at practice on Wednesday. The team activated linebacker Deion Jonesfrom the PUP list, per James Palmer of NFL Network (Twitter link).
Jones had been sidelined throughout training camp as a result of offseason shoulder surgery. The procedure was deemed a relatively minor one, but it marked another chapter in the veteran’s uneasy relationship with the team. His contract – which has two years remaining on it, and carries a team-leading $20MM cap charge this season – represents the largest impediment to the team being able to trade him.
The former Pro Bowler is facing competition at the position in the form of Rashaan Evansand Mykal Walkerto regain his starting role. Jones has started all but two of his 85 career games in Atlanta, but downplayed the significance of returning farther down the depth chart than he has ever been.
When asked about the persistent trade speculation which has surrounded him this offseason, Jones added, “I had no question about me being back here. I figured I was going to be back here. I was just getting my mindset ready and my body ready to come back… I’m not on social media during the offseason. But, yeah, if I would have known something, it was something serious, [head coach Arthur] Smith would have called me.”
The rebuilding Falcons also have second-round rookie Troy Anderson and free agent signing Nick Kwiatkoskirounding out the LB depth chart. Where Jones fits in amongst his teammates – and any developments on the trade front now that he is healthy – will be worth watching in the build-up to the season.
Eventually, Deion Jones will likely emerge as a trade candidate. For the time being, the linebacker will sit on PUP. The Falcons announced that they have placed the veteran on the physically unable to perform list.
Jones underwent shoulder surgery earlier this offseason, but the procedure was reportedly a “cleanup.” It sounded like the linebacker could be back in time for training camp, but he’ll miss at least the first few days of practice thanks to today’s transactions. Jones can return to practice at any time, but that will require the Falcons to remove him from the PUP list.
A 2016 second-round pick, Jones has anchored Atlanta’s linebacking corps throughout his career. The 27-year-old had another productive season in 2021, finishing with 137 tackles, two sacks, and one forced fumble. However, he hasn’t made a Pro Bowl since 2017, and with the Falcons facing a total rebuild, Jones would seem to be one of the next veterans on the block.
The problem is, moving on from Jones is easier said than done. Tied to a $20MM cap figure this year, Jones has two seasons left on his contract. Thanks to two 2021 restructures, the Falcons would be left with a whopping $18MM in dead money if they decided to release the linebacker, adding on to their $63MM in dead-money charges (much of that from the dead-money record ($40MM) on Matt Ryan‘s contract).
So, the more likely path is that Jones is moved via trade, and once the linebacker is able to show that he’s fully recovered from his shoulder surgery, there should be plenty of squads interested in adding him to their LB room. While teams might be leery of the $9.6MM (guaranteed) and $11.9MM (nonguaranteed) salaries he is due over the next two years, the LSU product is still just 27 and has missed only one game over the past three seasons.
Since being drafted in the second-round by the Falcons back in 2016, linebacker Deion Jones has become a defensive mainstay in Atlanta. Despite the job security he’s enjoyed for the past six seasons, Jones may find himself on the move as teams narrow their rosters down to 53 players this August.
Jones was an immediate impact player as a rookie out of LSU, starting all but three games in his first season of NFL play, finishing third in Defensive Rookie of the Year voting behind Joey Bosa and Jalen Ramsey, and forcing a fumble in the Falcons’ Super Bowl LI overtime loss. Jones’ sophomore season didn’t show any drop off as he took over the full-time starting role in the middle and made his first (and only) Pro Bowl.
A foot injury would cause Jones to miss 10 games in 2018, but he showed enough in the six games he did play to warrant a four-year, $57MM extension just before the 2019 NFL season. After returning from injury, Jones showed virtually no drop off. He continued his normal production as if he had only taken a vacation. He’s started all but one game since his return from injury, as well, showing his dependency and resiliency.
Jones is best known for his pass defense abilities. While he still has the tackling ability of a linebacker, totaling over 100 tackles in every season of his career (except the injury-shortened 2018 season), Jones’ prowess has been on display in coverage. During his six seasons in the league, Jones has an impressive 11 interceptions and 44 passes defensed. He’s also displayed an ability with the ball in his hands returning five of those interceptions for touchdowns over the years. He hasn’t had a tremendous ability forcing other kinds of turnovers through fumbles or sacks, though he has improved recently in those two fields with two forced fumbles and 6.5 sacks over the last two seasons.
Unfortunately for Jones, though, his history on the field and coming back from injuries are not the only factors determining his roster status. If they were, he would be a sure bet to lead the Falcons’ defense once again in 2022. But the combination of his salary cap hit and the influx of linebacker talent in Atlanta this offseason may be pointing to an uneasy situation for Jones and the Falcons. Also not helping his job security is head coach Arthur Smith‘s insistence that “everybody is going to have to earn a spot” this year, according to D. Orlando Ledbetter of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The Falcons return Mykal Walker in his third season with the team. The former fourth-round pick hasn’t quite had a breakout season in his two years of play, but Smith has touted Walker’s development this offseason and expects him to be a strong competitor in the position battles to come in camp.
Rashaan Evans joined the Falcons this offseason as a free agent after four years in Tennessee. Already a talented linebacker expected to start, the former first-round pick will be even more comfortable as he reunites with defensive coordinator Dean Pees. Evans’ best season came when Pees was the coordinator of the Titans’ defense back in 2019.
Atlanta also signed linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski in free agency this offseason. Kwiatkoski has plenty of starting experience over his years with the Bears and Raiders. After spending much of the 2021 season injured and watching the emergence of Denzel Perryman in Las Vegas, Kwiatkoski was released by the Raiders. In the two seasons before that, though, Kwiatkoski showed what he can do as a starter, totaling 157 tackles, 4.0 sacks, 11.0 tackles for loss, 5 quarterback hits, 2 interceptions, and 2 forced fumbles in 2019 & 2020.
Lastly, the least experienced of the position group, Troy Andersen was drafted by the Falcons in the second round this April. Andersen entered college at Montana State as a quarterback and running back. As a true freshman, Andersen started games at running back and linebacker for the Bobcats and earned the Big Sky Conference’s Freshman of the Year honor, mainly for his impact on offense. As a sophomore, Andersen was asked to start at quarterback and set a school record with 21 rushing touchdowns. His focus was moved to defense in his junior year as he racked up 11.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. After his team didn’t play any games in 2020 due to COVID-19, he returned to his linebacker position with a vengeance, totaling 147 tackles, 14.0 tackles for loss, and 2.0 sacks. As a rookie, Smith believes Andersen has the physical tools to compete at the NFL-level, but claims his time on the field will reflect how quickly he can learn. Considering Andersen played at least three different positions over the years at Montana State, he is clearly a cerebral player who can learn on the fly with relative ease.
Normally, the presence of Walker, Kwiatkoski, and Andersen on the roster wouldn’t influence Jones’ roster spot much, if at all. But Jones’ contract currently has him accounting for 9.62% of the team’s cap space, the biggest cap hit on the team. I almost considered Jones to be a release candidate until looking at his contract details. Releasing Jones as a post-June 1st cut would leave the Falcons with $18.98MM of dead money this year, saving a mere $1.07MM in cap space in 2022. It reflects a lot better in 2023, where the Falcons would be left with only $5.34MM of dead money, saving $13.14MM in cap space for that season.
Jones’ cap hit, combined with the fact that he is recovering currently from offseason shoulder surgery, puts him at an inherent disadvantage going into the camp position battle at inside linebacker. Evans and Walker ran with the first team during OTAs and minicamp. Kwiatkoski and Andersen lurk ready and waiting in the wings.
If Jones can’t survive the position battles and the Falcons decide they need some cap relief, the two parties may work towards moving Jones in a trade. There are a couple of teams who could use a strong inside linebacker. Linebacker is maybe the weakest position on Baltimore’s roster. Denver would love a wily veteran to pair with Josey Jewell. Similarly, the Rams could create a deadly combination with newly signed Bobby Wagner. There are plenty of contenders who could utilize Jones and absorb his cap space (or at least part of it). Time will tell how the Falcons choose to deal with the benefit of playing Jones versus the hindrance of his contract.
The change in throwing motion is a direct result of the time Mayfield had to miss last year due to a torn labrum in his left shoulder.
“When it comes to my shoulder…my throwing motion was extremely violent,” Mayfield explained. “I’ve made some small changes and worked with a great QB coach, Jeff Christensen. He’s helped me get back to a form that…I haven’t thrown the ball this well in a long time. And throwing motion looks a little different and I’m thankful for that.”
Here’s a few other rumors from the NFC South, starting with another note out of the Tar Heel state:
The Panthers’ cornerback situation was a bit chaotic last year. After drafting Jaycee Horn in the first round of last year’s draft, and subsequently losing him to a right foot injury, Carolina was forced to acquire both C.J. Henderson and Stephon Gilmore via trades. Henderson spent most of his first season with the Panthers adjusting to his second NFL defensive system in as many years in the league. This offseason, though, he’s reportedly begun to show the talent that got him drafted in the first round in 2020, according to ESPN’s David Newton. If Henderson can develop into a consistent starting talent, this would allow defensive coordinator Phil Snow and secondary coach Steve Wilks to have Horn move inside to play more nickel in passing situations, trusting Henderson and starting cornerback Donte Jackson on the outside.
Falcons’ defensive mainstay over the past few years, linebacker Deion Jones, will have a bit more than an injury recovery to battle with this offseason, according to D. Orlando Ledbetter of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Atlanta experienced an influx of inside linebacker talent this offseason, bringing in veterans Rashaan Evans and Nick Kwiatkoski in free agency and drafting rookie Troy Andersen in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft. Jones will be coming off shoulder surgery and head coach Arthur Smith told Ledbetter that “everybody is going to have to earn a spot” at the position.
The Buccaneers will have a lot to figure out in their secondary this offseason, according to Greg Auman of The Athletic. The team was able to return starting cornerback Carlton Davis on a three-year deal back in March but has two options battling to start opposite him. Both being in contract years, Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting will both be working to try and earn a similar new deal to Davis’. Tampa Bay will operate primarily in a nickel-look defense, meaning all three can be on the field, but when they revert to a base formation either Dean or Murphy-Bunting will have to earn that time. Not to mention, in the off case that one or both struggle at any point, veteran safety Logan Ryan is ready and waiting with his years of cornerback experience in his back pocket.
As could be expected, the salary figures here start below the quarterbacks. A few pass rushers, however, are tied to notable cap hits. Those numbers that check in within the top 20 leaguewide regardless of position. With the exception of true nose tackles and pure slot cornerbacks, every defensive position is represented here.
Here are the top cap figures on the defensive side for the ’22 season:
Illustrating how much the cap has climbed over the past several seasons, T.J. Watt is tied to a number nearly twice that of J.J. Watt, who has been tied to $16.7MM-per-year (a defender-record number in 2014) and $14MM-AAV deals as a pro. Trailing his older brother in Defensive Player of the Year honors, T.J. is signed to an edge defender-record $28MM-per-year accord.
Jones’ four-year Chiefs deal vaults from an $8.5MM cap number in 2021 to the league’s second-highest defensive figure this year. The standout defensive tackle’s cap hit accompanies Patrick Mahomes‘ $35.79MM number, which is well north of his 2021 figure, on Kansas City’s new-look payroll.
After two franchise tags, Williams scored a monster extension in 2021. The well-paid Giants D-lineman’s cap number this year is way up from his 2021 number ($9.4MM).
It is not certain Deion Joneswill be back with the Falcons, who have jettisoned other Super Bowl LI cornerstones from the roster since the current regime took over in 2021. But they would save just $1MM were they to release the seventh-year linebacker.
To date, this represents the high-water mark for Mosley cap hits on his Jets deal, which at the time (2019) began a sea change for off-ball linebacker contracts. Mosley’s cap hit, on a pact that runs through 2024 because of the linebacker opting out of the 2020 season, increased by $10MM from 2021-22.
Hargrave is one of five Eagles pass rushers signed to veteran contracts. The ex-Steeler’s 2021 deal accompanies Brandon Graham, Josh Sweat, Haason Reddick, and Fletcher Cox‘s new agreement on Philadelphia’s defensive front. As cap hits do not reflect average salaries, Hargrave is the only member of this quartet tied to an eight-figure cap number in 2022.
Quinn has also been connected to a departure, with the 31-year-old pass rusher skipping minicamp after it became known he would like to be traded away from the rebuilding team. His cap hit tops the Bears’ payroll. The Bears would save $12.9MM by trading Quinn, should another team sign up for taking on his full 2022 base salary.
Trevor Penning is slotted to be the Saints‘ long-term Terron Armstead replacement, but a stopgap may be required ahead of that succession. The Northern Iowa alum is not a lock to open the season as New Orleans’ left tackle, Mike Triplett of ESPN.com notes. The Saints expected the Division I-FCS product to be raw coming in, and it does not appear he has seized the job for which he’s ultimately ticketed just yet. If Penning is on the bench to start the season, swingman James Hurst would be in line to get the call. The former Ravens starter was a 15-game first-stringer with the Saints last season.
Here is the latest from the NFC South:
Departure rumors have encircled Deion Jones for a stretch now, but the well-paid Falcons linebacker is on the shelf after undergoing shoulder surgery. Jones is set to count $20MM toward the Falcons’ cap this year — the highest figure on the rebuilding team. The Falcons should be considered unlikely to cut Jones, Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com writes. They would be slammed with $18MM-plus in dead money, saving barely $1MM, by releasing the seventh-year veteran. Jones could potentially be an in-season trade chip, once the Falcons pay out part of his $9.6MM base salary. At just 27, the off-ball linebacker would be an upgrade for many teams. Atlanta signed ex-Dean Pees charge Rashaan Evans, has Mykal Walker returning, and the team drafted Troy Andersen in Round 2. The Arthur Smith–Terry Fontenot regime appears to have a post-Jones plan in place.
New Panthers secondary coach Steve Wilks, returning to Charlotte after a few notable stops, is not planning to have Jeremy Chinn play much linebacker, per David Newton of ESPN.com. Despite the team signing free agent safety Xavier Woods, the plan is for Chinn to stick at his listed position. The third-year defender saw extensive run on Carolina’s defensive second level as a rookie, and while Newton notes Chinn will still move around, the Woods addition will not lead to extensive Chinn linebacker burn. Having already totaled 224 tackles in two seasons, the former second-round pick has a big year in front of him. Chinn will become extension-eligible in 2023.
The Panthers are on the lookout for a veteran edge rusher, but the team has plans for the recently extended Frankie Luvu. The fifth-year linebacker is on a new Carolina deal because the coaching staff believes he can contribute on the edge, according to Newton. In his first Panthers season, Luvu started four games but worked mostly as a backup. Among players who saw the bulk of their snaps as off-ball linebackers, Luvu graded as Pro Football Focus’ No. 2-ranked pass rusher — behind only Micah Parsons— last season. Granted, this came on just 249 snaps and produced just 1.5 sacks, but the American Samoa native earned a two-year, $9MM deal to stay.
Panthers defensive lineman Daviyon Nixon is not expected to be full-go when training camp starts, Joe Person of The Athletic notes (subscription required). The former Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year-turned-Carolina fifth-rounder is still recovering from the knee injury that ended his rookie season. With Matt Ioannidis in the fold alongside Derrick Brown, Nixon is in line to be a rotational presence in his second season.
One of the Falcons’ few Super Bowl LI cornerstones still with the team, Deion Jones will be sidelined for a while. The veteran linebacker underwent shoulder surgery recently, and he will not be ready until training camp.
This operation, which Arthur Smith called a cleanup procedure (via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s D. Orlando Ledbetter), further complicates Jones’ status. The only way for the Falcons to generate any kind of cap savings by parting ways with the veteran linebacker would be a post-June 1 trade. Jones’ surgery stands to hit pause on those rumors for a while.
A 2016 second-round pick, Jones has anchored Atlanta’s linebacking corps throughout his career. He has already returned five interceptions for touchdowns. Only three linebackers — Hall of Famers Derrick Brooks and Bobby Bell and longtime pro Karlos Dansby — have notched more pick-sixes (six apiece) in NFL history. The six-year starter made 137 tackles under new DC Dean Pees last year. Jones, however, has not made a Pro Bowl since 2017 and carries the highest cap number on the Falcons’ payroll — by a wide margin.
Tied to a $20MM cap figure this year, Jones has two seasons left on his contract. Thanks to two 2021 restructures, the Falcons releasing Jones after June 1 would slam them with $18MM in dead money and save them barely $1MM. The team already has $63MM in dead-money charges, much of that from the dead-money record ($40MM) on Matt Ryan‘s contract, but the regime that drafted and extended Jones is gone. The Athletic’s Jeff Schultz recently tabbed Jones as almost certain to depart Atlanta soon.
Once healthy, Jones will be worth monitoring as a trade candidate. While teams might be leery of the $9.6MM (guaranteed) and $11.9MM (nonguaranteed) salaries he is due over the next two years, the LSU product is still just 27 and has missed only one game over the past three seasons. Jones deferred $4MM of his 2021 salary to 2022; the Falcons already paid that out as a March roster bonus. A post-June 1 trade would save the Falcons more than $10MM, though they would likely collect a low-level return.
Atlanta signed ex-Titans first-rounder and Pees charge Rashaan Evans in April and drafted Troy Andersen in Round 2. Despite losing Foyesade Oluokun in free agency, the team also added Nick Kwiatkoski late in free agency and has Mykal Walker returning as well. It will be interesting to see if the Falcons hang onto Jones or if he will be another piece moved as the team rebuilds.