Atlanta Falcons linebacker Deion Jones earned Pro Bowl honors in 2017 and seemed to be emerging as one of the best, young defensive players in the NFL. Just a few years later, Atlanta can’t find a home for its 27-year-old linebacker.
Jones, the 52nd overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, found success instantly in the NFL. He stood out as a coverage linebacker during his rookie season, being named to the PFWA All-Rookie Team. A year later, he became one of Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded linebackers (87.3) and seemingly proved himself as a rising star on defense.
Following two more outstanding seasons as an integral part of Atlanta’s defense, the 6-foot-1 linebacker was rewarded with a massive contract extension. He signed a four-year deal worth $57 million, including $34 million guaranteed (ESPN).
- Deion Jones contract: $20.018 million cap hit (2022), $18.476 million cap hit (2023)
Ever since signing Jones to that contract, making him one of the highest-paid NFL players at his position, things have unraveled quickly for the LSU alum.
Jones earned just a 68.7 overall PFF grade in 2020, a step backward from his production in previous seasons. While he finished with a career-high 10 quarterback hits and 4.5 sacks, he wasn’t nearly as effective in coverage. Things only got worse in 2021, with the Louisiana native earning an alarmingly low 34.6 PFF grade, with a 121.2 QB rating allowed when targeted and he missed 26 tackles.
- Deion Jones stats (2021): 87 solo tackles, eight tackles for loss, two sacks
According to Jeff Schultz of The Athletic, the Falcons made several attempts to trade him this offseason and failed to find an interested team. Currently on the Physically Unable to Perform list due to a shoulder issue, it’s also reportedly unlikely that Atlanta cuts Jones.
“Jones’ future with the team certainly remains tenuous and spins off a few things: His effectiveness, work ethic and whether trade market shifts because of injuries on other teams.”Jeff Schultz on Atlanta Falcons linebacker Deion Jones
There is very little to be gained financially by cutting Jones, with an outright release still leaving an $18.98 million dead cap hit. Trading him is the only way to drastically lower the Falcons’ salary cap, but the lack of interest in him around the league rules that option out for now.
If Jones wants one last chance in Atlanta, he clearly needs to earn it. The coaching staff provided him with a fresh start last season and he delivered the worst year in his career. If he doesn’t meet the team’s expectations, which seem fairly low, then Atlanta might ultimately have to cut him just to create an open roster spot for a player who fits the team atmosphere better.