At one point, Deion Jones was considered one of the five best players at his position, in the same conversation as Luke Kuechly and Bobby Wagner. However, in recent seasons, his production on the field has taken a dip. Most Falcons fans are ready to cut or trade the former LSU Tiger, but he’s still highly regarded among his NFL peers.
ESPN polled over 50 NFL executives, coaches, players, and scouts to compile a list of the top players at each position. Jones made the list of inside linebackers as an honorable mention.
“Once a top-10 fixture, Jones appears to be on the trading block after six seasons in Atlanta,” wrote Jeremy Fowler. “He is rehabbing offseason shoulder surgery. ‘Those undersized guys, when they get hurt, the wall hits you quicker,’ an AFC scout told Fowler. ‘Still above average as a cover guy. Not dominant like he was those first few years.’”
Another (former) Falcons linebacker also made the list as an honorable mention — Foye Oluokun, who led the league in tackles last season and signed a three-year, $45 million deal in free agency with the Jaguars.
Jones might be a bit undersized for the Falcons’ new defensive scheme, but it seems he’s been uninterested or even lackadaisical in recent seasons. The decline in play has prompted many to speculate about his future in Atlanta; after all, Terry Fontenot has cleaned house and gotten rid of nearly every bloated contract from the old regime. Jones’ $20 million cap hit is the highest on the team, and highest among all linebackers for 2022, but the injury certainly complicates the prospect of Atlanta trading him.
The Falcons would have to find a suitor to take on his $13.64 million guaranteed salary for 2022, which has become increasingly difficult given his injury status. It would be a long shot for a team to take on that massive contract to get a player who might not even be healthy for Week 1. Obviously, that is speculation, and the only tangible reports we can go off are that he’ll at least miss the offseason program.
According to OverTheCap, cutting him would create nearly $19 million in dead money with a savings of $1.07 million this season, but the advantage would be that he’s off the books next season. The Falcons would have cap savings in 2023 of $13.1 million and dead money of $5.3 million. If they did indeed part ways with Jones in this fashion, Atlanta would have a record-breaking $82 million in dead cap this year, which is 40% of the total cap.
Obviously, that isn’t the ideal scenario; it’s a ton more dead money for a team that is already setting records in that area. If it were the Falcons’ preference, they’d trade him with a June 1st designation. The dead cap figure would only be $5.34 million in 2022 and 2023, with savings of $14.7 million and $13.1 million, respectively.
It will be interesting to see what the Falcons do with Jones when he returns from his shoulder injury. They did add a few pieces to the linebacker room this offseason, signing Rashaan Evans and Nick Kwiatoski in free agency while selecting Troy Andersen in the second round of the draft. With Mykal Walker still on the roster, the Falcons would be able to absorb the loss of Jones. He might not be appreciated in Atlanta, but the rest of the league still thinks Jones is one of the better linebackers in the game.
Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire
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