According to Vaughn Mcclure of ESPN, the Falcons have officially begun discussions on a contract extension with their star linebacker Deion Jones. His contract is among the top priorities of the offseason along with signing Grady Jarrett to a long-term deal and reaching an extension with Julio Jones.
The 2017 Pro-Bowler missed over half of last season with a foot injury he suffered in week one against the Eagles. Even still, he recorded 53 combined tackles; six passes defended, two interceptions, a sack and a forced fumble in six games. Per Pro Football Focus, Jones even finished second on the team behind Grady Jarrett in run stops with nineteen despite his extended ten-week absence.
Grady Jarrett led the Falcons in run stops during the 2018 season pic.twitter.com/fOEuq1wf4B
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) March 4, 2019
There is no debating the value that Deion Jones brings to the Atlanta defense, and an argument could be made that he single-handedly could have pushed the Falcons to the playoffs last year had he not suffered an injury. There are not many – if any – linebackers with better coverage skills, which can be seen by his 27 passes defended and eight interceptions in just 37 games played. That along with his 4.4 speed makes him a perfect fit in the middle of Dan Quinn’s cover-three heavy scheme.
Jones will be entering the final year of his rookie contract in 2019 and is scheduled to make slightly more than $1 million in salary. It’s safe to say he is in for an egregious pay raise in 2020.
Luke Keuchly currently has the most lucrative contract for a linebacker with an AAV of $12.4 million over five years. Keuchly may be the best linebacker in all of football, but he signed that extension back in 2015. Jones is at or near that level, and the salary cap is much higher than it was back then.
A player in a comparable situation to Jones is Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner, who is set to become a free agent as well in 2019 after finishing a four-year/$43 million contract. At 29, coming off years of peak performance, Wagner is going to set the market for the onslaught of talented linebackers to follow that includes Deion Jones. If the Falcons can sign Jones before Wagner gets his outrageous new deal, perhaps they can reach an agreement at a lesser figure than they would have.
If not, and Wagner inks a monster contract, Jones is going to want at least that amount. And being that Jones is five years younger than Wagner, he will have every right to ask for that and some. That’s why signing Jones as soon as possible is imperative. The longer these negotiations drag out the more likely Jones becomes the highest paid player at the position.
The Falcons will have a tough time affording that with the likes of Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and Grady Jarrett all on the roster with high cap hits, but the organization also knows how valuable Jones is to their defense and what a massive blow it would be letting him walk.
It’s encouraging that the Falcons are beginning these talks a year in advance. That wasn’t the case with Grady Jarrett, who Atlanta opted to franchise-tag yesterday. I’m fully confident the Falcons will reach a long-term extension with Deion Jones. Because after all, they have to.
The Falcons defense doesn’t operate at the same level without him roaming in the middle. That doesn’t bode well for Thomas Dimitroff from a negotiation standpoint, but the earlier they can lock this deal up the better.