We are less than a week away from a significant turning point in the NFL offseason — June 1st. Teams around the league will part ways with players via trade or cut with a post-June 1st designation for salary cap purposes. And it’s beginning to look a lot like the Falcons will be one of those teams involved. According to Jeff Schultz of The Athletic, Atlanta parting ways with Deion Jones is “warranted and likely imminent.”
Jones is the final parting gift from the previous regime. Terry Fontenot has rid the entire roster of the bloated contracts of aging veterans he inherited from Thomas Dimitroff. The Falcons front office recently extended Grady Jarrett and Jake Matthews, so Debo really is the last item on Atlanta’s “to-do” list when cleaning house.
The former LSU Tiger burst onto the season when he was selected in the second round of the 2016 draft, quickly making All-Rookie teams, Pro Bowls, and game-changing plays against the Falcons’ most hated rivals — the New Orleans Saints. As an LSU alumnus myself, Jones was always one of my favorite players, so when Atlanta handed him a four-year, $57 million extension before the 2019 season, I was ecstatic. However, a fall from grace ensued. He essentially got worse in every facet of the game.
Now, it seems all but certain the Falcons will part ways with him next week. What’s most concerning about the entire situation is the indictment from Jeff Schultz of Jones’s leadership qualities. “If Jones had a leadership presence for younger players, the team could justify keeping him in 2022. But he has been anything but that.”
Though I may not agree with some things Schultz says, it is incredibly revealing that a reporter would put himself out there like this. He wouldn’t say something so critical without having sufficient evidence to back it up, which leads me to believe the Falcons genuinely don’t see a future with Deion Jones in it. So what are the financial ramifications if Atlanta parts ways with Debo?
Jones was extended in 2019 and then restructured in 2021 with a team-high cap hit of $20.05 million in 2022. The Falcons can either cut or trade him with a post-June 1st designation. 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 him being 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, which is 40% of the total cap.
Obviously, that isn’t the ideal scenario. That is a ton more dead money for a team that is already setting records in that sense. 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 might be challenging to find a suitor willing to take on all of Jones’s contract. His guaranteed salary of $13.64 million isn’t a horrible price, but he is only 27, and a team with a need at the position could see a change of scenery is worth the risk of taking on his contract. More than likely, if the Falcons can find a trade partner, they’ll have to absorb some of his contract. Although, Fontenot’s goal is to get most if not all of his money off the books, and I bet he’d be willing to take a less valuable draft pick.
The Falcons bolstered the position this offseason, softening the blow of a potential divorce with Jones. Atlanta drafted Troy Andersen in the second round, signed Rashaan Evans and Nick Kwiatkoski, and still has Mykal Walker on the roster. The Falcons don’t have much depth on the roster, but linebacker is one of the few units that could handle a loss.