Why the NY Jets should target former Pro Bowl LB Deion Jones

NY Jets, Deion Jones
NY Jets, Deion Jones / Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The NY Jets addressed a number of key needs in the 2022 NFL Draft, but when the dust settled following the conclusion of the three-night event, the team failed to add a linebacker with any of their seven picks.

Perhaps they didn't believe the value was there. Perhaps they didn't believe the need was as prevalent as others seem to. Whatever the reason, the Jets still could use some help at the position before the season begins.

Fortunately, they may just have the opportunity to add a former Pro Bowl linebacker for virtually nothing, at least as it pertains to what they'd have to give up.

Rumors have surfaced that the Atlanta Falcons could look to move on from Deion Jones this offseason, either via a trade or just an outright release. If so, the Jets should do more than just due diligence.

Deion Jones would upgrade the NY Jets linebacker corps

A second-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, it wasn't long ago that Jones was widely considered to be one of the best linebackers in football. In fact, you could argue it was as recent as 2020.

Jones was named to the Pro Bowl in 2017 as part of Atlanta's vaunted defense at the time. Aside from an injury-riddled 2018 season, Jones has consistently been one of the NFL's best linebackers for the better part of the last half-decade-plus.

He was rewarded for his stellar play with a four-year, $57 million contract in the summer of 2019, and for the first two years of the contract, he held up his end of the deal.

Jones finished with a Pro Football Focus grade ranked in the top 17 of all linebackers in football every year from 2017 to 2020 including a top-12 ranking in three of those four seasons. Unfortunately, things fell apart for him this past year.

The LSU product struggled mightily and put together easily the worst year of his NFL career, finishing with an abysmal 34.6 PFF grade that ranked 81st out of 87 qualified linebackers.

His 16.9 missed tackle rate was the highest among all linebackers in the NFL to play at least 80 percent of their team's defensive snaps. On top of that, he allowed an opposing passer rating of 121.2 that ranked second-worst among qualified linebackers.

Jones was bad in 2021. Very bad.

A large part of this might be due to the Falcons' defensive scheme change, however. Following the departure of Dan Quinn, the Falcons switched to more of a base 3-4 defense, and Jones was asked to play a different role than he had in the past.

The results were evident, and with Jones seemingly forced into a role that doesn't suit him, the Falcons could be looking to move on. Unfortunately for Atlanta, his contract makes that pretty difficult.

Jones is due to make $20 million this season and releasing him would carry a substantial dead cap hit. They could designate him as a post-June 1st cut and save a little over $1 million, but it's hard to imagine they feel that's worth it.

That said, there could be an option to trade him after June 1st. Doing so would save the team over $10 million while the team trading for him would be on the hook for less than half of his remaining salary.

The Jets have the financial flexibility to acquire a player with the salary of Jones, and it's easy to see him thriving once again in a Robert Saleh scheme that perfectly suits his playing style.

At his best, Jones is an exciting, rangy linebacker who would be a perfect fit in an attacking 4-3 scheme that highlights athletic linebackers. And at just 27-years-old, Jones still has plenty left in the tank.

It's hard to imagine Jones costing anything more than a late Day 3 pick to acquire given his salary and the fact that he's coming off a down year. The Jets could look to revitalize Jones' career while reuniting him with his former linebackers coach, and current Jets defensive coordinator, Jeff Ulbrich.

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The need is there. The fit makes sense. As long as the price is right, the Jets should make a move for Deion Jones this offseason.