The New England Patriots ended the 2018 season in the best possible way, by defeating the Los Angeles Rams to win Super Bowl 53. In order to stay on top of the NFL mountain, though, the organization will have to quickly turn the page to get itself into a position to create the best possible team for the 2019 season. And a big part of building such a team is mastering the upcoming free agency.
If judged by the list of free agents to be, New England’s front office will be busy over the two weeks before the new league year officially is kicked off on March 13. Also over the next two weeks, we will continue taking a look at those free agents-to-be to find out who may or may not get re-signed by the Patriots; and who should be a part of the 2019 squad. Today, we’ll continue the series with cornerback Jonathan Jones.
#31 Jonathan Jones
2019 opening day age: 25
2018 playing time: 19 games (16 regular season + 3 postseason); 51.0% defensive snaps, 58.0% special teams snaps
2018 regular season statistics: 50 tackles, 1.5 sacks; 27 catches on 49 targets, 336 yards, 4 touchdowns, 3 interceptions; 6 special teams tackles
2018 postseason statistics: 10 tackles, 1.0 sacks; 5 catches on 10 targets, 69 yards
2018 cap number: $633,334
Coming off a season that ended on an ankle injury during the divisional playoff round, Jonathan Jones rebounded well in 2018. Despite that, however, he still saw inconsistent playing time especially during the regular season: after starting the year as New England’s top slot cornerback, he was pushed down the depth chart over the second half of the season due to the emergence of undrafted rookie J.C. Jackson.
Jones, who remained a core special teamer throughout this process, bounced back strong in the postseason. He played a key role in New England limiting All-Pro wide receiver Tyreek Hill In the AFC title game, before a tremendous performance as a deep zone safety in the Super Bowl. All in all, the 25-year old ended the season on a high note not just because of New England’s victory on the game’s biggest stage.
Why should he be re-signed? There are multiple reasons why keeping the restricted free agent around would be a smart move for the Patriots: Jones is still young, finished 2018 strongly, and brings plenty of versatility to the table on both defense and special teams. Keeping him around, especially with Jason McCourty about to hit the open market, would help the team keep its defensive backfield deep — at both cornerback and safety, as Jones has shown during the playoffs.
Why should he be let go? The Patriots invested heavily into their cornerback group in 2018, by bringing three rookies — the aforementioned J.C. Jackson as well as Duke Dawson and Keion Crossen — on board. Keeping Jones on a tender that pays him either $4.4 million (first round), $3.1 million (second round) or $2.0 million (original round) might be seen as too much of a luxury for the club.
Projection: Ultimately, it would not be a surprise to see the Patriots use the second round tender on Jonathan Jones — especially considering that McCourty is about to hit unrestricted free agency. The move would give New England the right of first refusal of any incoming offers, and compensation in case the former undrafted free agent left to sign elsewhere.