The New England Patriots drafted nine prospects in 2016. Six no longer reside on the roster.
Joe Thuney, Elandon Roberts and Ted Karras still do.
But so does Jonathan Jones.
Jones officially received the second-round tender on Wednesday, as Ben Volin of the Boston Globe first reported, putting the former undrafted rookie out of Auburn on track for a salary of $3.095 million in 2019.
In the event Jones goes on to sign an offer sheet elsewhere as a restricted free agent, and New England declines to match it within five days, a second-round pick would go the organization’s way as compensation.
That won’t be easy between the opening of the league year and the April 19 restricted deadline.
The Patriots didn’t make it easy. And that says what it should about Jones.
He’s appeared in all 48 games over the past three regular seasons. He’s accrued 1,018 snaps on defense and 856 on special teams. His lone missed time came during the 2017 playoff run, when an ankle injury in the divisional round sent the cornerback and gunner to injured reserve.
There have been other undrafted free agents before Jones who’ve found a similar production in New England. There have been more after him.
“I just think that goes to the scouting department and the coaches, getting guys in no matter their draft status and giving them an opportunity,” Jones told me during Super Bowl LIII week in Atlanta. “Just putting football players on the field. Starting from the scouting department, the coaches and everybody – guys show up and compete. It’s a good culture here. Everybody knows you get what you earn, and I think the culture definitely helps that.”
Jones, whose 4.33-second 40-yard dash at the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine was fastest among corners, signed a three-year, $1.630 million deal with the Patriots in the months that followed.
It included a $10,000 signing bonus, $25,000 in guaranteed salary and the minimum bases of $450,000 in 2016, $540,000 in 2017 and $630,000 in 2018, according to OverTheCap.com.
Jones was once projected to be taken in the fourth or fifth round.
“Obviously, you know if a team drafts you they really want you,” added Jones, who got his first start for Auburn as a true freshman and was twice named second-team All-SEC. “But getting to make that choice, and choosing where you want to go and where you feel fits best for you definitely, definitely helps.”
This past campaign, Jones notched a career-high five starts, 56 tackles, 1.5 sacks and three interceptions. The 25-year-old also forced one fumble and was credited with seven passes defensed.
Jones’ defensive usage was subject to change on a depth chart featuring veterans Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty and Eric Rowe, now a Miami Dolphin, as well as rookies in J.C. Jackson, Keion Crossen and the redshirted Duke Dawson. It ultimately saw Jones tasked with covering the Kansas City Chiefs’ Tyreek Hill both outside and in the slot during the AFC Championship Game. It then saw him serve as a starting safety against the Los Angeles Rams in February.
It’s been a good fit. New England’s decision to tender Jones at the second-round level should allow for that to continue.
That is, unless another team is willing to invest far greater capital than all 32 were willing to in 2016.
A total of 51 defensive backs had draft cards filled out that spring. Jones, in hindsight, should have been one of them.