The New England Patriots, who will be off until training camp starts in late July, currently have 90 players on their active roster. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive the cutdowns on August 31 and ultimately make the team. Over the course of the summer, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots defend their Super Bowl title.
Today, the series continues with a member of New England’s secondary.
Name: Jonathan Jones
Position: Cornerback/Special teamer
Jersey number: 31
Opening day age: 25
Size: 5’10, 190 lbs.
2018 review: After an ankle injury suffered during the divisional round of the playoffs prematurely ended his 2017 season, Jonathan Jones saw only limited action during the Patriots’ offseason workouts: he was present but did not participate in any team activities. The former undrafted free agent also started training camp as a limited participant, and was held out of New England’s first two preseason contests.
Nevertheless, Jones was able to make the team’s active 53-man roster — and he went on to produce a solid season as a rotational slot cornerback and a core contributor in the kicking game. He proved himself a reliable and durable contributor in this dual role and despite coming off season-ending injury appeared in all nineteen of the Patriots’ regular season and playoff games. Jones also saw considerable snaps in both phases.
Defensively, he was on the field for 515 of New England’s 1,043 snaps during the regular season (49.4%) — the third most among the club’s cornerbacks behind Stephon Gilmore and Jason McCourty. Jones’ time on the field did fluctuate a bit, however, given the matchup-specific way in which the team opted to use him in combination with the emergence of undrafted rookie J.C. Jackson.
The playoffs were more of the same for Jones. He played only 8 of 71 snaps in the divisional round (11.3%), but was a regular in both the AFC Championship and Super Bowl 53: Jones was on the field for a combined 105 of a possible 117 defensive snaps (89.7%) during the Patriots’ final two games of the season as a slot corner/safety hybrid. As such, he played a key role in New England limiting All-Pro wide receiver Tyreek Hill in the conference title game, before a tremendous performance as a deep zone safety in the Super Bowl.
All in all, the 25-year-old proved himself to be an able rotational option in the Patriots’ secondary in 2018 — something the numbers reflect: Jones surrendered just 32 pass receptions on 59 targets into his coverage areas, for 405 yards and 4 touchdowns. He also intercepted 3 passes and had 6 pass-breakups, ranking third on the team in both categories. Furthermore, Jones registered 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble.
On top of it all, he also was one of New England’s most active special teamers. Seeing extensive playing time on all four kick coverage units, Jones played 260 of 453 snaps during the regular season (57.4%) and added 56 more in the playoffs (of 92; 60.9%). On the year, he registered 6 special teams tackles — all while consistently proving his value to the club, no matter his usage or playing time.
2019 preview: Before the start of the NFL’s 2019 league year in mid-March, the Patriots placed the second-round tender on the restricted free agent to-be. The move prevented Jones from hitting the open market, and guaranteed compensation for New England in case another team was intent on acquiring the versatile defensive back. The tender basically works like a non-guaranteed one-year contract worth $3.095 million.
This number and the tender level it represents shows how the team views Jones heading into 2019: he projects to be the Patriots’ top pure slot cornerback and a potential safety in specific packages as well as a four-unit special teamer. As such, he will again see his fair share of snaps, but possibly more action in the kicking game than on defense given the depth at cornerback; the aforementioned Gilmore, McCourty and Jackson are the top-three at the position.
That being said, Jones has considerable value to the Patriots — he is a contributor in two phases of the game, after all, and playing on a comparatively moderate deal. The main question moving forward might therefore be his long-term outlook: he is scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency next year, and could be in line for a solid pay-day given his experience and past contributions. It would therefore not be a surprise if New England proactively tried to keep Jones in the fold.