Among them is Jonathan Jones, who took over as the team’s No. 1 cornerback in 2022 and showcased his adaptability while moving from the slot to the outside of the defense. Jones did have some ups and downs in his new role, but he held his own and became one of the most valuable players on one of the NFL’s top defenses.
The 29-year-old did not just prove himself to the Patriots, though, but also set himself up nicely for his first ever trip to free agency.
With his contract set to expire at the start of the new league year, after all, Jones is scheduled to enter the open market in mid-March. And if he does, his mix of positional flexibility and experience will certainly be attractive to teams.
As for the man himself, he is experiencing a range of emotions heading into the unknown.
“It’s a lot of emotions,” he told the Next Pats Podcast earlier this month. “My adulthood’s been spent in New England. So, the things that I’ve been a part of, the things I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of in my career there have been a blessing. Going into free agency, taking everything in stride, one day at a time, and then just enjoying the process, enjoying the journey. Something new for me.”
While it remains to be seen where he will end up through this process, Jones does have a preferred outcome in mind: staying put.
“I would hope so,” he said. “That’s where I spent my career. It’s what I know. It’s what I love. New England is home for me in that aspect. So, we’ll see. We’ll see how free agency turns out, and we’ll take it from there.”
Jones arrived in New England as an undrafted free agent out of Auburn in 2016. While starting his career primarily on special teams, he gradually developed into a top option at the cornerback position as well.
Originally operating from the slot, as noted above, he was one of the league’s better players in that role by his fourth year in the NFL. This prompted the Patriots to sign him to a three-year, $21 million extension in 2019.
The first two years of that pact, Jones played his usual position within the New England defense. The departures of staring outside cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson within five months of one another, however, forced the team’s hand: Jones, the most experienced cornerback left on the team, was moved to the perimeter.
He played 16 of a possible 17 games in this new role in 2022 and ended the year ranked first on the team with four interceptions (tied with safety Devin McCourty) and three forced fumbles. He also scored the first touchdown of his career when he turned an interception into a 17-yard score against Indianapolis in Week 9.
All in all, Jones’ seventh season in New England was a mostly successful one. Now, the question becomes whether or not an eighth will be added.
If he gets his wish, that will indeed be the case.