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NFL free agency 2023: What re-signing cornerback Jonathan Jones means for the Patriots

New England is keeping the cornerback on a reported two-year contract.

New England Patriots v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

The New England Patriots have locked up one of their top free agents, re-signing cornerback Jonathan Jones on a reported two-year, $19 million contract. The 29-year-old will therefore stay put with the team that first brought him aboard as a rookie free agent in 2016.

What does the move mean from a Patriots point of view, though? Let’s find out.

New England retains its No. 1 cornerback from a year ago. Jones started his career primarily in the slot, but he was moved to the outside in 2022 to help replace free agency departee J.C. Jackson. While he did not prove himself as a shutdown cornerback, he was the team’s No. 1 at the position throughout the year.

All in all, he played 778 of 1,130 defensive snaps last year (80.9%) and ended the season as the team’s top cornerback in terms of on-field opportunities. When on the field — he did miss one game because of an ankle injury — Jones was one of the team’s most dependable players.

Even though he had virtually no experience playing on the boundary, he did have plenty of good moments. Jones finished the season allowing a completion percentage of just 53.5 percent, tied Devin McCourty for the team lead with four interceptions, had a pick-six in Week 9 against the Indianapolis Colts, and forced three fumbles. He also surrendered 543 yards and six touchdowns on the 46 receptions he gave up on the year.

All in all, Jones was good in his new role and retaining him is a positive for the Patriots. That said...

Cornerback remains a need. Even with Jones staying put, the Patriots are in the market for more cornerback help. The team, after all, still faces some questions at the outside cornerback position.

Jones, for example, might be better suited to move back into the slot. Jalen Mills, meanwhile, missed considerable time with injury last year and is no clear CB1. Youngsters Jack Jones and Marcus Jones are also no safe bet: the former ended 2022 on a team suspension, while the latter is also best suited for the inside rather than the boundary.

As a consequence, it would not be a surprise to see New England invest more resources either through the free agent market, or — most likely — in the draft.

New England keeps its longest-tenured defensive back. With Devin McCourty heading into a well-earned retirement, Jones remained as the longest-tenured of the Patriots’ defensive backs. Re-signing him for an eighth and ninth season ensures some level of stability in the secondary, even with the long-time captain no longer part of it.

The Patriots have a plan in mind for Jones. The Patriots’ usage of Jones moving forward will be fascinating to see. While there is a chance that he stays on the outside, it is also possible he moves back into the slot where he spent virtually all of his first six years in the NFL.

Then, there is another scenario worth thinking about: Jones moving to the safety position to help replace Devin McCourty. His experience playing the spot is limited outside of a prominent role in Super Bowl LIII against the Los Angeles Rams, but he does have the smart and range to possibly make it work.

Either way, New England re-signing Jones means that the team has a plan in mind — whatever it will ultimately look like.

Two free agent cornerbacks remain unaccounted for. The Patriots entered the week with three cornerbacks headed for free agency: Jonathan Jones and Joejuan Williams were both unrestricted free agents, and therefore subject to legal tampering, with Myles Bryant of the restricted variety; the team has until Wednesday 3:59 p.m. ET to tender him.

Jones was clearly the top priority between those three, and the Patriots acting quickly to lock him up is a reflection of that. Where Bryant and Williams will end up, meanwhile, is still TBD, although the former is far more likely to return than the latter.