Just 12 minutes into the NFL’s so-called legal tampering period, news broke about the New England Patriots locking up one of their premier free agents: cornerback Jonathan Jones was kept around on a two-year, $19 million contract extension.
Jones had been an important member of the Patriots ever since joining the club as a rookie free agent in 2016. While originally serving as a special teamer, through the years he developed into one of the league’s best slot cornerbacks. In 2022, he was moved to the outside and was still able to perform at a generally high level.
Given his mix of role, experience and production, keeping Jones around was a good move for the Patriots — an opinion shared by head coach Bill Belichick.
Speaking to reporters at the NFL ownership meeting in Phoenix on Monday, Belichick discussed the importance of keeping Jones in the fold. He also heaped some heavy praise on the 29-year-old defensive back.
“Yeah, that was a big one,” Belichick said about re-signing Jones. “Especially with Devin [McCourty retiring], he gives us a lot of leadership and presence back there.
Long-time team captain Devin McCourty announced his retirement ahead of free agency week, meaning that the Patriots were running risk of losing three starters in their secondary: McCourty, Jones and restricted free agent Myles Bryant. Tendering Bryant and re-signing Jones allowed them to keep at least some level of stability.
As for Jones, only time will tell what his role moving forward will look like. He might stay on the perimeter or move back into the slot. He also appears to be a candidate to help fill McCourty’s former role as the deep centerfielder in single-high coverage shells.
Regardless of how the Patriots will eventually use him, they appear to have high expectations: Jones was given $13 million in guarantees, a reflection of his importance to the operation these next two seasons.
Listening to Belichick, it is not hard to see why the club might feel that way.
“He’s been a great player for us for a long time in a lot of different roles, including the kicking game, which is where he started,” he said. “He epitomizes what we want in a Patriots player. It’s great to have him.”