At long last, Deion Jones is moving on from the Falcons. Once an ascending star of Atlanta's defense, the former Pro Bowl linebacker has yet to play this season, and if it were up to the Falcons, he reportedly would've played his last snap for them long ago. Now, the Browns have granted their wish, finalizing a deal to acquire the veteran in exchange for a swap of 2024 late-round draft picks, according to CBS Sports NFL insider Jonathan Jones.
As part of the trade, the Falcons will carry a dead-cap hit of $12.14 million in 2023, per NFL Media, since Jones still has two seasons remaining on the four-year, $57M extension he signed in 2019. The Browns, meanwhile, will only owe the 27-year-old linebacker roughly $1.39M for the remainder of the year, plus up to $320K in incentives for games played. Atlanta still saves roughly $22M from 2022-24 by parting ways with Jones, who's missed the first five games while on injured reserve.
Jones underwent shoulder surgery in May and missed most of training camp before seeing a limited role at the end of the preseason. But the Falcons repeatedly attempted to trade him amid his rehab, The Athletic reported, over concerns about his attitude and work ethic. Statistically, Jones has been a productive starter when healthy, topping 100 tackles in all five seasons in which he's played at least 15 games. His best marks came from 2016-17, when he drew Defensive Rookie of the Year consideration and had a combined 14 tackles for loss, six interceptions and two touchdowns.
The Browns, who are no strangers to acquiring controversial players, seemingly entered the market for linebacker help after recently losing starter Anthony Walker Jr. for the season. Cleveland has surrendered the fifth most rushing yards of all NFL teams so far this season, and figures to plug Jones into the starting lineup as soon as he's activated off IR.
Here's how we'd grade the trade for both sides:
They're buying -- and paying -- low on a 27-year-old starting-caliber linebacker during a season they figure to at least challenge for a wild card spot. It's your standard low-risk, high-reward move. Considering Jones' reported baggage amounts to an alleged poor attitude during the Falcons' regime change, the "risk" here seems like it'll be more about whether he actually improves Cleveland's run defense. Pass coverage has not been Jones' strong suit for years, but he offers 80+ career starts, lots of athleticism and motivation to thrive in fresh scenery. Worst-case scenario, he doesn't stand out, and they can release him after the year.
Good for them for getting something for an injured member of Arthur Smith's doghouse -- one they publicly broadcast as a potential cap casualty. The collective cap savings over the next three seasons isn't nothing, especially considering Jones no longer belonged in the long-term conversation for their defense. But his overall devaluation seemed like a mutual blunder, and we're basically just giving them credit now for getting out of their own bad contract terms. Atlanta isn't necessarily better or deeper without Jones, but at least they'll have a few extra pennies for Smith's perpetual rebuild.