While the 2023 Patriots are eager to put their offensive woes of last season in their rear view mirror, the team would likely love to continue with their defensive progress of 2022 if not improve upon it. That can be done via obvious routes of free agency and the NFL Draft, and by also retaining your core players. Like with any team the Pats have a number of key players who could move on via free agency or retirement, and one of their secondary’s better players seems to be hitting free agency at the right time.
A surprise standout of a top-12 defense in 2022, was cornerback Jonathan Jones, now entering his eighth season in the league. Primarily an inside or slot corner for his first seven seasons, Jones switched to the outside last season (mostly out of need due to the departure of JC Jackson) to surprising success for the team. Jones, a two-time Super Bowl champion, was at times rated a top 10 corner by Pro Football Focus (Jones’ finished lower overall but his 2022 numbers were still pretty impressive). With corners at a premium league-wide, and the Patriots potentially thinning out in the once loaded secondary (safety Jabril Peppers is a free agent and captain Devin McCourty has hinted at retiring), Jones finds himself in a prime spot to potentially cash in. But will the versatile pass defender look elsewhere to cash in (his projected average annual value salary is over $12 million per season) or will he continue if not play the entirety of his pro career where it began?
"I would hope so. I would hope so," Jones said recently in an interview with NBC Sports Boston’s Phil Perry. "That's where I've spent my career. It's what I know. It's what I love. I mean, New England is home for me in that aspect. We'll see. We'll see how free agency turns out... and we'll take it from there."
Spoken like a savvy veteran who knows he had a good season and his biggest payday, which he's earned, is on the horizon.
No one would possibly begrudge him wanting to get the biggest check possible now, but Jones has familiarity in New England and is a great schematic fit (likely to be said of anyone who can play inside, outside corner AND even flex out to safety as he did in Super Bowl 53). Coach Bill Belichick has long coveted and valued versatility like Jones brings. Plus, with McCourty and possibly special team leader Matthew Slater likely moving on to their post-playing career, the leadership of Jones on the field, not to mention off where he’s become a community pillar as well (he’s a finalist for the NFLPA Alan Page Community MVP Award) could also add to his value anywhere, especially in New England.
“I enjoy and embrace new challenges and just expanding my game,” Jones told Perry, “Knowing I have the tools to do those things and go out there and execute with my teammates ... Being in the locker room with a good group of guys, it just makes it easy for me to go out there and do my job.”
Spoken like a true Patriot. One who’s loved in the locker room by his teammates and by the fans in the stands…who doesn’t balk at being asked to switch to a different position in the Super Bowl, or in training camp before the season…who plays at a high level all over and is very dependable (he has played in almost every game every year save but for missing 10 games due to injury in 2021). And doesn’t mind mentoring younger players, another valuable asset with a defense trending younger heading into 2023.
“I enjoy bringing them along and helping them hopefully get to Year 7, to have a Year 7, and get to where I am in my career.”
What kind of plan the Patriots have for free agency, and what kind of premium the team is willing to put on high-value, high character starters like Jones and wide receiver Jakobi Meyers, remains to be seen. Jones has done everything to maximize his value in NFL free agency, and to prove to the Patriots that his value should be prioritized in New England (he’s even helping build STEM Labs in multiple schools in Boston). Ahead of when big checks and expensive contracts start being handed out it’s encouraging to hear Jones likes it in Foxboro and hopes to be a part of the future foundation he’s been a corner-stone of.
The entirety of Jones’ conversation with Perry can be found HERE.