UPDATE: Since this article was originally published on Sunday, March 1, even more rumors connecting Byron Jones to the Philadelphia Eagles have emerged. Let’s take a look.
From Adam Caplan:
Per Adam Caplan on @InsideBirds, the Eagles are all-in on Byron Jones, and the deal could reach $17 million per year.— Patrick (@EaglesPMC) March 2, 2020
From CBS Sports:
Sources confirmed to CBS Sports in early February that general manager Howie Roseman was hoping Jones wouldn’t be tagged so he can take a home run swing at him, and that’s exactly what’s expected to occur when legal tampering begins on March 16.
From SNY, bold emphasis mine:
In fact, [the New York Jets] already shown some interest in two of the top corners on the market, according to NFL sources — Byron Jones and James Bradberry. One source said the Jets seem to like Bradberry better and might be more willing to spend big money on him. And the money will be big. In fact, both Jones and Bradberry are apparently looking for contracts worth at least $15 million per season - or more on average than what the Jets gave Johnson. Even if the Jets are willing to go that high, they are not the favorites to land either player. For the most part, sources expect Jones will land in Philadelphia while Bradberry ends up in Washington.
From Adam Schefter:
“I believe it’ll be one of the NY Giants, NY Jets, Eagles or Las Vegas Raiders for the services of Byron Jones” - @AdamSchefter— 975TheFanatic (@975TheFanatic) March 4, 2020
ORIGINAL STORY BELOW.
In news that doesn’t come as a surprise, impending free agent cornerback Byron Jones is expected to hit the open market when the new league year officially begins on March 18. The Dallas Morning News reports Jones’ representation met with Dallas Cowboys leadership at the NFL Combine and “there seemed to be a shared, underlying understanding that Jones will hit free agency.”
The Cowboys don’t seem to be willing to let Jones walk merely because they don’t want him back. Rather, the issue is that Dallas only has so much cap space to work with, and Jones is just one of 25 unrestricted free agents currently on the Cowboys’ roster (in addition to three restricted free agents). The Cowboys have bigger fish to fry when it comes to working out long-term contract extensions with Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper.
Had the Cowboys not done something silly, like, give a ton of money to a running back and an off-ball linebacker last year, they could’ve been more realistically able to retain Jones. Unfortunately for them, that’s not the case.
So, with Jones unlikely to return to Dallas, where could he land instead? Multiple rumors indicate the Philadelphia Eagles might be the team to sign him.
It started with Tony Pauline’s reporting back in late January.
Philadelphia Eagles set to aggressively pursue a CB in free agency
Word here in Mobile is that the Philadelphia Eagles will go hard after a cornerback in free agency. Chris Harris and Byron Jones are two of the names being thrown around, but I expect the Eagles to turn over every rock in free agency in an attempt to fill the position.
Since then, a number of other outlets/reporters have chimed in.
From CBS Sports in late February:
If Jones isn’t returning to Dallas, then where could he be headed? It’s entirely possible, if not likely, he lands with the rival Philadelphia Eagles. They won’t be the only team after him, but among potential suitors, they would not mind outbidding others to fill a desperate need for long-term CB help.
More recently, ESPN’s Tim McManus wrote a column titled: “Time is right for Eagles to pursue Cowboys cornerback Byron Jones”:
All signs point to the Philadelphia Eagles going hard after a top-end cornerback when the new NFL league year opens March 18, putting the likes of Dallas Cowboys starter Byron Jones in play.
McManus is one of the most plugged-in reporters on the Eagles’ beat. He notably wrote a story about Press Taylor being interviewed for Philly’s offensive coordinator job not long before the team promoted Taylor to passing game coordinator. McManus was also first to report the Eagles’ interest in hiring new senior offensive assistant Rich Scangarello and wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead. It’s noteworthy, then, that he’s connecting Jones to the Eagles.
Adam Caplan, another plugged-in Eagles reporter, said the following on the Inside The Birds podcast:
“The Eagles definitely want [Byron Jones].”
Still not convinced? How about this tweet from Dallas resident and NFL Network reporter Jane Slater:
Philly, you interested? Just saying ♀️ https://t.co/WQ1MNIG7KU— Jane Slater (@SlaterNFL) February 29, 2020
And then this from NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo:
Early prediction: He will still play in the NFC East in 2020. But which team? https://t.co/7Jp4HM508X— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) February 29, 2020
Speaking at his NFL Combine press conference last week, Howie Roseman set the table for the Eagles to be active in free agency. He talked about how the team is approaching free agency with the mindset they had in 2016 and 2017, when they added notable pieces like Brandon Brooks, Rodney McLeod, and Alshon Jeffery.
Jeffery’s inclusion is especially notable because he was perceived as the top free agent wide receiver on the market that offseason. Jones will likely end up having a stronger market than Jeffery, who originally signed a one-year deal with Philly, will have. But the point is that we can’t count out the Eagles making a big splash in free agency.
Is Jones going to be worth the money he’s likely to attract, though? There’s a real chance he could become THE highest paid player at his position in the NFL, beating out Xavien Howard’s league-leading $15 million annual value.
The feeling here is that there are a number of things to like about Jones’ profile. My previous thoughts on him:
Jones checks a lot of boxes. The 2015 first-round pick doesn’t turn 28 until September. He’s only missed one game in his five-year career. He has experience at safety in addition to cornerback. He boasts an elite athletic profile; just look at this beautiful spider graph. [...] Jones ranked 15 out of 134 cornerbacks graded by PFF in 2019 and 7th in 2018, when he made the Pro Bowl. [...] I do wonder about Jones’ low interception numbers. He only has two in 79 games played and zero since moving to cornerback full time in 2018. He does have 43 career passes defensed, though, so it’s not like he totally can’t make plays on the ball.
It’s hard to put the Eagles’ track record out of mind when it comes to the idea of signing Jones. We know the team hasn’t done well with signing former NFC East players, including ex Cowboys. We also know that the organization has struck out on big name free agent corners like Nnamdi Asomugha and Byron Maxwell. The Eagles very well might be better served to not invest major resources into their defense and find a more affordable option at corner.
With that said, I’ve been a fan of Jones for some time now. I liked him for the Eagles’ first-round pick at No. 20 overall in the 2015 NFL Draft. He’s also stood out to me in a good way whenever I’ve watched the Cowboys. This is to say: he passes the all-important eye test.
Given the Eagles’ inability to draft and develop a lasting solution at corner for too long now, paying Jones could be the way to go to fix that position. If the pre-free agency buzz is any indication, Jones might just end up in Philly.