By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
On the first day of what’s going to be a huge training camp for Jonathan Jones, the Patriots cornerback looked like a man on a mission.
The fourth-year CB out of Auburn has delivered tremendous value for the Patriots over his first three seasons, emerging as a core special teamer and a decent slot cornerback as an undrafted free agent. But now Jones is set to earn $3.095 million on a restricted free agent tender, over $1 million more than he earned in his first three years combined, and it would cost the Patriots nothing in real or cap money to move on from him before the season.
So if Jones wants to prove he’s worth keeping over his cheaper counterparts, he’ll need to show it on the field. He certainly looked aware of that on Thursday.
Jones notched an interception and pass breakup in competitive red zone drills on the first day of camp, jumping a Braxton Berrios route over the middle for his pick and knocking down another attempt from Tom Brady toward Berrios. On an otherwise sharp day for Brady in team drills, Jones made it as hard for No. 12 as anyone to find his targets.
Whatever Jones accomplished from 2016-18 doesn’t matter anymore, and he knows it. If he wants to keep or increase his role, he needs to earn it just like any other year.
“It’s a new season, new start, whole new team compared to last year,” Jones told reporters after practice. “We’ve got to learn about ourselves, we’ve got to learn what we do well as a team this year and how we’re going to go out and win games.”
Jones is also well aware that he’s embroiled in the deepest, most intriguing positional battle on the whole team. The drafting of second-rounder Joejuan Williams, one of only two roster locks to go with Stephon Gilmore, put the rest of the depth chart on notice.
Jason McCourty is also a virtual lock after the Patriots guaranteed him $5.5 million on a new two-year deal. J.C. Jackson also had a good day on Thursday and looks motivated to maintain his hold on the top-3 corner role he carved out last season.
That leaves one out of Jones, Duke Dawson, and Keion Crossen likely ending up on the chopping block.
Keeping Jones over either Crossen or Dawson would cost the Patriots a significantly higher percentage of money, relatively speaking. And at the same time, his RFA tender is entirely non-guaranteed. In his quest to compel Bill Belichick to take the plunge with him for one more season in lieu of more cost-effective alternatives, he’s off to a hot start.
But nobody’s ever won a Super Bowl, or a starting cornerback job, in one day. Jones knows he has to keep his foot planted on the gas to continue standing out among some talented peers.
“We have a lot of guys top to bottom [at cornerback] who have played a lot of good ball, that continue to play a lot of good ball,” Jones said. “But it’s a competition for ourselves. We all push each other in the room and we look forward to it.”
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.