By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
FOXBORO, Mass. -- Do I have your attention? Thank you. That means you like a good football story. I appreciate you.
One of the better football stories to emerge in New England in recent weeks is Patriots cornerback Jonathan Jones, who signed a three-year extension and has minted it with two excellent games against the Steelers and Dolphins. Pro Football Focus has greatly recognized Jones' contributions, grading him an "Elite" 90.8 through two weeks. He's the No. 1 graded CB in the league and the only one with an elite grade entering Week 3.
A major reason that Jones has flourished in recent games, going back to his shutdown performance against Tyreek Hill in the AFC Championship Game, is his versatility. He mainly plays inside, but he has added solid boundary play to his repertoire. He can act as a safety near the line of scrimmage or glue himself to slot receivers in the intermediate areas. He has become a core special teams player. His speed allows him to play just about anywhere on the field against any kind of fleet-footed target. He gets his hands on the football as well as any defensive back on the team. And he's as selfless as anyone in the locker room.
"Just being healthy this year, being able to get out there with my teammates and compete, it feels good to be out there," Jones said after the Patriots' season-opening win over the Steelers.
He's done more than compete. He's dominated.
"Jon's really worked hard since he's been with us," said head coach Bill Belichick during a conference call on Tuesday. "He started off primarily in a special teams role, and then that expanded to some situational things on defense to really our nickel corner to safety. He's just continued to expand his role for us defensively which has given us more flexibility and we've been able to find more opportunities to get him on the field.
"He's a smart kid, he works hard and has good instincts and has a good understanding of our defensive system, so it allows him to do a lot of different things for us."
Slot cornerbacks have become more important in recent years, as teams emphasize slot receivers more in their offense and play their big playmakers in the slot as well, like Hill with the chiefs. So a player like Jones playing at a high level is perhaps more valuable than he will get credit for in the grand scheme of things.
He also may have left money on the table. Despite his new contract with the Patriots, which is essentially a restructured four-year deal including this season, his average annual earnings of just over $6 million over the next four years leaves him below the highest-earning slot corners in the league. For example, the Steelers inked former Chiefs CB Steven Nelson to a deal worth $8.5 million annually. Colts slot corner (and former Patriots undrafted rookie) Kenny Moore is making $8.325 million per season.
The Patriots recognized Jones' value and locked him up before he could go to the open market. And Jones wasn't terribly interested in going elsewhere, either. He's said numerous times how much he loves playing for the Patriots and winning games.
Jones is now becoming a major reason why those W's continue to go up. He's a hell of a football story.
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 [email protected].