The New England Patriots surprised us all yesterday by cutting ties with 25-year-old wide receiver Donald Jones, but his release wasn’t the surprise. No, the surprise was the fact that the Patriots decided to get rid of Jones before training camp, because he was one of the only receivers on the roster with experience and caught a career high 41 passes last season. By releasing Jones, the Patriots are showing that they believe in their other receivers, and this has to be a vote of confidence for guys like Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce. The move was first reported by Ian Rapoport, who stated that the Patriots reasoning for releasing Donald Jones is to give their younger receivers more reps in training camp. Below are some assorted thoughts that I have on the release.
1. If that’s the only reason, then it’s a pretty bad one, to be honest. Jones was, again, one of the only receivers on the squad with tangible NFL experience, and he didn’t have a bad year last season. He would have been a No. 4 receiver for the Pats, and there is little sense in cutting a guy with a solid track record and some potential before training camp. I understand the Patriots love guys like Kenbrell Thompkins and want to give the rooks more reps (they signed two more UDFAs), but I don’t think giving young players more reps in training camp is a justification for releasing a wide receiver that is most likely better than those UDFAs. Jones had a legitimate chance of making the 53-man roster, and they should have at least let him stick through some of training camp. If he sucked, then they could have cut ties with him, fine. Apparently he has been struggling to learn the playbook, but he hasn’t been here for long either.
2. When any NFL team cuts a somewhat experienced player at a position of inexperience and uncertainty, it usually means that something is up. Teams don’t usually make stupid cuts or unwarranted releases before training camp, so they must have either seen something in Jones they didn’t like or knew the other guys on the roster are simply better. It’s not a stretch to think that Kenbrell Thompkins is a better receiver than Jones, but I still think it is a stretch to think that Jones wouldn’t be able to make the roster.
3. The Patriots signed Jones to a three-year deal at the beginning of free agency, and the quickness of his deal means that the Patriots likely once had plans for him. Another sign of that is the fact that they gave Jones a three-year deal. However, they didn’t guarantee any money, but I don’t think that had anything to do with a crystal ball type deal for this moment. Jones has had injury concerns in the past, so the fact that he received no guaranteed base salary or a signing bonus reflects this.
4. If I had to take a guess as to why the New England Patriots decided to cut Jones now, then it would be because of his $200,000 bonus for reporting to training camp. It’s not much and would only be a small part of the reason for his release (teams don’t usually let $200,000 stand in the way of long-term plans), but it is something and was likely icing on the cake for the Pats. If they truly felt that Jones wasn’t as good of an option as the rookies and didn’t have a significant chance of making the roster, then it is possible that one of the reasons for releasing him is that $200,000 bonus. They didn’t want to wait and see how Jones would do in training camp, because it would also mean paying $200,000 to a guy that was slow to learn the playbook and didn’t look like a good option.
5. At 25 years old and after only receiving significant playing time on the Buffalo Bills last season, you have to think that Donald Jones has his share of youth and upside. He is injury prone, but he did catch 41 passes and four touchdowns in his third season and is somebody that former teammate Stevie Johnson viewed as a player who could have broken out with the Pats and Tom Brady. Did the Bills offense fit Jones’s skill-set? Did Ryan Fitzpatrick hurt Jones? I think the answers to those questions are “not enough to significantly help his cause.”
6. The Patriots decision to release Jones isn’t going to significantly hurt this team, even if Jones would have made the roster. Mike Reiss and other beat writers had Jones as the surprise cut, and it always seemed like the team wasn’t as high on him. Jones would have given the Patriots some quality experience and a fair share of youth and upside on the squad, so it is difficult to see him go before camp. It’s a move that I’m not exactly a fan of, but there is another angle of looking at things. The Patriots group of wide receiver aren’t “bad”, but they are inexperienced and uncertain. The Pats somewhat know what they have in Jones, although he is an uncertainty himself. Training camp reps will help give guys like Boyce and Thompkins needed experience and will allow the team to better see what they have in those players. This seems to be the Patriots justification, and this is something the Pats will have to vindicate through the success of the rookies. If they flop, then we’ll look back at releasing Jones as a poor decision (unless if he flops as well, which really can’t be ruled out, although he is a safer bet to produce).
7. One last thing, are the two UDFAs the Pats signed really better than Jones? No. Are they surer bets to produce? Definitely not? But are they intriguing and do they offer more upside? Yes and most likely.