Facing another potential exodus this offseason, the New England Patriots are in danger of losing portions of their secondary and offensive line — arguably the two most important units on the field at any given time.
In a passing league, though, the Patriots possibly being without two top performers in JC Jackson and Devin McCourty, should they leave in free agency, seems a lot worse than having to fill roles for Trent Brown and Ted Karras. Additionally, without a fearsome pass rush, how will the unit fare if opposing QBs have ample to time to throw on less experienced/talented players?
If Pats fans were looking for a shred of positive news, though, it’s that Jonathan Jones is expected to be a full participant once training camp arrives. The veteran cornerback suffered a shoulder injury back in October and missed the rest of the reason after he had to undergo surgery.
Even though this was expected, given the favorable timetable, what does this update mean for the Patriots secondary?
Patriots CB Jonathan Jones is expected to return after shoulder surgery.
Jones, who was primarily the Patriots’ slot corner, may have to take on a larger role alongside Myles Bryant, Jalen Mills, Joejuan Williams, Shaun Wade and Justin Bethel. Bryant proved he can handle slot duties to an extent, so that’s a plus. Mills might have to undertake hybrid duties between cornerback and safety if there’s a need, especially since Williams could very well be released (Pats can save $1.4 million by doing so). Wade still needs time to develop and Bethel is largely a special teamer, so the latter three here may provide little-to-no contributions in 2022.
In the end, Jones returning really won’t make an eye-opening difference. He was supposed to be the elevated slot option with last year’s version of the Patriots secondary, but now he’ll no longer be a luxury if he has to take on a larger role on the outside.
And that’s not a knock on anybody. Going from Jackson, McCourty, Jones, Mills, Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips to Jones, Mills, Dugger, Phillips, Bryant and Wade/Williams isn’t exactly what you’d call upgrading (even though we can expect the Patriots to not let it get to that point).
There is an alternative, though. Releasing Jones saves New England nearly $5.7 million in cap space. He represents the largest salary for 2022 of anyone in the secondary and will be a free agent after the season. With a need to save money now and replace some of the best talent at the cornerback and safety positions, is it worth keeping Jones on board for one more season, which will feature a rebound/comeback from surgery?
Jones’ $5.7 million can be used to keep McCourty, at the very least, which fans would agree is a better use of the money. Then, if they want to, the Patriots can try to clear enough space to slap the franchise tag on JC Jackson.
With a relatively weak class of cornerbacks in free agency, this might be the team’s best option because any other configuration would be a downgrade and also cost money. The complications persist, but Bill Belichick is one to get in and out of this kind of trouble, and fans will likely know in the coming weeks.