The New England Patriots are re-signing cornerback Jonathan Jones to a two-year deal, a source confirmed to the Herald.
According to the source, Jones’s contract is worth $20 million with $13 million guaranteed, including a $7.5 million signing bonus. The deal also includes playing-time incentives worth up to $500,000 each year, per reports.
Meanwhile, the Pats are dealing tight end Jonnu Smith to Atlanta for a 2023 seventh-round draft pick.
Jones expressed a strong interest in re-signing with the team last week, telling the Herald: “It’s what I know. It’s what I love. It’s New England. It’s hard to say no to New England.”
Jones started 16 games last season at outside corner, a new position for the 7-year veteran. He snatched a career-high four interceptions, forced three fumbles and broke up 11 passes. Prior to last year, Jones spent the entirety of his career as a nickelback who occasionally rotated back to safety.
It’s unclear whether Jones will return to his starting outside corner spot or perhaps help offset the loss of the newly retired Devin McCourty and play safety. Jones will turn 30 in September.
His best position, nickelback, appears to be occupied by 2022 third-round pick Marcus Jones. The Patriots played the younger Jones at outside corner last year, though at 5-foot-8 he struggled mightily against better receivers. Jonathan Jones, who stands at 5-foot-9, also had trouble with top-tier wideouts down the stretch, possibly an indication the team is not done spending at the position in free agency.
Since entering the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2016, Jones started 43 of a possible 101 regular-season games. In addition to covering slot receivers, he has forced a turnover every season of his career and made an impact on special teams. Jones is also considered a rising leader in the locker room.
Prior to re-signing, he was viewed as one of the five best cornerbacks available. Jones now rejoins a corner depth chart consisting of Marcus Jones, Jalen Mills, Jack Jones and Shaun Wade. Hybrid nickelback/safety Myles Bryant is a restricted free agent.
In the Smith deal, the Patriots will create $4.4 million in cap space and absorb a $12.8 million dead cap hit, per Over the Cap, in what amounts to a salary dump. Smith has two years remaining on the four-year deal he signed as an unrestricted free agent in March 2021, one of the least team-friendly contracts in the league. Over two seasons in New England, Smith caught just 55 passes, scored one touchdown and failed to crack 300 yards in each year.
Smith’s departure leaves Hunter Henry and practice-squad players Matt Sokol and Scotty Washington in the team’s tight ends room. With Henry’s contract set to expire after next season, tight end now becomes a top need for the Patriots. Several draft prospects, including Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer and Utah’s Dalton Kincaid, are potential first- or second-round picks. The tight end class is viewed as one of the deepest in years.
If the Patriots prefer to replace Smith in free agency, they could pursue any number of veterans. Cowboys tight end Dalton Schultz is the best player available, followed by Miami’s Mike Gesicki, who is more of a pass-catcher than run-blocker. Bengals tight end Hayden Hurst is a solid, well-rounded tight end, as is Austin Hooper, formerly of the Titans and Browns.
In adding a seventh-round pick, the Patriots now have 11 selections in the upcoming NFL Draft, tied for most in the league with Houston. The Pats will make their first selection at 14th overall and their final pick with Atlanta’s seventh-rounder at No. 245.
The NFL Network first reported Smith’s trade to Atlanta, where he will reunite with head coach Arthur Smith, formerly his offensive coordinator in Tennessee.