Veteran linebacker Deion Jones was released by the Carolina Panthers this morning, failing in a bid to join the team as a late free-agent acquisition. Could the former Falcon Pro Bowler, who played five years under Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, now make sense for Dallas’ LB depth chart?
Jones enjoyed successful years in Atlanta as a leader on Quinn’s defense, He made the Pro Bowl in 2017 and logged big numbers annually, including 11 interceptions in five years and always topping over 100 tackles. Despite being on the smaller side, Jones’ athleticism helped him stand out consistently.
While he hasn’t been back to the Pro Bowl in a while, Jones has still had standout moments even in the last few years. He was an NFC Defensive Player of the Week in 2021, his last year in Atlanta, for a game in which he had 15 tackles, three for a loss, and a sack.
In 2022, Jones was sidelined from offseason shoulder surgery and started the year on injured reserve. With a midseason return expected, Atlanta traded him to the Cleveland Browns in October. Jones came back and played 11 games for the Browns, starting five, and was again productive with 44 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and an interception.
A free agent this year, Jones finally found an opportunity when the Panthers, who knew him well from the NFC South, signed him just before camp. He earned praise from coach Frank Reich early in camp, but now finds himself back on the open market after being released in Carolina.
It’s only natural that we consider this opportunity from the Cowboys' perspective. For one, their linebacker corps took a big hit with the loss of rookie DeMarvion Overshown to a torn ACL. He was in line for a steady role this year behind Leighton Vander Esch and Damone Clark, particularly in passing situations. That’s where Deion Jones has done his best work throughout his career.
But the Dan Quinn link is what really drives this possibility. In the two years since Quinn arrived in Dallas, he’s brought in some of his former defensive Falcons players like Dante Fowler, Keanu Neal, Damontae Kazee, and Takk McKinley. Heck, even a couple of former offensive players, Ito Smith and Qadree Ollison, briefly resided in Dallas. While the others have moved on, Fowler is projected to be part of the Cowboys’ pass-rushing stable this year.
Jones was arguably the biggest contributor to Quinn’s Falcons years of any of those names, both statistically and as one of the team captains. Given the pipeline that Quinn has been for former Atlanta guys to get opportunities in Dallas, it’s no stretch to say that Jones could be next.
Granted, the fact that Jones didn’t catch on in Carolina is concerning. But still just 28 years old, Jones may have just been a bad fit schematically or seen as a progress stopper for younger, cheaper talent.
Last year, the Cowboys added another big-name linebacker who was on the decline in Anthony Barr. He proved valuable in the rotation, especially when Vander Esch had to miss a few games late in the season.
If added, Jones wouldn’t be asked to be a starter in 2023. And even if he’s not the player he once was in Atlanta, all he has to be is better than Jabril Cox or Devin Harper to be useful to Dallas.
We know it gets fatiguing for every known name to get linked to the Cowboys. But between their need at linebacker and the player’s history with Dan Quinn, Deion Jones represents more than just a name you’ve heard. There are two significant reasons that should at least have him on Dallas' radar, and perhaps lead to another Quinn product coming to town.