Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE
After stepping in for the injured Desmond Bishop and D.J. Smith, Brad Jones will look to get a new contract in free agency.
The Green Bay Packers' linebacking corps was ravaged with injuries in 2012. Starting inside linebacker Desmond Bishop was lost for the year late in the preseason, while his replacement D.J. Smith went on injured reserve a few weeks later. With Brad Jones making a switch early in the off-season from outside to inside, he was thrust into the starting lineup and performed admirably, enough so that he should earn a multi-year deal in free agency this off-season.
Jones played almost exclusively on special teams over the first five weeks of the 2012 season before being thrust into the lineup in Week 6 when Smith injured his knee and went on injured reserve. Jones then started the remainder of the season at right inside linebacker, racking up 51 solo tackles, 26 assists, and two sacks (according to Pro Football Reference). He was steady both against the run and the pass, and was actually a significant improvement over Bishop in coverage. In fact, he earned Pro Football Focus' attention and was named their third-best substitute of the season across the entire league. He ranked second-highest among all free agent linebackers in PFF's rankings.
There will be much hand-wringing about the inside linebacker position, but the fact remains that the Packers have three potential starters on the roster even without Jones. Despite struggling in pass coverage in 2011, Bishop is one of the better inside linebackers out there, and will be an unquestioned starter in 2013 if he's healthy. A.J. Hawk remains for the time being, but there's still a question about whether he will be cut soon as a salary cap casualty. Finally, D.J. Smith has shown some flashes of greatness, but has some improvement to do in becoming more physical. Jones would provide some more crucial depth at a key position for the Packers' 3-4 defense.
Likelihood of Re-Signing
While Jones put up a great year last year, he'll need to do it again in order to really get any sort of big long-term deal. It seems likely that Jones will be back in Green Bay, due to his familiarity with the defense and the fact that the team will highly value his versatility and ability to play pretty much any linebacker position (as he played on the left side in 2009 and on the right in '10 and '11). It's entirely possible that a team desperate for an upgrade at linebacker will offer Jones a big contract, but I don't see a huge chance of that happening.
Estimated odds of re-signing: 70%, with a significant increase if A.J. Hawk is released.