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Should the Packers pick up Datone Jones' 5th Year Option?

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After moving to Jones to outside linebacker mid-season, will the Green Bay choose to pick up the 5th-year option on the former first-round pick?

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Even with enduring a position change, it was a successful 2015 campaign for Datone Jones, as the 26th overall selection in the 2013 draft accumulated 14 tackles, with six assists, and three sacks. Moving from defensive end to outside linebacker mid-way through the season, Jones will now join what head coach Mike McCarthy refers to as a group of 'elephants' at outside linebacker in 2016.

The Green Bay Packers experimented with Jones at the outside linebacker position last season, and it seems as if McCarthy, and defensive coordinator Dom Capers feel he will be most valuable entering the 2016 season there as well. During annual meetings last month in Florida, McCarthy had the following to say on Jones and his utilization entering 2016 (as reported by ESPN):

"He finished out [last season] where he needs to be," McCarthy said of Jones. "I think what you saw at the end of the year is where he needs to come back at. It’s more on his body type, it’s more on his movement ability, his body index. So yeah, he comes back in the shape he left in, he’ll be about where he needs to be."

Further evidence of the Packers wanting to utilize Jones at outside linebacker next season is the fact that the team chose not to sign outside linebacker Mike Neal this off-season as well. Neal, the Packers second-round-pick in 2010, has spent his entire six-year career with the team.

Entering 2016, Jones will join Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers, Nick Perry, Jayrone Elliott, and Lerentee McCray as the Packers' outside linebackers. With a plethora of talent, the Packers look stout at a position that carries so much significance in a 3-4 defensive scheme next season.

What's intriguing is what happens at the position entering 2017.

Entering 2017, Jones, Peppers, Perry, and McCray will all be free agents if the Packers choose not to pick up Jones' 5th year contract option by the May 2nd deadline. With a signing bonus of $998,018, a base salary of $1,000,000 and a roster bonus of $457,264, Jones' cap hit for 2016 comes in at $2,455,282.

Here is where things get tricky though...

Under the NFL's collective bargaining agreement in 2011, wages jump tremendously under the fifth-year option and teams are still struggling to figure out how to handle picking up options for players drafted since then.

The Packers elected not to pick up Nick Perry's fifth year option last year, and the expectation should be the same for Jones. Under the new CBA, Jones' salary would skyrocket to $8,369,00 if classified as a linebacker or $8,069,00 as a defensive end.

Give that circumstance, I believe the Packers have to pass on Jones' fifth year option, and go into the 2017 off-season with the tough task of re-vamping the outside linebacker position. With Peppers likely to retire  and Jones, Perry, and McCray all free agents, the Packers will have to make some decisions as to what direction they would like to take the position moving forward. What will be difficult is figuring out which of those three warrant a contract renewal. With Peppers and Matthews likely to dominate snap counts as the team's edge rushers, it may be tough to come to a consensus as to what a guy like Jones, who is new to the position, brings to the table.

Jones showed the ability to transition to the outside linebacker position permanently last year by ranking high analytically, and does bring a tenaciousness to the defense already. But given how his contract would skyrocket, you're likely to see the Packers handle the situation much like Perry's this past season, who was a 2012 first round pick and had not solidified himself as a starter. The Packers electing not to pick up Perry's option means the precedent has been set for Jones, who will be seemingly be playing for a new contract in 2016.