The Green Bay Packers have four edge rushers hitting free agency in two weeks. Nick Perry will likely command a high salary, Julius Peppers is a Hall of Famer, and Jayrone Elliott gets a bit of publicity as a former undrafted free agent who is restricted instead of unrestricted.
And then there’s Datone Jones, who seems to be discussed only rarely.
In a sense, he is the forgotten man among this group of players, despite having played the 11th-most snaps of any defensive player in 2016 and the third-most among the team’s outside linebackers. He even added 158 special teams snaps as well. Yes, Datone Jones was indeed a key player for the Packers last season, even though his stat line was less than impressive. In addition, his ability to play both outside linebacker and shift inside in passing downs makes him a useful tool in multiple situations.
The fact that Jones did not blow up on the stat sheet likely will depress the market for his services, increasing the chances of him returning to the Packers in 2017. However, Jones could be poised for an uptick in production if he comes back to continue his development as an outside linebacker.
In addition, Jones appears more than amenable to a potential return, according to Zach Kruse of Bleacher Report:
I'm told free agent Datone Jones wants to be back with the #Packers. GB should want him back. Reasonable to think a deal gets done.— Zach Kruse (@zachkruse2) February 23, 2017
This is good news for the depth on the edge and would alleviate the panic that some Packers fans feel at the position, at least somewhat.
A deal for Jones could be in the mold of Nick Perry’s from 2016. A one-year deal, either with a moderate salary or heavily laden with incentives, seems like a reasonable accommodation for both Jones and the team. That would then allow him to cash in if he does undergo a similar breakout to Perry’s, while the Packers are only on the hook for one season in case that doesn’t come about.
Expanding further on Jones’ ability, Kruse recently ranked him as the ninth-best 3-4 outside linebacker on the market this year, just behind Peppers (8th) and a few slots behind the third-ranked Perry. Perry could command a huge price tag on the open market two weeks from now, making his return questionable, while Peppers’ age makes the team’s interest in him uncertain. However, neither of those items are likely to negatively impact the 26-year-old Jones’ chances of returning to Green Bay.
Ultimately, the fact that Datone has been in the Packers’ defensive system for four years should work to his benefit. The front office would be wise to invest in a handful of veteran players this season who can run Dom Capers’ scheme, as the youth and inexperience has come back to haunt the unit in recent years. Jones would provide a stable presence on the edge, and would represent a low-risk and potentially high-reward signing.
Although Packers fans may be forgetting about No. 95, Ted Thompson is surely not doing the same. With Jones apparently hoping to come back, Thompson should absolutely work on bringing him back into the fold.