While I usually cover the Miami Hurricanes for Five Reasons Sports, I do have a professional rooting interest in the Dallas Cowboys. Sometimes, worlds collide and with the Dolphins signing Byron Jones to a 5-year, $82.5 million deal, with $57 million guaranteed, I found myself in a unique position among my Five Reasons brethren given that I’ve watched all of Jones’ career and have some thoughts on him.
Jones’ career has been interesting. When he was drafted, he was more of a tweener, with the ability to play corner and safety. And sure enough, that’s what he did. He started at corner for one year, then spent 2 years at safety, before moving back to corner for the last 2 years, where he became a Pro Bowler.
So what attributes allowed Jones to excel at both corner and safety? Physicality. Probably the one consistent thing throughout his career is he loves to tackle. The 2019 season featured Jones’ lowest tackle output, and he still had 49 tackles. In 2016, where he started at safety for a team that went 13-3, Jones had 81 tackles. He’s also very durable, having only missed one game in 5 seasons.
Basically, for a Cowboys fans, Jones represented a safety blanket. You could put him at any position in the secondary, and he would perform well. And the prospect of losing that safety blanket does make me uneasy.
But the Dolphins didn’t make Jones the highest paid CB in the NFL because he is a Swiss Army Knife. Can Jones be the best CB in the NFL?
I’d say no, but I also think it doesn’t matter. By my definition, the best CB in the NFL needs to be more than solid and more than an all-round player. He needs to change games. And for all of Jones’ positive attributes, the glaring miss in terms in his portfolio is the INTs. Byron Jones has 2 INTs in his entire career, both while playing safety. He’s never intercepted a pass while playing CB. That play making, game changing element is missing, and if the Dolphins expect him to be the style of player Xavien Howard was in 2018 (as an example), they’ll be very disappointed.
There’s a reason, however, I said it doesn’t matter. First, the market always dictates price, to a certain extent. There were other suitors for Jones and comparing across years is difficult. You can always argue someone is overpaid relative to their peers after they sign a new deal, because salaries generally rise. Second, the Dolphins know exactly who they’re getting with Jones. In fact, the Dolphins executed a well thought out offseason plan.
They landed Jones in addition to Shaq Lawson and Kyle Van Noy. They are building the 3 levels to their defense and with an improved pass rush, they are looking for Jones to be steady and physical on the outside, something he excels at. Jones represents the answer to a problem, a piece of the larger puzzle, and plugging that gap without someone that is steady and reliable was worth it to the Dolphins in the context of the larger rebuild. That is why I don’t agree that Byron Jones is the best CB in football, but I do agree with the Dolphins paying him as such.