The long, seemingly never-ending Deion Jones saga finally came to a close for the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. It was an unceremonious end for Debo, who returned to the field briefly at the end of training camp before ending up on injured reserve for the first five weeks of the 2022 NFL season. The former Pro Bowler was traded to the Cleveland Browns for a late-round pick swap all the way in 2024.
Obviously, the Falcons were looking for anyone willing to take on his contract over the next two years. There weren’t many takers, and I’m guessing the Browns offer was either the best or the only one the team had received. Despite some reporting to the contrary, the team was clearly unwilling to cut Deion Jones and instead elected to take a different path to create some cap space heading in to the season: a restructure for Jones in early September.
That restructure, which converted $8.52M in base salary to signing bonus, had two big benefits. The first was creating cap space—$6.81M to be exact—for the 2022 season so Atlanta had some flexibility. Second, and more importantly for the trade, it reduced Jones’ salary to the minimum possible number of $1.14M. That meant a team trading for Jones would only be on the hook for a little over $1M, including his per-game roster bonus. I expect his exceptionally low salary number was crucial in getting a deal done with Cleveland.
Now that the trade has happened, and Dave has taken a closer look at the team implications for the move, I’ll be breaking down the specific financial details of the Deion Jones trade for this season and beyond. Thankfully, as you’ll soon see, the trade helps the Falcons clear up their messy salary cap situation by the end of the 2023 season. I’ll break it all down in detail, but for the short-and-sweet version, you can refer to this:
Dead cap: $11.86M
Total savings: $8.24M (restructure + trade savings)
Dead cap: $12.14M
Total savings: $13.14M
2022 is where the Falcons have elected to “bite the bullet” on both the Deion Jones contract and their salary cap situation at large. Even before the Jones trade, Atlanta had accumulated a record $65.68M in dead cap due in large part to the trades of Matt Ryan ($40.53M) and Julio Jones ($15.5M).
With the Deion Jones trade, Atlanta adds another $11.86M in dead cap to 2022. That gives the team an eye-watering $77.54M in total dead cap for this season. That’s by far the most ever for an NFL team and a whopping 37% of the $208M salary cap. Quite frankly, it’s incredible Atlanta has put together a competitive roster with only 63% of the cap.
Of course, the Falcons also get some savings out of moving Deion Jones. However, it’s important to remember that Atlanta already got most of the potential savings out of Jones’ contract with a restructure in September, freeing up $6.81M by converting $8.52M in base salary into a signing bonus with void years. The trade to Cleveland also frees up a small amount of additional space, about $1.43M, from his remaining base salary and per-game roster bonus.
The Falcons have a healthy amount of cap space for the remainder of 2022, roughly $9.43M per Spotrac. Any cap that remains unspent will “roll over” into 2023 and could further bolster 2023’s cap and potentially offset some of Jones’ future dead cap.
The Falcons will carry a significant $12.14M dead cap hit from Deion Jones in 2023. Figuring this number out is a little bit more complex, but ultimately it’s from two aspects of the contract: prorated signing bonus (much of it from various restructures over the years), and the void year money coming due. Jones had roughly $7.04M in prorated bonuses left in 2023, and the total for the three void years comes to $5.1M.
While the dead money is noteworthy, the team saves a considerable amount in 2023 as well. The Falcons save about $13.14M in cap space for 2023, which is a combination of base salary, roster bonus, and per-game roster bonuses. The trade of Deion Jones forces the void year money to come due in 2023 instead of 2024, but has the effect of clearing him off Atlanta’s books entirely in 2023.
As a result of the Deion Jones trade, Atlanta will have a completely clean financial slate from Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and Deion Jones by the time 2024 rolls around. Even in 2023, the team’s dead money will be a fraction of the 2022 season. The Falcons are currently projected to have $58.85M in cap space next year with 35 players under contract. Atlanta could easily clear another ~$20M with trades or cuts of Marcus Mariota and Calvin Ridley, if they so chose.
It’s been a difficult two-year stretch for this team in terms of the salary cap, but with some frugal spending this season and some aggressive moves to shed bad contracts, the Falcons will once again be major players in free agency in 2023 and beyond.