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Falcons trade Deion Jones to Browns

The veteran linebacker spent the past several months in limbo, and now he’s heading to a new home.

Las Vegas Raiders v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Deion Jones trade rumors have been swirling throughout 2022. The veteran linebacker was competing for his starting job heading into the summer, but then offseason shoulder surgery landed him on the physically unable to perform list. We saw him briefly in preseason, but he then landed on injured reserve heading into the season.

Jones can return to the field after spending four-plus weeks on IR, and the big question was whether he’d be back on the roster or headed elsewhere. Now we know that he’ll be traded, with NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reporting that Debo is going to the Cleveland Browns. CBS Sports reporter Jonathan Jones tells us it will be late-round pick swaps in 2024, and we’ll find out more detail in the coming hours and days.

Per Albert Breer, Atlanta gets a 2024 6th round pick in exchange for Jones and a 2024 7th round pick. This is a pure salary dump with a pick sweetener, essentially.

It’s a strange end to Jones’ career in Atlanta, albeit one we’ve seen coming for a while. A second round pick out of LSU back in 2016, Jones was drafted to inject athleticism and coverage ability into Atlanta’s linebacker group, and he did so immediately and added some real playmaking flair for the Falcons. In 13 rookie year starts in Atlanta’s Super Bowl season, he picked off three passes and returned two for touchdowns, piling up over 100 tackles and deflecting 11 passes en route to a huge season. His 2017 was spectacular as well, as he went to the Pro Bowl, picked three passes again, and was stingy in coverage. Those two seasons had some calling him a prototype for linebacker play in the NFL, but unfortunately they represented the high water mark for his time in Atlanta.

Jones suffered a major injury in 2018, one that knocked him out for all but six games, and while he still offered stretches of playmaking ability once he returned—and was still quite good in 2019—his play slipped in 2020 and 2021. Over the last two seasons, Jones was “credited” with close to 1,000 yards allowed in coverage along with 11 touchdowns, as well as plenty of missed tackles. He never really stopped being that terrific athlete or coming up with those huge plays every now and then, but the consistency and coverage ability that made him special in those early years started to dissipate.

With Mykal Walker and Rashaan Evans locked in as starters and a new ridiculous athlete in Troy Andersen drafted to be a long-term piece, there wasn’t a lot of room or playing time for Jones. The trade rumors started in the spring and intensified after Andersen was drafted, but between the injury picture and questions about the compensation they’d be getting back, the Falcons appeared to be in no hurry to move him. Now with the return of injured reserve a possibility, they’ve found a suitor to work with, and they’ll come out of this with better draft capital than they had earlier today. That, of course, is secondary to the cap piece, which we’ll get to in a moment.

Still just 28 years old, Jones would seem to be a strong bet to have several more seasons as a starter in the NFL, especially if he can rebound even partway to the stratosphere he found himself in back in those early years with the Falcons. There was going to be a team willing to take the chance on that outcome, and that team is apparently the Browns.

In Cleveland, Jones will likely push his way into a role as soon as he’s healthy, with the Browns looking for help at linebacker and a healthy Jones still offering plenty of athleticism and upside. It stinks to see him leaving Atlanta on a low note, but obviously I still believe has the talent to be a factor elsewhere, and I’ll be rooting for him to bounce back, especially given that Atlanta doesn’t have to see Cleveland for a long time. The Browns get him for a relative song, too, as his 2022 salary is just over $1 million.

For the Falcons, of course, this is about moving on from a player who would have been a very expensive reserve in Atlanta had he returned to the roster. The team had re-structured his deal to free up space in September and will be carrying some dead money hits for the next few years, but they’ll wipe out some money next season that will help them go shopping. We’ll have more up-to-date cap numbers in the morning, once we figure out if tonight’s reports of Jones carrying significant dead money for Atlanta next year is accurate.

We wish Jones well in Cleveland, where a fresh start will hopefully lead to a career resurgence for him. The Falcons, meanwhile, ought to find plenty of useful ways to put their newfound cap space to work for them in the weeks ahead.

If nothing else, we’ll always have the memories.