Byron Jones entered the NFL as one of the league’s true athletic marvels. The Connecticut product had a spider chart colored in by a child sneaking up on their teenage years. In fact, until Zyon McCollum in 2022, nobody had matched the completeness of Jones’s NFL Combine performance. Jones was drafted in 2015. Unfortunately, things became different in 2022.
Jones doesn’t have much of an online presence. He tweeted about the unfortunate losses of Jason Jenkins and Gavin Escobar. His affection towards the UConn Huskies football team was the only other news from the football season on his timeline. It was a football season filled with eerie silence for the former second-team All-Pro cornerback.
So when the Miami Dolphins cornerback quote tweeted the NFL’s remembrance of his record-breaking broad jump, everyone paid attention. And our fears about Jones’s future were fully realized.
Byron Jones’ Tweet and Expected Fallout
On Feb. 25, Jones tweeted, “Much has changed in 8 years. Today I can’t run or jump because of my injuries sustained playing this game. DO NOT take the pills they give you. DO NOT take the injections they give you. If you absolutely must, consult an outside doctor to learn the long-term implications.”
He added that he hadn’t foreseen the regrettable cost associated with playing the game. That no amount of financial gain was worth a lifetime of chronic pain.
In the information age we live in, we’ve seen the likes of Joey Bosa and Lamar Jackson take more time to recover and return from injury than expected. Advances in modern technology and medical innovation have also helped players return from injury or begin careers that should have never happened, like with Jaylon Smith, Jones’s former Dallas Cowboys teammate.
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But the world is cruel, and modern medicine is a double-edged sword. As the NFL began cracking down on Toradol use, other drugs stepped in to take its place in keeping players relatively pain-free and on the field. Because even these millionaires are willing to risk their bodies to be on the field with their brothers.
For Jones, that decision may have cost him some longevity in the game and pain-free living outside it.
Let’s Talk About Money
At the end of the day, the NFL is a business. The monetary ramifications matters most here for several. It’s not fair, but that is the reality.
Suppose a player’s ailment is not life-threatening or altering in a very public fashion, like Antonio Brown’s unfortunate off-field situation over the past few seasons. In that case, fans want to know how this will affect their favorite team’s ability to build a winner — pawns on the chess board.
For the Dolphins, things are not so complex here. Jones is not and will not retire. He’d owe Miami $4.2 million of his signing bonus if he did. The Dolphins also won’t cut him until June 1, which means they won’t receive any sort of cap relief for the free agency period this offseason.
Jones is owed a non-guaranteed base salary of $13.5 million in 2023. Miami would save $3.5 against the cap if they cut him before June 1, but they’d carry $14.8 million in dead cap if they did that. A post-June 1 cut, however, gives them $13.6 million in salary cap relief with $4.8 million in dead cap.
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But with any big NFL contract, it doesn’t end this season. Jones will be a cap burden for Miami until 2027. Teams restructure deals like Jones’ all the time, converting salary to signing bonus money and adding voidable years to the end of the deal to spread out the cap implications. Mickey Loomis starts every morning off by adding a void year to somebody’s contract to kick the Saints’ “cap hell” down the curb another year.
But instead of being a $10 million burden on Miami’s 2024 cap, the number will be the same $4.75 million it is in 2023. The following seasons will be in the ballpark of $2.65 million.
What looked like it was going to be the best cornerback duo in the NFL turned into an abject disaster in Miami. The Dolphins’ defense finished top 10 in passing DVOA in both 2020 and 2021. However, Jones never found the same groove he had been in during his one season playing cornerback in Dallas. In the end, his five-year, $82.5 million contract was a failure.
Without a first-round pick, it’s unlikely we see Miami able to draft a cornerback who lives up to what Jones brought physically. Luckily for them, though, the 2023 NFL Draft is riddled with impressive defensive back play, and there are more than a few free agent options to choose from.
What’s Next for Byron Jones?
Jones was an outstanding DB at the college and NFL levels, but he’ll likely make a greater impact on the world off the field than he ever could on it.
Since his time at the University of Connecticut, Jones has held the nickname “Senator.” In the world, who you know and opportunity are often as important as what you know, and Jones took advantage of both the former and the latter while he was in college.
Joe Aresimowicz served as a member of Connecticut’s House of Representatives for 16 years. He also happened to be Jones’ AAU basketball coach in his younger years, giving them a personal connection that would lead to professional courtesy.
Jones took an internship with Aresimowicz when he was Connecticut’s House Majority Leader, splitting time between Connecticut and Washington D.C. with U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty. And while politicians are the most well-versed gum-flappers in all the land, Jones seemed to make an impression on Esty.
In an interview with The Associated Press in 2013, she said, “He has real presence and maturity and a combination of good humor and a calming presence, which is very important in a congressional office. He managed things with maturity and grace, and I was very impressed with his knowledge, intelligence, and his people skills.”
Even if traditional politics no longer interests Jones, maturity and intelligence have always been right at the forefront of the narrative surrounding the freak athlete. He’s a born and bred leader who will make this world a better place.
At least as much as any lone man can.