How can recent free-agent signing Deion Jones help the Carolina Panthers during their first season under Frank Reich in 2023?
It didn't take long for the Carolina Panthers to snap up linebacker Deion Jones after his workout on Monday. The veteran free-agent penned a one-year deal with the franchise and will immediately look to impose himself en route to winning a roster place in 2023.
Jones is an intriguing pickup for a positional group that lacks sufficient depth. Shaq Thompson and Frankie Luvu are projected to be the two starters within Ejiro Evero's 3-4 base scheme at the second-level interior, with Kamu Grugier-Hill and Brandon Smith seeking core depth roles under the new regime.
There is a lot to like about Jones' potential. He's gone over 100 tackles in five of his seven NFL seasons, demonstrating a willingness to rush the passer and also assisting well from a coverage standpoint to further enhance his influence.
Deion Jones can provide depth for the Carolina Panthers in 2023
The former second-round selection started just five games for the Cleveland Browns in 2022 and many believe Jones' dominance has regressed from his Pro Bowl campaign with the Atlanta Falcons. While 2017 was a long time ago by NFL standards, the Panthers clearly saw enough in the LSU product to suggest he can be of use with a smooth integration.
Anyone expecting Carolina to provide Jones with starting reps right out of the gate will be out of luck. But that's not to suggest he won't play an important role as a backup piece that can provide extra freedom for Luvu along the way.
Jones still has the necessary instincts to make a difference. Depending on the situation, Evero could slot alongside Thompson on the interior and move Luvu to the edge rushing position opposite Brian Burns - something that comes with untold potential.
As previously stated, Jones is also a dependable presence against the pass. Even though his production was criticized last season, the player still gave up just 62.5 percent of his targets and an 80.2 passer rating when targeted, so it's still an obvious strength despite the explosiveness not being what it once was.
The Panthers have a talented defense with the scope to improve greatly under Evero's guidance. Having another experienced leader such as Jones in the locker room won't hurt, but how influential he'll be on the field remains an unknown quantity until we see how he immerses himself in the coming weeks before Week 1 gets here.
General manager Scott Fitterer is known for churning out the bottom end of his roster throughout the offseason to keep things fresh and evaluations rapid. Jones might not fit into this particular category due to his status, but he'll still need to perform well and prove himself all over again to get a roster spot.
While many see that as a formality, what comes next for Jones is less clear. For now, fans should expect a quality depth option and a strong communicator with the scope for more depending on how he fits into Carolina's new and improved way of thinking.
At worst, it's not costing the Panthers much to find out one way or another what Jones can offer. And who knows, perhaps sitting on the proverbial scrap heap for so long will provide the extra sense of urgency needed to make a return to the form of old.