FOXBOROUGH — Patriots cornerback Jonathan Jones got his pilot’s license in April. He began his flight education at the airport in Norwood, finished up in Atlanta, and has been cruising around New England this spring.
“As soon as I went up for my discovery flight, it bit me, and I was like, ‘Yeah, this is something I love doing,’ ” Jones said Tuesday.
The Patriots will need Jones to captain their secondary, too, after re-signing him to a two-year, $20 million deal in March. Entering his eighth NFL season, Jones, 31, is suddenly the elder statesman in the secondary now that Devin McCourty has retired.
Jones, who came to the Patriots as an undrafted rookie in 2016, is the only player in the secondary who has won a Super Bowl in New England. And he is one of just four players out of 89 on the roster who has won multiple rings here.
“When we start to talk about the history and how things happen, I think a lot of guys look at me as the guy that’s kind of been around,” Jones said Tuesday, on hand as he participates in the Patriots’ voluntary offseason program. “There’s a lot of young guys and you’re like, ‘I’m not that old yet.’ But they kind of look up to you and they want answers. The young guys come in, they’re hungry.”
Jones’s leadership will be important this year for a cornerback group that includes second-year players Jack Jones and Marcus Jones and this year’s first-round pick, Christian Gonzalez. Jack Jones perhaps needs extra mentoring after getting a suspension at the end of last year for not adhering to his rehab program.
Jonathan Jones said he learned from McCourty how to be a leader by example.
“I think for Devin it was just that consistency,” Jones said. “I’ve gone seven years of just watching him day in and day out. Devin was the same person every day.”
Jones certainly wasn’t upset when the Patriots used the 17th overall pick on Gonzalez, a 6-foot-1-inch, press-man cornerback.
“We need all the help that we can get,” Jones said. “We’ve had a lot of transition in that position over the last few years and just we need it, we need a lot of help.”
Jones is coming off his best season, compiling career highs in interceptions (four), forced fumbles (three), and passes defended (11) while scoring his first touchdown.
His 2023 season might be a little tougher with Aaron Rodgers in the division and games against Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, Jalen Hurts, Justin Herbert, and other top quarterbacks. Jones just flashed a big smile when asked about it.
“A lot more competition,” he said. “It feels good. Every Sunday you get to go out there and compete, and to have one of the all-time greats in your division makes it fun.”
Chasing the ring
New Patriots offensive tackle Riley Reiff wasn’t shy about what motivates him as he enters his 12th NFL season with his fifth team.
“A ring,” said Reiff. “That’s why I keep playing. It’s as simple as that.”
Reiff, 34, must be in awe when he sees the Patriots’ six Lombardi Trophies in the lobby, because he hasn’t had much playoff success in his 11-year career. A first-round pick of the Lions in 2012, Reiff has played in 163 regular-season games but just five playoff games. He was the Bengals’ starting right tackle in 2021 but injured his ankle in Week 14 and watched his team’s Super Bowl loss from the press box.
“Not a nice press box, either,” Reiff said. “Probably the one you guys sit in.”
Oddsmakers aren’t bullish on Reiff winning a ring with the Patriots this year, predicting the team to finish last in the AFC East. If they are to be a surprise contender, they likely need Reiff to contribute with a solid season.
Reiff signed a one-year contract in March that suggests the Patriots view him as the starting right tackle, with a base value of $5 million, $4.15 million fully guaranteed, and playing-time incentives that can push it to $9 million.
Reiff came into the NFL out of Iowa in 2012 as a left tackle and started 118 games at that position for the Lions and Vikings. But he started 14 games at right tackle in 2016, and has been strictly a right tackle the last two seasons, starting 12 games for the Bengals in 2021 and 10 for the Bears in 2022.
Right tackle was an issue for the Patriots last year, with Isaiah Wynn allowing four sacks and committing nine penalties in nine games. Backups Conor McDermott and Yodny Cajuste didn’t fare much better. With left tackle Trent Brown back, Reiff looks likely for the right side.
“It’s harder than it looks, but yeah, I’ve done that a couple times throughout my career,” Reiff said of switching sides. “Wherever the coaches want me to do it, I’ll do it.”
In joining the Patriots, Reiff reunites with guard James Ferentz, his college roommate and one of his best friends.
“He was mad that he wasn’t the first one to know,” Reiff said. “I’ve always heard a lot of good things about this team and just grateful to be here.”
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.