Cyrus Jones isn’t going anywhere
Cyrus Jones has had better weeks.
After an embarrassing performance on national television in Monday night’s win over the Ravens with two badly misplayed punt returns, Jones has been reminding himself that he’s not the only NFL rookie to struggle.
“Trying to,” Jones said softly at his locker on Thursday. “I ain’t the first one to go through it, I ain’t going to be the last. Just try to keep getting better.”
The Patriots find themselves in a tricky position with Jones. Drafted in part because of his abilities as a punt returner — Jones led the country with four punt returns for touchdowns in his senior season at Alabama — Jones has been a disaster in his limited time with the Patriots.
He has returned 10 punts for just 42 yards and eight kickoffs for 180 yards, while fumbling an NFL-high five times and making several poor decisions.
Jones may not field any more punts for the rest of the year following Monday’s game, in which he twice recklessly chased after a bouncing football. One time he narrowly avoided touching the ball, but the second time didn’t end as well, with the ball glancing off Jones’s foot, and the Ravens recovering at the 3-yard line.
Even with Danny Amendola out with a sprained ankle and Julian Edelman dealing with lingering foot issues, the Patriots don’t have much confidence in Jones making the right decisions as a punt returner.
Their options are to put Edelman back there and hope he avoids contact, or use a more trustworthy veteran such as Patrick Chung — who returned one punt against the Ravens — or Devin McCourty.
“In the Denver game and moving forward, you just can’t take the chance he’s going to lose the game for you,” said former Patriot and NFL offensive lineman Ross Tucker, who was on the national radio call of Monday night’s game. “Some teams have guys returning punts that they know darn well aren’t going to be able to go ahead and take one back to the house. But they’re OK with that — they just want to field the ball. That’s the most important thing.”
Returning punts in the NFL is much more difficult than in college. At Alabama, Jones could simply catch the punt and run through a defense with his elite athleticism. In the NFL, the punters are better, the coverage teams are faster, and the decisions required of a punt returner — when to fair catch, go for a return, or let the ball bounce away — are much more complex.
Several of Jones’s teammates say he does a great job returning punts in practice, but it hasn’t translated to the games.
“That’s the most frustrating thing,” Jones said. “Just got to keep doing what I’m doing in practice. A lot of the guys give me a little tip here or there. It’ll come.”
But what to do now with Jones? He was the Patriots’ highest draft pick last spring — 60th overall — but has not performed well on special teams or at cornerback. Jones has played just 140 snaps this season, surpassed on the depth chart by newcomer Eric Rowe, and had earned himself a spot in Bill Belichick’s doghouse before the Baltimore game. After earning an ejection for fighting against the Browns in Week 5, Jones played just one defensive snap in the next six games.
But the Patriots need Jones, too. They drafted him in the second round for a reason, believing in his potential as a speedy, physical cornerback and punt returner. When Rowe missed the Baltimore game with a hamstring injury, Jones filled in with his most extensive work of the season, playing 48 of 70 snaps and playing decently in coverage, despite allowing a 47-yard pass to Breshad Perriman. The Patriots have Justin Coleman and Jonathan Jones at cornerback as well, but as of last week Cyrus Jones was ahead of them on the depth chart.
“I would think the biggest thing for him now is to kind of love him up and try to get his confidence back,” Tucker said. “But that’s not really the Belichick way, so maybe one of the assistants or the leaders on the team can help him with that.”
Belichick, in fact, went easy on Jones last week, at least with the media.
“We’ve seen [Tom] Brady throw an interception before, too,” Belichick noted when asked of Jones’s fumble.
Jones isn’t going anywhere, despite the cries from some fans to release him. During his New England tenure, Belichick has never gotten rid of a first- or second-round pick in less than two years. Jones has a reasonable $910,614 cap number with $835,473 in dead money in 2017, so the Patriots might as well see if they can develop him into a capable starting cornerback and a smarter punt returner.
Jones said he is “taking advice from anybody who wants to give it.”
“Nobody plays perfect on the team,” said McCourty, a seven-year safety who also struggled with consistency in his first few NFL seasons. “Couple years ago, more than half these [reporters] in the room said I didn’t deserve to be here. I don’t buy into the hype of, you have a bad game or a bad play, everybody saying everyone needs to do this to help you. Just keep playing football.”
If the Patriots gave up on rookies because of a few bad plays, they wouldn’t have McCourty patrolling the middle of the defense now. They wouldn’t have had Kevin Faulk catching key passes and helping win three Super Bowls. And Troy Brown, who was cut his rookie season and didn’t become a starting receiver until his eighth NFL season, certainly wouldn’t have become a member of the Patriots’ 50th anniversary team.
“It moves that fast,” McCourty said. “Malcolm [Butler] makes a Super Bowl play, and everyone all of a sudden knew he was a good player. It’s the same thing with Cy. He’s a good player, he’s a young guy, he’s talented. He’ll be just fine.”
MEMO FROM MEETINGS
Deflategate 2? One was enough
A few updates from the NFL’s owners meetings held Wednesday in Dallas:
■ The biggest story in New England, of course, was the league’s response to Deflategate 2, the Giants raising questions about the Steelers’ football inflation levels in their game two weeks ago.
The NFL quickly swept it under the rug, stating that there “were no chain of command issues,” the Steelers’ footballs were “in compliance,” and the Giants never made a “formal complaint.”
“All of the league protocols were being properly followed and there’s no further follow-up on that,” commissioner Roger Goodell told reporters. “The teams didn’t follow up and we didn’t follow up any further because we were comfortable that the protocols were followed.”
Patriots fans are livid at the league’s non-reaction compared with the 18-month ordeal it put the Patriots through. The NFL clearly does not want to publicly acknowledge that footballs naturally deflate in cold weather, and that the Patriots’ alleged wrongdoing should have amounted to no more than a speeding ticket.
The Patriots’ punishments didn’t happen in a vacuum, of course. The NFL owners feel that the Patriots have been bending rules for years and got off lightly for Spygate, and wanted the Patriots to pay their pound of flesh. And the harsh punishments for Deflategate had more to do with Tom Brady destroying his cellphone and the Patriots refusing to make John Jastremski and Jim McNally available for follow-up interviews.
But for those complaining about a lack of investigation into the Steelers, is that what we really want out of the NFL — to commission lengthy, costly, and ridiculous investigations every time there’s an accusation of wrongdoing? Wouldn’t we rather the NFL learn from its mistakes?
As Jonathan Kraft noted last week on the Patriots’ pregame radio show, one fallout from Deflategate is the NFL has learned “that when situations like that come up, it’s good to get the correct information out.”
■ The Chargers took two very large steps closer to moving to Los Angeles. The NFL approved a lease agreement to allow the Chargers to play in the Rams’ soon-to-be-built football palace in Inglewood, and, more importantly, granted the Chargers a debt waiver to allow owner Dean Spanos to borrow up to $325 million to pay for a $650 million relocation fee.
NFL rules state that teams can’t carry more than $250 million in debt, but the owners did Spanos a favor, also allowing him to pay back the loan over 30 years instead of 10.
The NFL would still prefer the Chargers to stay in San Diego, and here’s betting that Spanos does, too. And the Chargers have the option of going year-to-year at Qualcomm Stadium through 2019, so there is still time. But the Chargers certainly have the leverage now to pull off a move.
■ Goodell sent a subliminal message in his opening remarks at his press conference. Before taking any questions, Goodell noted that the salary cap is expected to grow by about $10 million per team for the fourth year in a row, and that the league’s collective bargaining agreement “is working.”
“I think the agreement that we structured with the players and teams in 2011 has been incredibly successful, and so as I mentioned to [NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith] on several occasions, this is healthy for us,” Goodell said. “We should continue to find ways to continue to extend that, extend the agreement, and make sure that we address things that we think we can make better.”
As noted many times in this space, the CBA has been a home run for the owners and questionable for the players, who are seeing a disappearance of the middle class. And Goodell is very much on the ownership side of the table in these labor negotiations.
So over the next five years, we’ll hear a lot from Goodell and the owners about the need to extend the current CBA. Of course they feel that way — it’s working out swimmingly for them.
JUST IN CASE
They should keep Romo at the ready
Jerry Jones tried to put the toothpaste back in the tube Thursday night.
“We completely support Dak [Prescott] as our starting quarterback, unequivocally,” Jones said. “That’s that. There is no issue there at all.”
But we’d advise Tony Romo to keep his arm warm.
Prescott has had an incredible rookie season, leading the Cowboys to an 11-2 record with his elite athleticism and savvy decision-making. But the offense has hit a bit of a wall the last two weeks, gaining 264 total yards in a 17-15 win over the Vikings and 260 total yards in a 10-7 loss to the Giants.
And with the season now reaching a critical juncture, and a healthy Romo sitting on the bench, it will be mighty tempting for Jones to go back to his veteran for the end of the regular season and playoffs.
“What a story — one for the ages — if he’d step in there and this year help us win a Super Bowl on the field with his skill,” Jones told the New York Daily News last week.
When will Jones know when to make the switch?
“I don’t have a definition for it,” Jones said, “but you’ll know it when you see it.”
Those comments made former Cowboys great Troy Aikman slap his forehead.
“I’m just really dumbfounded by the comments, and not only the first time, but why they continue,” Aikman said Thursday morning on Dallas radio station The Ticket. “I don’t understand why you would talk.”
Jones isn’t exactly helping build confidence in Prescott. But, frankly, we wouldn’t blame Jones for switching to Romo for the playoffs. Prescott has had a terrific season, but when it comes to the playoffs, give me the veteran over the rookie every time, all other things being equal.
“It’s very fortunate that we have depth there,” Jones said. “And you certainly got depth in a big way when you got Tony Romo sitting there.”
Busy week for Miami’s Moore
Not a bad week for 10-year veteran quarterback Matt Moore. Monday morning, he was named the Dolphins’ starting quarterback for the foreseeable future after Ryan Tannehill suffered an ACL/MCL injury. Saturday night’s game against the Jets was Moore’s first start since the 2011 season, as he has sat behind Tannehill for the last five seasons.
Also Monday, Moore’s wife delivered their son, Wyatt. Moore was there for the birth but was in the Dolphins’ facility by 11 a.m. Tuesday, albeit a bit bleary-eyed.
“That’s what you get when you have a true pro as your backup,” Dolphins coach Adam Gase said. “He knows exactly what he needs to be ready for every week, and this week is no different. He was on it, and guys responded well to him.”
Receiver Michael Floyd, a free agent after the season, certainly hurt his market value with an inconsistent year followed by a DUI arrest Monday morning. His best course of action in free agency may be to sign a one-year prove-it deal, and the Patriots now have exclusive negotiating rights with him until March. If the sides like the relationship, the Patriots may have bought themselves an extra year with a talented receiver, at a reasonable price. Floyd could also land the Patriots a 2018 compensatory draft pick if he signs elsewhere . . . Mike Nugent was certainly struggling, having missed an extra point in four straight games. But did the Bengals really have to cut their kicker with three meaningless games to go in the season? The Bengals are going nowhere at 5-7-1, and Nugent has been with the team since 2010. The Bengals couldn’t have let him just finish the season before parting ways? Nugent, to his credit, thanked the Bengals with a classy statement . . . The Texans are 7-6 and tied for first place in the AFC South, but have been outscored by 45 points this season. At this pace, they will finish with a minus-55 point differential, and since the 1970 merger, only four teams have reached the playoffs with a worse one — the 2010 Seahawks (minus-97), 2011 Broncos (minus-81), 2004 Rams (minus-73), and 1989 Steelers (minus-61) . . . With seven more catches, Antonio Brown will join Marvin Harrison as the only receivers in NFL history with 100-plus catches in four straight years . . . Major League Baseball banned hazing in its new CBA, something we’d love to see the NFL adopt. There’s nothing more detestable in today’s NFL than rookies being forced to take veterans out for expensive dinners.