He still may have a future with the Green Bay Packers, but general manager Ted Thompson did not exercise 2013 first-round pick Datone Jones' fifth-year option on his rookie contract.
Jones' fifth-year option would have paid him $6.757 million.The deadline for teams to pick up fifth-year options for 2013 first-round players came Monday afternoon. Jones, drafted 26th overall out of UCLA, will play the final year of his rookie contract this season. First-round players sign five-year rookie deals, but the collective bargaining agreement requires teams to inform them if their fifth season will be exercised.
Even without a guaranteed fifth year, it's premature to predict Jones will play elsewhere in 2017. The Packers did not exercise 2012 first-round pick Nick Perry's fifth-year option a year ago, but Thompson re-signed Perry to a one-year, $5 million contract this offseason. Perry's fifth-year option would have been for $7.75 million, so the Packers saved $2.75 million on their offseason deal.
The Packers could try to re-sign Jones to a second contract next offseason, but he enters a "prove-it" year in 2016. Jones underperformed early, never earning a consistent starting job as a five-technique defensive end in the Packers' defense. He has started three of his 44 regular-season games in three seasons, with eight sacks in his career. Jones had three sacks, three batted passes and 14 tackles last season.
Most of Jones' production came after the Packers moved him to outside linebacker late in the season. Jones had two sacks at the Minnesota Vikings in late November, and added a tackle for loss against the Chicago Bears a week later.
The Packers plan to use Jones as an elephant rusher in their defense this season. Jones, similar to Perry, has been a reliable run defender on the edge.
If he can establish a role for himself in the outside linebacker rotation, it wouldn't be surprising to see Jones back in Green Bay for the 2017 season. Regardless, Jones would be expected to return for significantly less than the $6.75 million his contract would have paid him.
Perhaps Jones can maximize his new role. With more production, the soon-to-be 26-year-old Jones has a chance to get a better deal on the open market.
Jones is the third straight first-round pick Thompson has passed over when deciding fifth-year options since the new rule started, joining Perry and 2011 first-round tackle Derek Sherrod. With a limited track record, it's hard to forecast Jones' chances of returning in 2017. It seems like a lock Thompson will exercise 2014 first-round safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix's fifth-year option next year.