GREEN BAY - The frustrations that persuaded Green Bay Packers safety Josh Jones to leave the team this spring and reportedly request a trade are not new. They have simmered for months, building into the crescendo of his drastic decision.
Last October, after playing for the first time in the 2018 season with four snaps against the Detroit Lions, it was suggested on his weekly show with USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin that Jones finally got a chance to be on the field.
“You count that getting on the field?” he shot back. “Because I don’t.”
When pressed, Jones, a second-round pick in 2017, made it clear he was displeased with his lack of playing time through the season’s first several weeks.
“That’s what I’m here for,” he said then. “You ain’t going to (draft) a player in the second to not contribute to the team.”
Jones, who occasionally also expressed disappointment with his lack of snaps on Twitter, certainly noticed the reality of general manager Brian Gutekunst’s offseason overhaul at the safety position. When Gutekunst signed Adrian Amos in free agency, then doubled down by trading up in the first round to draft Darnell Savage Jr., it left very little room for Jones to see the field.
So Jones bolted after the draft. He’s working out in Florida, according to an ESPN report Tuesday, while the Packers are conducting their organized team activities this week, and any date of return is uncertain.
Head coach Matt LaFleur mentioned OTAs are “voluntary” under the league’s collective bargaining agreement, though it’s unusual for such a young player to not be present. LaFleur said he expects “everybody to be there” for mandatory minicamp next month.
LaFleur, who said he has not spoken with Jones, mostly deflected questions about his third-year safety to Gutekunst, who did not speak with reporters Tuesday. The first-year head coach did not answer how he would handle Jones’ potential absence from minicamp.
“Right now, I’m just going to focus on the guys that are here,” LaFleur said. “I guess we’ll cross that bridge when it comes. But that’s something that I know Gutey has a good handle on that situation.”
Still on his rookie deal, Jones’ contract doesn’t include a workout bonus, giving him leverage to miss voluntary practice sessions without losing money. Likewise, the Packers’ leverage – should they choose not to grant Jones’ trade request – is that he still has two years left on his contract.
It’s unclear what, if anything, the Packers could garner in a trade for Jones, who did not return a phone call and text message from PackersNews. Given his past history and potential to be a disruption inside the locker room, perhaps they wouldn’t seek much to rid the roster of him.
“I think anybody can understand the frustration,” said veteran defensive back Tramon Williams, who added he has communicated with Jones – “we’ve talked,” is how he put it – but did not say when. “But you also got to understand that any time you step in this building, it’s always going to be team first. It’s always going to be team first. So as long as you’re not in this building, I think you’ll hurt yourself. But whenever you’re in this building, it’s always team first.
“But I do understand his frustration, and as a player you have to do what you have to do. You have to some degree look out for yourself. I’ll say this one more time: When you’re in this building, it’s always team first.”
The Packers don’t have to make a trade. Jones might be covered up on the depth chart as a starting safety, where Amos and Savage took first-team reps they don’t figure to relinquish Tuesday, but he has had some positive moments on special teams. Jones’ combination of size and speed also offers positional flexibility, most notably in coverage as an inside linebacker in sub-package defenses.
It’s unclear what Jones would require to return to the Packers. He has never gotten consistent snaps on defense, and doesn’t figure to this season. Jones started his career stuck behind Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Morgan Burnett, then battled for a starting safety job last season, before ultimately losing out to undrafted safety Kentrell Brice. His snaps increased once Clinton-Dix was traded and Brice, who also is no longer with the team, was injured. He played 501 snaps last season, almost all of them after the calendar turned to November.
There’s a reason Jones never got a more consistent role, just as there’s a reason the Packers decided to add two prominent safeties after getting a good look at him last season. Jones, better suited to play close to the line of scrimmage, has struggled in coverage. He has just one interception in two seasons, and none last year. And though his size and speed (6-2, 220 pounds) has been useful on special teams, Jones has also been called for untimely penalties.
Which is why missing OTAs might not be in Jones’ best interest, even if he’s attempting to send a message. At this stage in his career, the young safety still needs plenty of development.