I should preface this by letting the reader know that this won’t be the typical Jarvis Jones article. I’m actually dedicating this one to one time SCB writer, Mike Walsh and can’t wait to see his response after he’s had a chance to read it.
The Steelers have until May 3rd to exercise the 5th year option on Jarvis Jones’ contract. At an estimated $8.5 million, the question is, should they? That 5th year salary is guaranteed for injury only and would then become fully guaranteed the first day of the 2017 league year.
In other words Pittsburgh would be exercising an option at a salary of over $8 million in order to guarantee themselves the rights to retain Jones, if they feel his 2016 performance projects to a 2017 showing that would merit that kind of salary.
If not, they would be faced with either releasing him before that guarantee fully vests on the 1st day of the league year; or negotiating a reduced contract in the weeks between the end of the season and that day in early March 2017. If Jones suffers a serious injury during the 2016 season, they could be on the hook for the full amount anyway.
It is my belief that if the Steelers are only considering exercising Jones’ fifth year option in order to protect those 2017 negotiating rights, that they should negotiate that extension today.
Because undoubtedly some of you are thinking, “cut him now”; Jones’ salary is guaranteed for 2016. So, even if the Steelers release him they still owe him the money and it still hits their cap. No point in letting the player walk and paying him for the privilege of doing so.
Let’s say that the team picks up the option and Jones performs as well as the team hopes he will, well enough in 2016 that the team wants to keep him for 2017 and beyond.
The floor for negotiations has been established by that 5th year salary for which a guarantee will vest likely before the Steelers even begin negotiations on a contract extension. The precedent is already there with the Cameron Heyward extension and will be further established with the extension David DeCastro is due to receive this year. Both will have been given new deals that included a higher annual average than the amount of the one year tender for their 5th year option.
In other words, the Steelers would have to pay Jones more than $8.5 million per year to keep him beyond 2016. And that’s in the event that things go the way the team hopes they will. If he performs in a poor or mediocre fashion, they have to cut him. If he is seriously injured, especially if that injury comes late in the year, they could be on the hook for the entire guaranteed amount and not have a player to show for that expense.
I would suggest that the Steelers offer Jones a new deal today at the second tier free agent level, something on the order of $5.5 to $6 million per year. Is that a lot when you consider Jones’ contributions as a player to date? Yes, it is. But hear me out anyway.
If the Steelers signed Jones to an extension that paid him a $3 million signing bonus this year, while not increasing his 2016 salary and then a scheduled total payment of $5.5 million in 2017 with subsequent salaries for the next 3 or 4 years that average in the $5 to $6 million range, Jones would get that 5th year money and have some security in subsequent years under contract. The Steelers would have the option of cutting Jones after 2016 owing him nothing more and having approximately $2.4 million in dead money.
Remember that the annual cap figure for a player consists of his base salary, plus any bonuses due, plus any bonus proration scheduled to be accounted for in that given year.
The deal I propose would look like this:
To me, $3 million today to protect your rights to do whatever you want next year is a better bet than potentially owing a guy $8.5 million later and being in a tougher negotiating position, even if everything works out to create the best case scenario.
The contract I propose forces the Steelers to make a decision on Jones by the 5th day of the 2017 league year, when his roster bonus comes due. If he is cut before that day, the Steelers would have $2.4 million in dead money to contend with. They can cut him outright and take all of it at once, like they did when they released Troy Polamalu. Or they can designate Jones a June 1 cut and take $600,000 in 2017 and $1.8 million in 2018 like they have done several times now. This particular salary cap loophole is why Lamarr Woodley still counted on the 2015 cap after not having been paid a dime since 2013.
The thing that should be noted here is that the proposed contract allows for the Steelers to easily terminate the deal at any time, in any year, while also protecting their rights to the player today.
Will Jones perform well enough to make the Steelers glad they gave him a contract extension? I have my doubts.
At the end of the day, Steelers fans complain about Jones because of his deficiencies as a pass rusher. That is probably a valid criticism. Even Walsh thinks so and he’s a huge Jarvis Jones apologist. Jones does do some things well though.
Case in point, Denver had a long rushing gain toward the end of the 1st half of the Steelers-Broncos divisional playoff game that has been blamed by many fans on Brandon Boykin being poor in run support and/or Steve McLendon being held and thrown to the ground. The play was part of a drive that culminated with a field goal Denver kicked as time expired in the 2nd quarter, the half ending with a 10-9 Steelers lead.
The play in question was:
2nd and 9 at DEN 6 – (2:33 – 2nd) C. Anderson left guard to DEN 40 for 34 yards (tackle by J. Jones)
In my opinion, this was just a perfectly executed inside zone stretch run. The Denver center completed a great reach block; no hold on Steve McLendon. Lawrence Timmons was also soundly beaten by the left guard, Evan Mathis. Cam Heyward was tasked with keeping the play from going outside and did a pretty good job. When defending the zone blocking scheme you have to maintain gap integrity up front. With McLendon and Timmons getting beaten, a huge hole was opened and Anderson took advantage.
Shazier missed the initial tackle attempt 3 yards past the line of scrimmage. Will Allen crashed down outside, thinking it was coming at Jarvis Jones and the middle was wide open. After that, Mike Mitchell missed another tackle about 25 yards into the defensive backfield (pictured above).
Boykin was not at fault. In fact, Brandon Boykin was not even on the field.
This was just a case of the Steelers getting beaten at a couple of spots right next to one another, followed by two missed tackles. (Missed tackles and bad coverage, not coincidentally, tell the story of the 2015 Steelers defense. But, I digress.)
The performance of Boykin, Timmons and McLendon there is not why I point this play out. It was Jarvis Jones who actually performed well on that snap. Jones maintained his gap and then turned from his spot at the numbers, and at the line of scrimmage, and chased Anderson down from behind 34 yards down field. It was one of the most impressive plays I’ve ever seen him make and probably saved the Steelers at least 4 points.
After considering the things that he does well, it is my opinion that Jones might be better suited in a 4-3 at Will Linebacker. If I were Jarvis Jones I would bide my time and leave Pittsburgh for a team with a defense that better suits my skill set. He should be an occasional pass rusher but mainly an edge setting run stopper, a cover linebacker and a pursuit tackler. Working in a 4-3 would play to his strengths.
What would I do if I were Kevin Colbert, you ask? I would convince James Harrison that he needed to make a decision about coming back before the draft and then draft another outside linebacker in April regardless. If Harrison does come back, take one as late as the 3rd round. If he does not, another 1st round guy. I would then leave Mike Tomlin in the unenviable position of deciding how to get said player on the field with the assumption that Harrison and Jones would both set sail from Pittsburgh in 2017.
But, the last time I checked the Steelers didn’t concern themselves with what I, or anyone else, think on subjects like these.
Photo Credit: Philip G. Pavely | TRIBUNE-REVIEW