Steelers Encouraged to Acquire Rival’s Starting CB

The Pittsburgh Steelers have holes to fill in their secondary this offseason. The Bleacher Report NFL scouting department argued that the Steelers could turn to an old rival to address that need.

Mike Tomlin Jonathan Jones

The Bleacher Report team named New England Patriots cornerback Jonathan Jones a top trade target for the Steelers this offseason.

“Jonathan Jones is 30 years old, and the Patriots are in rebuild mode,” Bleacher Report wrote. “They might be willing to part with the veteran if it gives them an extra pick in the draft and saves money.”

A former undrafted free agent, Jones has played eight seasons for the Patriots. He was a depth cornerback on the team when they won the Super Bowl following the 2016 and 2018 seasons.

In 2022, Jones became a permanent starter. During 2023, he had 48 combined tackles and 7 pass defenses in 14 games.

How CB Jonathan Jones Could Fit With the Steelers

Jones went undrafted from Auburn in 2016, but he landed as a free agent with the eventual Super Bowl champions his rookie season. Jones made the team as a rookie and even started 1 game.

He also appeared in all three of the team’s playoff games in 2017.

Jones didn’t become a regular starter until 2022, but he did start at least 1 game in each of his first six seasons. In 2019, he started in 9 contests and then made 7 starts during 2020.

In 2023, Jones earned a very solid 76.5 player grade at Pro Football Focus. He’s posted at least a 68.1 player grade at PFF in four of his past five seasons.

With that grade, PFF ranked Jones the 19th-best cornerback who played at least 50% of his team’s defensive snaps in 2023. That would be a significant upgrade for the Steelers.

Pittsburgh top cornerback, based on the PFF player grades, was Joey Porter Jr. with a 65.6 grade.

Cornerback Questions Steelers Face Ahead of Free Agency

The Steelers have several decisions to make at cornerback this offseason.

The first big one is with veteran Patrick Peterson. While Peterson is under contract for the 2024 season, there’s been speculation that the Steelers could cut him to save $6.85 million against the salary cap. Peterson is now six years removed from his last Pro Bowl season and will turn 34 in July.

However, cutting Peterson would leave the Steelers will little cornerback depth. Cornerbacks Levi Wallace, James Pierre, Chandon Sullivan and Elijah Riley will all be free agents in March.

With those possible departures, cornerback has been a popular choice for the Steelers in early mock drafts. ESPN’s Mel Kiper slotted Georgia cornerback Kamari Lassiter to Pittsburgh in the first round of the 2024 NFL draft.

PFF also floated the Steelers as a destination for potential Kansas City Chiefs free agent cornerback L’Jarius Sneed.

The good news is the Steelers appear to have options at cornerback. But the team’s salary situation could limit which ones are possible. Spotrac reported the Steelers are more than $14.2 million over the salary cap.

Jones is entering the final year of his two-year contract with the Patriots. He is scheduled to count as a $12.75 million cap hit in 2024.

New England can save roughly $8.8 million towards the cap by trading Jones.

The Steelers and Patriots would have to work out the exact financials of the deal. But if the Steelers are willing to depart with a decent draft pick, perhaps the Patriots will make Jones a more affordable option for Pittsburgh.

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