Cover 9@9: What’s the deal with Falcons linebacker Deion Jones?

The Raiders bench looks on as Falcons linebacker Deion Jones intercepts a Derek Carr pass and returns it for a touchdown. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

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The Raiders bench looks on as Falcons linebacker Deion Jones intercepts a Derek Carr pass and returns it for a touchdown. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

(Here are our nine items each Wednesday at 9 a.m. that make up the Cover 9@9 blog.)

1. The no-spin zone: What’s the deal with linebacker Deion Jones?

He’s the last elephant in the room that general manager Terry Fontenot referred to at the NFL scouting combine, when he mentioned four hefty contracts that the Falcons had on the books.

“(That’s) the elephant in the room, right?” Fontenot said. “We have some big numbers associated with four players.”

After losing the Deshaun Watson derby, the Falcons traded Matt Ryan and took on a $40.5 million dead salary-cap hit. The Falcons extended left tackle Jake Matthews and defensive end Grady Jarrett’s contracts to lower their salary-cap numbers for 2022.

Jones’ deal has not been touched, and he now has the highest salary-cap number on the team at $20 million for the 2022 season.

“All those players with the big cap numbers, it’s not their fault,” Fontenot said. “They’re just good professionals that come in and do their jobs. I want to be clear with that. But it is a challenge. … I wouldn’t say it’s a problem. I would say it’s a challenge.”

Jones deferred $4 million of his $8.2 million base salary for 2021 until the 2022 season in March 2021. The payment of the $4 million was guaranteed and was made as a roster bonus at the start of the new league year.

The Falcons also guaranteed Jones’ 2022 salary of $9.6 million. He has two years left on his contract with a base salary of $11.9 million in 2023 with a cap number of $18.4 million.

The Falcons signed linebacker Rashaan Evans in free agency and drafted linebacker Troy Andersen in the second round (58th overall). Also, the Falcons recently had veteran Nick Kwiatkoski in for a visit. He would join the cast of former Bears in the Falcons’ locker room. Evans is part of the former Titans’ wing.

Evans and Kwiatkoski have started in the league. Andersen is a fast linebacker like Jones but may need some NFL seasoning.

Jones’ representatives had no comment on his current situation.

The Falcons followed their plan to be patient and selective during free agency.

“We have to be cost effective,” Fontenot said. “So, where we are with our team, we have to figure out ways, the right ways to create cap space and then make sure we’re patient and … we find value.”

The Falcons are set to carry the most dead salary-cap money into the season with $62.8 million (30.2%) of the $208.1 million salary cap.

2. Here are the top dead-cap hits: Ryan ($40.5 million), Julio Jones ($15.5 million), Dante Fowler ($4.6 million), Tyeler Davison ($1.2 million) and 21 others under $1 million ranging from Mike Davis ($750,000) to John Raine ($1,000).

Fontenot tried to get in front of the rebuilding train even before Ryan was traded to the Colts for a third-round pick.

“Another elephant in the room is are we rebuilding?” Fontenot said. “Are we trying to win now? And I would say we’re trying to have our cake and eat it, too.”

Credit: WSBTV Videos

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Source: Grady Jarrett, Atlanta Falcons agree to 3-year contract extension

Credit: WSBTV Videos

3. Jarrett’s deal: Jarrett signed his renegotiated three-year extension deal May 4, according to NFLPA documents.

Now the total cash value of his deal is $66,970,588, with $34,470,588 guaranteed.

Jarrett’s cap numbers are $12.9 million for 2022, $20.6 million for 2023, $20.3 million for 2024 and $20.3 million in 2025.

4. Falcons top salary-cap numbers: Here are the Falcons’ top-10 salary-cap numbers for 2022: Jones ($20 million), Matthews ($15.1 million), Jarrett ($12.9 million), tight end Kyle Pitts ($7.4 million), right guard Chris Lindstrom ($4.6 million), quarterback Marcus Mariota ($4.2 million), cornerback Casey Hayward ($4 million), cornerback A.J. Terrell ($3.9 million), right tackle Kaleb McGary ($3.2 million) and kicker Younghoe Koo ($3 million).

5. Rookie tryouts for minicamp: The Falcons will have several rookies in for tryouts during the rookie minicamp Friday through Sunday.

Some of the players include Missouri defensive lineman Kobie Whiteside, Georgia Tech offensive lineman Ryan Johnson, San Jose State/Montana State defensive back Tre Webb and Western Kentucky/Purdue offensive lineman Tyler Whitt.

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Falcons starting quarterbacks from the 1960s to present.

6. Undrafted players bios: Here’s a list of the undrafted players bios:

WR Jared Bernhardt (6-foot-1, 195 pounds), Ferris State: He played quarterback at Ferris State and led the team to the school’s first NCAA Division II national title last season. The Falcons signed him to compete as a receiver and a kick returner. He was one of the nation’s top lacrosse players, winning the Tewaaraton Award as the nation’s top player in spring 2021 while at Maryland. Last season, Bernhardt ran 159 times for 1,421 yards and 26 touchdowns. He completed 87 of 123 passes (70.7%) for 1,322 yards and 11 touchdowns and was named the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) Player of the Year.

WR Stanley Berryhill (5-9, 182), Arizona: A slot receiver who also was a gunner on special teams for the Wildcats. He had 83 catches for 744 yards and one touchdown last season. He became the sixth player in school history to have 80 catches in one season and finished tied for third on the single-season reception list. He finished his career with 139 receptions, 11th all time in Arizona history, 1,477 yards and nine touchdowns. A former walk-on, he played youth football for the Tucson Falcons.

OLB Kuony Deng (6-6, 240), California: He started all 19 games he played in at Cal over three seasons (2019-21) but missed the final 10 games last season because of a broken ankle that required surgery. He finished his career with 154 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, eight pass breakups, eight passes defended, six quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. He played inside and outside linebacker at Cal. He lifted 225 pounds 17 times at Cal’s Pro Day on March 16. He has a wingspan of 82.5 inches.

CB Matt Hankins (6-1, 185), Iowa: He started 37 consecutive games before missing the final four games because of a shoulder injury. He made 212 career tackles and was named second-team All-Big Ten.

S Brad Hawkins (6-1, 221), Michigan: He appeared in a program-record 56 career games, with 31 starts at free safety. He played special teams exclusively in 17 games. He made six tackles (three solo) against Georgia in the Orange Bowl College Football Playoff semifinal Dec. 31. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.57 seconds at Michigan’s Pro Day. He lifted 225 pounds 25 times.

NT Timothy Horne (6-5, 321), Kansas State: He played one season for the Wildcats after spending the previous four at Charlotte. He played in 55 career games with 30 starts over five seasons.

WR Tyshaun James (6-2, 214), Central Connecticut: James set the school record for receiving touchdowns and was a two-time first-team All-Northeast Conference selection. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.45 seconds at UConn’s Pro Day and had a 37-0 ½-inch vertical jump.

ILB Nathan Landman (6-3, 235), Colorado: He finished his career with 409 tackles, which tied for fifth on the school’s all-time list.

DL Bryce Rodgers (6-2, 309), California-Davis: He was a first-team All-Big Sky Conference pick. Led the team’s defensive linemen with 18 tackles, two tackles for loss and two sacks. He also forced a fumble and blocked a field goal.

DL Derrick Tangelo (6-1, 296), Penn State: He played at Duke from 2017-20. Played only one season for the Nittany Lions. Cousin of former Falcons linebacker Prince Shembo.

P Seth Vernon (6-5, 230), Portland State: He averaged 44.9 yards per punt last season, which would have ranked sixth in the nation, but he did not meet the NCAA minimum attempts (3.6 per game) with 3.4 per game. In 2019, he averaged 43.2 yards per punt. He averaged 44.6 over his career, had 23 punts of 50 yards or more, forced 19 fair catches and had 27 punts downed inside the 20-yard line.

OL Tyler Vrabel (6-6, 315), Boston College: He played left tackle for the Eagles. Vrabel was the 18th-ranked undrafted free agent by The33rdTeam.com. He needs to add strength to his frame.

OL Leroy Watson (6-5, 270), Texas-San Antonio: Played at Shiloh High in Gwinnett County. Last season, he started 13 contests at tight end, caught seven passes for 65 yards and a touchdown. More known for his punishing blocking style. Falcons are moving him to tackle. Likes to cook and plays the piano.

7. Keep eye on Vrabel: The folks over at The33rdTeam.com picked one undrafted free agent likely to make each team.

They picked Vrabel as the player who could make the Falcons.

“The Falcons have to add more depth to their OL, specifically at the OT position,” they wrote. “UDFA Tyler Vrabel is the son of (Titans) HC Mike Vrabel and brings a lot of experience to the table. He will need more time to develop, but could provide strong upside as a depth OL.”

8. Look around the NFC South: It’s been a wild offseason in the NFC South. Click here to read Gabe Burns’ story on the NFC South.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC

9. Falcons’ depth chart: Here’s a look at the current “unofficial” depth chart after the draft:

OFFENSE

WR – Cordarrelle Patterson, Frank Darby, KhaDarel Hodge, Stanley Berryhill

TE – Kyle Pitts, Ryan Becker, Brayden Lenius

LT – Jake Matthews, Tyler Vrabel, Leroy Watson

LG – Jalen Mayfield, Colby Gossett, Rashaad Coward, Justin Shaffer

C – Matt Hennessy or Drew Dalman

RG – Chris Lindstrom, Drew Dalman, Ryan Neuzil

RT – Kaleb McGary, Germain Ifedi, Elijah Wilkinson, Rick Leonard

TE – Anthony Firkser, Parker Hesse, Daniel Helm, John Raine, John FitzPatrick

WR – Drake London, Olamide Zaccheaus, Auden Tate, Damiere Byrd, Austin Trammell, Chad Hansen, Jared Bernhardt, Tyshaun James

RB – Cordarrelle Patterson, Damien Williams, Qadree Ollison, Caleb Huntley, Tyler Allgeier

FB – Keith Smith

QB – Marcus Mariota, Desmond Ridder, Feleipe Franks

DEFENSE

DE – Grady Jarrett, Marlon Davidson

NT – Vincent Taylor, Anthony Rush, Ta’Quon Graham, Timothy Horne

DE – Nick Thurman, John Cominsky, Bryce Rodgers, Derrick Tangelo

OLB – Lorenzo Carter, Jordan Brailford, Arnold Ebiketie

ILB – Deion Jones, Dorian Etheridge, Nathan Landman

ILB – Rashaan Evans, Mykal Walker, Troy Andersen

OLB – Adetokunbo Ogundeji, Quinton Bell, Rashad Smith, DeAngelo Malone, Kuony Deng

LCB - A.J. Terrell, Darren Hall, Mike Ford, Corey Ballentine, Cornell Armstrong, Lafayette Pitts, Matt Hankins

FS (Left) – Jaylinn Hawkins, Erik Harris, Brad Hawkins

SS (Right) – Richie Grant, Teez Tabor, Luther Kirk

RCB – Casey Hayward, Isaiah Oliver, Kendall Sheffield, Avery Williams, Dee Alford

SPECIAL TEAMS

K – Younghoe Koo

P – Dom Maggio, Seth Vernon

LS – Liam McCullough

H – Dom Maggio

PR – Avery Williams

KOR – Cordarrelle Patterson, Avery Williams

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