FLOWERY BRANCH – Falcons linebacker Deion Jones, a former Pro Bowler, had offseason shoulder surgery and will miss the offseason program.
The Falcons expect Jones, who went to the Pro Bowl after the 2017 season, to be ready for training camp in late July.
“We’ll see where it goes with Deion,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “He’s got something cleaned up in the offseason. So, he’s not going to be out there anyways. He’s rehabbing. He should be ready to go by camp.”
In addition to Jones, fullback Keith Smith (knee) and defensive tackle Vincent Taylor (knee) are expected to miss the offseason.
Running back Cordarelle Patterson (family matter), cornerback Casey Hayward (family), running back Damien Williams and outside linebacker John Cominsky (undisclosed) did not participate in the open OTA session Thursday.
Smith noted that the OTAs are voluntary.
Tight end Kyle Pitts was in the building, but not at practice.
Wide receiver Auden Tate, wide receiver Austin Trammell, defensive tackle Taquon Graham, linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski, cornerback Isaiah Oliver (right knee surgery), safety Erik Harris (pectoral), cornerback Teez Tabor took part in some individual drills. All are recovering from “minor things,” Smith said. “They will be doing some work and some will not.”
Jones finished second on the team with 137 tackles last season as the Falcons switched to a 3-4 defensive front. Jones, who has 11 career interceptions and five touchdowns, didn’t have an interception nor a touchdown last season.
Jones is a smallish linebacker who’s listed at 6-foot-1 and 227 pounds.
The Falcons have loaded up at the inside linebacker position after losing Foye Oluokun in free agency after he led the NFL in tackles.
“But that (meeting) room is going to be competitive,” Smith said. “Everybody is going to have to earn a spot. Like Mykal Walker, he played well for us at (weakside) linebacker in spots. Mykal was guy that developed. He kind of found a home there. It’s going to be a tough room.”
In addition to Walker (6-3, 230), the Falcons signed veteran Rashaan Evans (6-2, 232) and Kwiatkoski (6-2, 242) in free agency. The Falcons also drafted former Montana State linebacker Troy Andersen (6-4, 243) in the second round of the draft.
Walker played in all 17 games and made two starts. He had 193 defensive snaps (17%). He made 35 tackles and returned an interception for a touchdown.
The Falcons also have Dorian Etheridge (6-3, 230), Nathan Landman (6-3, 235) and Rashad Smith (6-1, 224).
During the OTA session Walker and Evans were paired together in the seven-on-seven drills and Anderson and Etheridge were grouped together.
Evans was a former first-round pick by the Titans, 22nd overall in 2018. After 50 starts over 59 games, the Titans didn’t pick up his fifth-year option.
“Rashaan Evans is extremely motivated,” Smith said. “He wants a shot to prove himself. He was a first-round pick at Tennessee. Had some productive years. Whatever happened, happened.”
Evans, who played at Alabama, is on a one-year prove-it deal. If he performs, the Falcons are set to have some salary-cap space in 2023.
The Falcons plan to bring along Andersen, a speedy former quarterback, at “the proper pace,” according to Smith.
“There is real competition,” Smith said. “It’s not somebody is going to walk in there and be anointed, like I’ve got it.”
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. But his spot in the lineup is not guaranteed.
“Like, normally where you do invest, the guy should be playing,” Smith said.
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.
A post-June 1 release doesn’t make much sense for a team that already has the highest dead salary-cap space in the league, at over $63 million.
“All we’re trying to do here is get the right guys,” Smith said. “It’s competitive. And that’s the nature of the NFL. And so that room, however it shakes out. I’ve said this many times and it’s no secret, there is an open competition.”
Smith also pointed out that the offseason program is voluntary and players are free to come, go or stay as they please. No one is checking attendance.
“As our current structure right now, look, we’ve got guys that are coming off (different surgeries),” Smith said. “Keith Smith, he had a minor cleanup. We’re not going to have him out here in the spring. We’re expecting him to be ready to go.
“Keith is expected to come here and be a big part of the offense. ... You’re not going to see him at OTAs. He’s rehabbing. He’s on a different schedule.”
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