Linebacker Deion Jones is returning to the division where his NFL career started.
Jones will be back in the NFC South after one year in the AFC North, playing for the Cleveland Browns. In 11 games for the Browns last season, he recorded 44 combined tackles. He also had 6 tackles for loss, 3 quarterback hits, 2.5 sacks and 1 interception.
But before 2022, Jones had spent his entire career with the Falcons. Atlanta drafted him in the second round of the 2016 NFL draft. He started immediately and during his third NFL game, he returned an interception 90 yards for a touchdown.
In 2016, Jones finished third in Defensive Rookie of the Year voting. His strong rookie season helped the Falcons play well enough defensively to allow MVP quarterback Matt Ryan to lead the team to an NFC Championship.
Then in 2017, Jones made the Pro Bowl with 138 combined tackles, including 10 tackles for loss and 10 pass defenses.
But in 2018, he suffered a foot injury in Week 1 and missed two months. With several other key defensive players injured as well, the Falcons missed the playoffs.
Jones returned to record 100-plus tackles each of the next three years. He set career-highs with 10 quarterback hits and 4.5 sacks in 2020. But he never made another Pro Bowl or received a lot of recognition nationally for his play again after his foot injury.
Jones restructured his contract ahead of the 2022 season. He began the campaign on injured reserve after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery. But the Browns sent a 2024 sixth-round pick to Atlanta in a trade for Jones and a 2024 seventh-rounder after Week 5.
The 28-year-old will bring seven years of experience to Carolina, but the Panthers already have a veteran inside linebacker group. Carolina’s projected starters at inside linebacker are Shaq Thompson and Frankie Luvu. Both linebackers have been in the league since at least 2018.