ESPN's James Walker has some reservations about the Bengals signing Matt Jones. We're going to breakdown his arguments.
Monetarily this isn't a big risk, but the Bengals would take a huge hit publicly if Jones' previous problems are not behind him.
If the Bengals cared about what others thought, they'd clearly have not signed Cedric Benson; arguably the best offensive weapon on the Bengals roster. I understand the point that you don't want to pile on to a persona or characterization. But really. This isn't high school. We don't care what others think?
On the field, the biggest issue is rust. Missing a year in the NFL and coming back is not easy, especially at the receiver position where precision and timing are so important.
This is Walker's best argument. And I whole-heartedly agree. Jones is a former first round pick, with beastly size and really good speed. But it's not like Jones has been dependable in the past -- of his four seasons, he's played in all 16 games once. Furthermore, if you exclude his best season in 2008, Jones' 41 receptions for 643 yards receiving is the best he's offered in the NFL. For someone about to earn $700,000, that's roughly similar to Laveranues Coles' offering in 2009. The case between Coles and Jones could be made here simply based on production against investment.
This signing makes me question whether the Bengals have any serious interest in pending free agent receiver Terrell Owens.
I see the point, but not the substance. Matt Jones signed for $700,000 for one-year. In other words, he's very expendable and the contract itself wouldn't prevent the Bengals from signing Owens. If there's serious interest in Owens, then the Bengals have zero strings attached to Jones. At best, he's filling the team's roster while competing against other receivers for a spot on the roster. If signed, Owens would be the team's starter opposite of Chad Ochocinco.
Finally, what does Jones' signing mean for Laveranues Coles? He signed a $28 million contract last year and under-performed in 2009. Coles, 32, isn't getting any younger. He's clearly on the downside of his career but the Bengals still owe him a lot of money. Keep an eye on what the team decides to do, if anything, with this situation.
While I think the argument that Coles could be released this offseason warrants consideration, I don't think signing Jones would be the reason why. I know, I know. I just pointed out that production against investment could mean that the Bengals replace Coles with Jones. But I'm going to make a case why it's very unlikely. Simply put, Jones didn't play in 2009. Sure, it would be great to believe that after a season-long vacation Jones could replicate 2008's season where he caught 65 receptions for 761 yards receiving. However, you can't expect that. Jones is restarting his NFL career. Has he lost speed? How is his hands? Can he make the cuts? Can he run block? How quickly will he adapt to the team's playbook? You have to wonder his contributions; much less his ability to replace Coles on the field. Sure, it could happen; but we just do not know. If the Bengals decide that there's no reason to make any more additions with wide receiver, then Jones could replace Coles on the depth chart, but not the roster. On the other hand, by the time minicamp and training camp rolls around, Coles may have already been released -- especially if there's high profile additions made.
Like Mojo, I like the signing. I think he upgrades the position's depth. But what we know right now, Jones' strength won't be as a starting wide receiver; most likely he'll be one of the team's better supporting players. The guy has talent and athletism and he was really cheap. So the Bengals lose nothing. But the thing about reclamation projects, second opportunities, is that Jones will have to start over and earn his own keep. He has a long way to go.