RENTON, WA - Following the conclusion of a successful training camp and preseason, Sidney Jones decided to celebrate the occasion with a well-earned trip to a popular steakhouse in Jacksonville.
Making the most of a relaxing night out before shifting his focus to the regular season, Jones had already chowed down on appetizers and consumed a couple of drinks. But as he prepared to dig into a big, juicy steak, the fifth-year cornerback's night took an unexpected twist thanks to a phone call from none other than Jaguars general manager Trent Baalke.
Before he could even sink his teeth into the main course, Baalke dropped a bombshell on Jones, informing him he had just been traded to the Seahawks. Suddenly, in an instant, his craving for steak all but disappeared.
“I got the phone call and just packed it up to-go. Lost my appetite,” Jones recalled. “I’ve got to figure out the moving situation, a lot of moving parts. It shocked me.”
At the time, Jones was stunned by the turn of events. Only one year earlier, after being waived by the Philadelphia Eagles, the former Washington Husky star landed on his feet in Jacksonville. After a brief stint on the practice squad, he experienced a bit of a rebirth with his new team and seemed to have found a home in the league.
Playing in nine games and making six starts for the Jaguars, Jones tied his previous career-high with a pair of interceptions and set a new personal best with seven pass breakups. Opposing quarterbacks barely completed 50 percent of their targets against him in coverage, helping him receive a respectable 71.3 coverage grade from Pro Football Focus.
Compared to his first three seasons with the Eagles, which were all marred by constant injuries, Jones elevated his play across the board. Shining in then-coordinator Todd Wash's defense, he finally started to resemble the player who was viewed as a surefire first-round pick before tearing his Achilles during Washington's pro day back in 2017, at least in spurts.
“Not how I wanted to start off, obviously," Jones said when asked about how his career has unfolded thus far. "I had high expectations for myself being that I feel like I’m a great player. Bumps in the road, adversity hits. You have to find a way to combat that and jump over that hoop. It’s been a slow start, but I feel like I made strides last year, and I hope to continue that going forward.”
Considering how well he played when healthy last year, Jones thought for sure he would remain a key cog in Jacksonville's secondary in 2021. But with a new coaching staff in place, he wasn't necessarily a natural fit for a different defensive scheme and C.J. Henderson beat him out for a starting job across from former Seahawk standout Shaquill Griffin. Fate simply had a different plan for him.
Once the dust settled and the immediate shock of being traded subsided, as Jones told reporters prior to Thursday's practice, he quickly warmed up to the idea of joining the Seahawks and returning to the Pacific Northwest.
“Amazing. I never thought I would have this feeling," Jones said. "When you get traded, you can’t even imagine that happening. You can’t prepare for it, but once I settled in and I was here for a day or two, I was like ‘Wow, I’m really here.’ It’s a good feeling for sure.”
Although getting traded to a new team less than two weeks before the start of the regular season typically would be viewed as unideal circumstances, in the case of Jones, several factors have allowed him to get acclimated in quick order.
For one, Jones learned under current Washington head coach Jimmy Lake, who served as co-defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach in 2016 and 2017. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll holds Lake in high regard and shortly after the team acquired Jones, he applauded him for coaching the "heck out of him" from a technical standpoint at the college level. Their prior relationship played a role in the organization's comfort trading for him to begin with.
Secondly, Jones' best NFL season came in a system offering a lot of similarities to the one Carroll and coordinator Ken Norton Jr. run in Seattle, which has made it much easier for him to hit the ground running and hastened his learning curve. This shouldn't come as much of a surprise, as Wash previously served as a defensive line coach on Carroll's staff before leaving with Gus Bradley for Jacksonville in 2013.
While not all of the verbiage is identical, Jones indicated there's a great deal of carry over with coverages and techniques he already had plenty of familiarity with from studying former Seahawks such as Richard Sherman and Deshawn Shead on film. That gives him a significant advantage over other veteran cornerbacks who weren't comfortable with the kick-step technique taught by Carroll.
"It looks pretty similar. Names are a little bit different, but overall, it looks pretty similar. I used to study Richard Sherman all the time back when I was at University of Washington, so stepping and kick. All his stuff and his technique. Shead too. I used to watch them and all the boys, so all of that is pretty familiar.”
With the season opener coming up on Sunday in Indianapolis, Jones has been working primarily at right cornerback since joining Seattle earlier this month. Though Tre Flowers is expected to start after a stellar training camp, he may not have a very long leash if he struggles, opening the door for the newcomer to push for playing time sooner rather than later.
Having a blast with his new team so far, Jones views his return to the west coast as a chance to redeem himself in what has been a disappointing career for him to this stage. Ready to fight for playing time, if he's able to stay healthy and fulfill on his immense promise in a scheme catered to his strengths, he could be the answer for the Seahawks have longed for at their biggest question mark on defense.