Saints, Pats reach terms with safety Jones
By Len Pasquarelli
There remain a few formalities, including a physical examination and the filing of trade documents with the league, but ESPN.com has confirmed that the New Orleans Saints' long pursuit of New England Patriots strong safety Tebucky Jones has finally paid off.
The two teams reached agreement in principle on a trade that will send the former first-round draft choice to the Saints, with the deal expected to be finalized as early as Monday.
In return for Jones, who became extraneous when New England signed former San Diego Chargers strong safety Rodney Harrison last month, the Patriots will receive third- and seventh-round choices in this year's draft and a fourth-round pick in the 2004 lottery.
The franchises had been discussing a swap for more than a month, but until recently, New England held firm in its asking price of a second-round choice in the deal. The Saints had been offering a third-round pick and decided to sweeten the compensation package with a late-round choice this year and middle-round selection next spring. That proved to be, in the eyes of the Patriots, an appropriate combination.
New England officials reiterated several times in past weeks that, unless their price was met, they would simply retain Jones, who was designated as a "franchise" free agent. The Patriots, however, will need salary-cap space to sign their draft choices, a bounty that has now grown to 13 choices overall with the three selections gained in the trade, and keeping Jones would have been an expensive proposition.
With the trade, the Pats will be able to recoup the $3.043 million in salary cap space that Jones represented, the qualifying offer for a "franchise" safety according to 2003 figures. In Harrison and Lawyer Milloy, New England still has two highly paid safeties, and the team further fortified the position in free agency by signing Chris Atkins, a solid No. 3 safety and standout special teams performer, away from the Cleveland Browns.
For the Saints, they land a safety coach Jim Haslett weeks ago identified as the player he felt could upgrade his secondary, the most glaringly deficient area for the young New Orleans team that already possesses one of the league's best and deepest rosters. Jones will replace Sammy Knight, who voided the 2003 portion of his contract and remains an unrestricted free agent, in the Saints' starting lineup.
Haslett and his staff think that Jones, 28, can fully reach his potential with the Saints and that his athleticism will allow them more flexibility.
One component of the deal that has been in place for more than three weeks is the new contract that Jones will sign in New Orleans.
As previously reported by ESPN.com, general manager Mickey Loomis and agent Gary Wichard reached agreement in principle on a contract more than three weeks ago. Barring any changes, the deal will be for five years and worth $18.75 million, and it will make Jones one of the highest-paid safeties in NFL history. The contract will include a $5 million signing bonus and a second-tier option bonus of $1 million.
The second of New England's first-round choices in the 1998 draft, Jones has started in 36 of 72 appearances during his career. The former Syracuse star, who began his college career as a tailback and his NFL tenure as a cornerback, has 195 tackles, four interceptions, 16 passes defensed, 2ÃƒÂ‚Ã‚Â½ sacks, two forced fumbles and a pair of recoveries.
Known for his combination linear speed, athleticism and size (6-feet-2 and 216 pounds), Jones has struggled at times in his NFL career and has yet to become the consistent playmaker most scouts feel he should be. Perhaps his best stretch came in the final month of the 2001 season, the year in which New England won the Super Bowl, and he also performed well that year in the playoffs.
The trade of Jones will mean the Patriots have five choices in the first three rounds of the '03 draft and eight picks in the first four stanzas. The club has two first-rounders, the 14th and 19th choices overall.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com
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