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This is a real under-the-radar move for the Lions (news via Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press), but one that could pay big dividends, especially with Sammie Lee Hill leaving the team for more playing time in Tennessee. Jason Jones has been more or less invisible for two seasons, after a disastrous 2011 in Tennessee at defensive end, and then spending time injured and buried in the depth chart in Seattle. However, under Jim Schwartz when he was defensive coordinator for the Titans, Jones was one of the best penetrating defensive tackles in the NFL when playing limited minutes, and if he can regain this form he will be one of the biggest bargains for the next three years.
Jones is vastly undersized for a defensive tackle at just 290 lbs, but his great quickness, playing strength and technique made him a great penetrator from inside when he was healthy. He could not stand up linemen in the run game or bulldoze them backwards consistently, but his speed was generally too much to handle and he just had a knack for getting off blocks in the run and passing game. He has never put up big stats, but his on-the-field play was impossible to ignore since he was constantly in the opponents' backfield.
Throughout his career he has struggled to remain healthy over full season of snaps, limiting his value. He really only fits one specific position on a team, that of a penetrating under-tackle, as he was terrible as a defensive end in 2011.
However, on a Lions defense that already boasts Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley at defensive tackle, Jones is landing in the ideal position. As a backup, he should wear down and get injured much less than as a starter, and will also be able to remain fresh. Secondly, his head coach and defensive line coach, Jim Washburn, will be the same as those who turned him into a situational star in Tennessee. Finally, the wide-nine defense that the Lions run is predicated on getting defensive linemen in space working one-on-one against blockers, which is the situation that Jones thrives in.
Really, Jones has picked the perfect team, as the Lions should be able to minimize his weaknesses and capitalize on his strengths this season. However, this is also a brilliant move by the Lions. Jones fits their defensive philosophy perfectly, and is likely to be a better back-up than Sammie Lee Hill ever was. Also, they are paying him a mere $9.5 million over three years. If he can get anywhere near his best over his time in Michigan this will be a great value contract.
2013 Statistical Prediction: 25 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles