Earlier in the offseason, we listed wide receiver Zay Jones as one of the three Buffalo Bills with the most to lose in training camp. With more than a week of camp is in the books, Jones is still rehabbing from surgery earlier this year. Our resident expert thinks that the injury outlook has some encouraging signs, but every day lost is another opportunity to slide down the depth chart. Could Zay Jones be a surprise cut this year?
Let’s address the obvious first. As a high second round pick last year, it would be highly unusual for Jones to be cut outright. If it happened, he’d be the highest drafted player to be cut so far from that class. While Brandon Beane has been willing to cut dead weight at the risk of dead cap, a spoonful of sugar wouldn’t hurt to make this medicine go down. Per Spotrac, Jones would carry a dead cap number just north of $3 million (split almost evenly across this year and next). If the Bills are looking to move on from Jones, it’s a safe bet they’d prefer a trade to recoup some value. (It’s also worth noting that Beane wasn’t with the team when they drafted Jones.)
The trade value could be low enough where a suitor becomes impossible to find. Jones struggled last year to demonstrate why he was worth such a large investment from the Bills. Jones was also the central figure in a well publicized incident this offseason. The exact circumstances behind this are still unknown, but it’s all but guaranteed that it would be a red flag to a team looking to add a wide receiver.
Zay Jones wouldn’t be helped when considering why a team would want to add a receiver in the first place. As an injury replacement, Jones hardly would be reassuring as his own rehab continues. A team looking for an improvement would be gambling that Jones’ college resume and success should outweigh Jones’ 2017 season. This gamble would be exacerbated by the need to bring him late. Not only would he have to catch up on reps for physical reasons, but he’d be behind mentally as well with a new team.
Including Jones, the Bills currently have 13 wide receivers on their roster of 90 players. While not unusually high for this position, there are still plenty of players who would love nothing more than to rise above Jones on the depth chart. The Bills have not been shy this year in rotating receivers around the lineup.
Special teams play could become a factor for Jones this year as well. Per Josh Reed, head coach Sean McDermott has suggested “the ability to play special teams is a part of the equation to make the roster for the big group of WR behind Benjamin and Kerley.” As worded by Reed, the implication would be that Jones will also need to demonstrate value in this phase of the game. In 2017, Jones was part of a short list of starters that didn’t see significant time on special teams. In that event, this would be one more area in which Jones is falling behind.
When it comes to his value in Buffalo, every day that Jones is out of the lineup is another missed chance. While the rest of the team builds chemistry and masters the playbook, Zay Jones steadily falls behind. So too does his trade value fall for the 31 other potential employers. The perceived severity of his knee injury increases with every day he’s on the sideline. His window to learn a a new offense shrinks with every practice gone by.
Will Jones be cut? Even with no trade partner, the Bills could have options such as injury designations or the practice squad. For most second round picks, the answer would be an easy “no.” In the case of Zay Jones, his underwhelming first year was followed up with a rare stream of bad news. While a cut is unlikely, the door may be creaking open.