Now that we’re in full offseason mode, we’re going to review every single Detroit Lions player that finished the 2016 season under contract. We’ll look at their expectations coming into the season, whether they met those expectations and what to expect of them going forward. We will begin with the upcoming free agents, as they are the most intriguing and time sensitive.
Expectations before 2016
In somewhat of a surprise, TJ Jones was waived a week before the season began. He was in contention for the fourth receiver spot on the team and was thought to be in competition with players like Jay Lee and Jace Billingsley, but he instead lost out to Andre Roberts. As a result, Jones started the year on the practice squad which all but sealed his fate for the season ahead.
Actual role in 2016
2016 stats: 3 games (0 starts) | 14 targets, 5 receptions, 93 yards, 0 touchdowns
The stats are not pretty for Jones, and he was clearly nothing more than an extra wide receiver body. He did not see the field until Week 13 when he was activated from the practice squad because of a Marvin Jones injury. He caught three of his four targets that week which would be his best outing of the season.
Jones saw just 60 total snaps on the year with most of them coming against the Saints and Cowboys. He was never much of a difference maker and was mostly anonymous in his performances. Jones received a mediocre 54.6 grade from Pro Football Focus for the season, down from his 62.1 score in 2015.
The fact that Jones could not beat out Roberts—who tallied just 14 receptions himself—speaks volumes for how the Lions viewed him in 2016. While fans during the offseason were expecting Jones to see some decent time as the team’s fourth receiver, the Lions apparently had other plans.
Outlook for 2017
Contract status: Restricted free agent
Jones had essentially no value to the team in 2016, but he still is an interesting free agent case. He was fifth in snaps at wide receiver last season, and now both Anquan Boldin and Roberts are unrestricted free agents. Though he was injured for all of 2014, Jones is still one of the most tenured players at the position.
However, it is likely the Lions favor someone like Billingsley, Jared Abbrederis or Ryan Spadola over Jones, as the team had no real desire to play him last season. Since Jones is a restricted free agent, they will have the inside track to sign him if the desire to do so. Still, he is far from a lock to receive a tender; given his 2016 season, it seems difficult to justify even that level of financial commitment going forward.
Previously profiled Lions: Riley Reiff, Anquan Boldin, Dan Orlovsky, Devin Taylor, Rafael Bush, Don Muhlbach, Larry Warford, Andre Roberts