The Ravens Need to Roll the Dice on Jones

July 27, 2009 | Tom Clayton

After being a Raven for less than a weekend, Drew Bennett’s retirement leads me to believe that it may be time to take a look at another big, white, former college quarterback to play receiver for the Ravens this season. Matt Jones comes with more than his fair share of baggage but he also comes with as much pure talent and upside as any receiver the Ravens could pick up on the free agent market. The Ravens other options, such as D.J. Hackett and Marvin Harrison, excite me about as much as being forced to watch an all day marathon of Jon and Kate plus Eight.

Jones is a ridiculous athlete who played both football and basketball during his four years at Arkansas. After is senior season, Jones, who had been a quarterback in college, began to draw a lot of attention as a potential wide receiver in the NFL He came to Indianapolis for the combine and wowed all of the scouts when at 6’6”, 242 pounds Jones ran a freakish 4.37 second 40 yard dash. The Jaguars saw enough potential to draft Jones with the 21st pick in the 2005 NFL draft; just one pick ahead of current Ravens receiver Mark Clayton.

Jones’ transition from college quarterback to NFL receiver was slow but last season he showed that perhaps his on-field performance was finally catching up to his natural talent. In 12 games Jones caught 65 passes for 761 yards and two touchdowns. If you break his numbers down he averaged 5.4 receptions and 63.4 yards per game. If you spread those numbers out through a full 16 game season, Jones would have had 84 receptions and 1,014 yards; numbers that would have compared very favorably to Derrick Mason.

There are certainly reasons a player with Jones’ intangibles is sitting on the NFL scrap heap as training camp begins. Jones was arrested on July 10, 2008 when he was found in a car that contained six grams of cocaine and a jar containing marijuana residue. Jones reached an agreement on October 8, 2008 that he would avoid jail time if he completed a drug program which Jones did. He was then suspended the final three games of last season for violating the NFL’s Substance Abuse Policy. On March 9, 2009, Jones was arrested again and this time, forced to spend six days in jail subsequent to alcohol being found in his system after having a beer while playing golf with friends.

I believe that drug abuse is a very serious situation but I also do not believe someone should lose their livelihood because of it. Honestly, Jones wasn’t arrested for spousal abuse or gun charges like some of the other Ravens options at receiver. If we were throwing players out of the league for cocaine then “slow blowers” like Michael Irvin and Lawrence Taylor certainly wouldn’t be in Canton.

Putting Jones’ personal demons aside he could do a lot of things on the field that would help Joe Flacco’s progression into his sophomore season. At 6’6” Jones would be an outstanding red zone target that would help turn a lot of drives that ended in field goals last season into touchdowns this season.

Jones is going into his fourth season in the league; a season when a lot of receivers come into their own in the NFL. Jones is also only 26 years old, giving him plenty of time to develop a connection with Flacco that could become an extremely dangerous combination. On top of that, if Mason decides not to retire we could move Clayton into the slot which may prove to be a position where he could flourish and become a great threat across the middle.

But perhaps the most enticing part of signing Jones is the fact we could get a supremely talented athlete for practically nothing. Jones would certainly sign for around the league minimum and could be a major bargain next season.

I have reservations about signing Jones just like any other fan but why not take a gamble? We could hit the jackpot. And if we crap out, what would we have really lost?