Dave Hyde: New Dolphin Byron Jones talks the way you want a star to talk

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The revealing part was hearing Byron Jones answer questions the way a star should. There’s no telling how this decision to pair up the two richest cornerbacks in football will work for the Miami Dolphins. It sounds strategically great. It makes a lot of sense in March.

But that’s heavy money to sink into one position and, to be blunt, neither Jones nor Xavien Howard have won anything beyond big contracts. A lot will depend on how they work in tandem, what they allow the rest of the defense to do and if following New England coach Bill Belichick’s model of investing in the secondary first works best for Brian Flores’ team.

It also will depends on just who Jones is now that he’s got a five-year, $82.5 million contract. Listen to him talk Thursday and you think, yes, this can work. He sat opposite the computer screen in these odd times, when you can’t have regular news conferences to introduce new players. He talked on Zoom. And, of all the answers, the best was when asked how an elite cornerback, the game’s richest now, has two interceptions in five years.

“Man, I have no clue,” he said. “It’s a joke, the fact that I haven’t had an interception in two years. It’s bizarre.”

He laughed here. “But it doesn’t bother me in any way. It’s just one of those things you work on in the offseason. During the season, when it comes, you’ve got to be ready. In 2018, I had a ball hit in the back of the head and that was kind of embarrassing. In 2019, that didn’t happen in 2019, so I am getting better.

“Slowly but surely, I am getting better; but I’ve been working on ball skills all day long, and that’s just something that – surprisingly I do have good ball skills, but it just needs to show up on game days. We’re working on that.”

Maybe it’s a small thing, but facing issues directly matters. Self-effacement matters. No excusing or backing away from the facts matter since Jones will be pay and position be one of the central figures in where-ever the Dolphins go.

And, yes, you had to like how Jones presented himself in his opening public moments as a Dolphin. For instance, all that money? It’s a life changer. To some, it’s an attitude changer. We’ll see with Jones. But listen to his answer.

“One thing my coach taught — his name’s Kris Richard, a big reason why I moved to corner and became a Pro Bowl player — is approach things as if it’s a championship,” he said. “Championship preparation in practice. In life. How you eat. If this was a practice leading up to the Super Bowl, how would you prepare for that practice, for that game.

“So my mindset is, regardless, if I’m getting paid $1 million or $13 million, it doesn’t change for me. I’m always going to practice and prepare to the best of my abilities. That’s consistent with being a part of the good players in this league.

“They don’t change based on outside circumstances. There’s something internal in a player that says, ‘Hey, I’ve got certain standards, and I’m not going to deviate no matter what’s going on.’ “

Typically, players of Jones’ talent and impact position don’t get to free agency. They’re players like the Dolphins got as pass-rushing ends, Shaq Lawson and Emmanuel Ogbah, moderate disappointments you hope upgrade in a new place.

One by one, all the Dolphins’ free-agent signings talked via Zoom. Same forum. Same time limit. That’s not happenstance. That same presentation is part of the everybody’s-equal culture teams like to develop. Of course, everyone’s important. But not everyone’s equal. We all know that.

Jones, by the way, became a free agent because Dallas reportedly didn’t want to pump that kind of money into a cornerback who didn’t cause turnovers. Jones, too, said the Cowboys have capable young cornerbacks and will be fine.

But Jones does the first job well of any cornerback. He covers players. He allowed a flat 50% completion rate that ranked seventh among cornerbacks, and only Los Angeles Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward had fewer passes thrown at him.

Now Jones pairs with Howard. Jones has played 95% of his snaps on the right side since moving to cornerback two years ago. So it looks like Howard’s days of moving around on the field will be over. Again, we’ll see.

“The most important part is not having a weak link,” Jones said. “That’s what we’re trying to create in our secondary and our team, to create matchups that are difficult for quarterbacks and receivers.”

Why the Dolphins? The money is always the top reason. Beyond that, though, Jones liked the compass point of this team. It’s what you expect to hear from the team’s newest and biggest investment. Then again, he said it right.

“The team makeup,” he said of why he chose Miami. “Where they’re going? What direction they’re going? I had a good opportunity to join different teams at different stage of their winning cycle. But I love the prospect of joining a team on the come-up. That was exciting to me.”

He added: “Football is a grind. No matter how much you’re getting paid, it is hard, so you want to be in a good locker room, a good situation with good teammates, good coaches; and you want to win games … That’s what’s most important to me. It just, who you’re around, what’s the culture and where do you see the team going.”

Sure, it was the Day One news conference. Anyone can win that. But you want your highest-paid players to lead the right way. There’s a long way to go with this. But Jones talked like the star he’s paid to be.


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