His 29th birthday meant teammates teasing and poking fun.
When pressed, he conceded, “To stay healthy.”
The Colts invested $33 million over five years in the free agent before last season. But Jones is the first to admit he didn’t provide an ideal return on that investment in 2014, when a high ankle sprain sidelined the 6-3, 337-pound tackle for seven games.
He started just three regular-season games. His 23 tackles and 1.5 sacks were a significant drop-off from 2013, his last of four years with the Baltimore Ravens, when he had a career-high 53 tackles.
Asked about the Colts not seeing his best, Jones conceded, “No, not at all. Far from it.”
The reality of the NFL is that any player paid well must produce or the team takes a significant step back. Those who make the most money are expected to produce accordingly. The salary cap gets spread thin, and Jones counts $7.1 million in 2015.
The Colts’ run defense ranked 18th, not near strong enough to hold up in the AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots. That’s not all on Jones, of course, but he will be considered one of the defensive leaders in the upcoming season.
“I’m definitely working hard to play my best,” he said.
Injuries are a frustrating occupational hazard. They’re usually beyond a players’ control, and Jones’ high ankle sprain was particularly difficult because it lingered.
When he tried to come back too soon, he suffered a setback in a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. High ankle sprains can have a varied recovery timetable. They can take months to heal.
“It’s tough, it’s tough,” Jones said. “High ankles are tough to battle through. Accidents happen when you play as hard as I do. Stuff happens, you know? Just control the ‘controllables,’ keep playing hard and good things will happen.”
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.