It hasn’t been unusual over the years for Green Bay Packers players to travel westward across the Mississippi River to play for the Minnesota Vikings. It has been a relatively one-way street – not many Vikings have gone eastward to play in Green Bay – and the trend took on another addition Tuesday.
The Vikings signed Packers defender Datone Jones to a contract reported to be one year for $3.75 million with incentives that could push it to $5 million.
The reason Jones is referred to as a defender is that he never had a concrete role with the Packers defense. After playing exclusively on the defensive line his first three seasons, he was asked to drop a lot of weight and play outside linebacker in Green Bay’s 3-4 defense last season.
Some players would be frustrated by constantly being asked to move around, but Jones felt it has made him a better overall player.
“For many years in Green Bay there has never been a steady role or a steady position for me,” Jones said. “I played linebacker. I played defensive tackle. I played defense end. For me, I thank Green Bay Nation because it made me a much more versatile player.”
As it turned out, the Vikings had a couple of in-house teammates of Jones who helped give him the 411 on how the Vikings defense and the Vikings locker room works. Yet another defensive player from UCLA, Jones said he was in contact with his former teammates when it came time to take a free-agent visit to Minnesota.
“I want to thank my college teammates and current teammates, Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks, for helping me out through the process as far as answering all those questions about the coaches and the player atmosphere to get the direction that the team is going,” Jones said. “I’m very excited to be a part of this organization and I’m ready to turn the next chapter in my life and make it count over these next few years.”
If there was any doubt as to where he was going to play in the Vikings defense, Jones subtly made that point clear by consistently referencing defensive line coach Andre Patterson – he never mentioned linebackers coach Adam Zimmer.
Whether it is playing defensive end or as a three-technique defensive tackle on passing downs, Jones is confident he can play whatever assignment (on the defensive line, not the linebacker corps) that is asked of him.
“I think I’ll fit that role,” Jones said. “Andre Patterson I think he’ll do a great job [with me]. From what I’ve seen, what they showed me, he’s a technician. He has that knack for touching players and helping those players develop.”
Jones was quick to extoll the virtues of Patterson’s coaching ability. He pointed to the success that players like Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter, Linval Joseph and Tom Johnson have experienced in the Vikings defense and thinks he can rub off some of that same magic on him.
“Those are guys who have been fundamentally coached by Coach Patterson,” Jones said. “He’s done a great job with those guys. I really like the direction that the Minnesota Vikings are going. I’m very excited to be a part of this organization. I think Coach Patterson is going to do a great job of helping me develop into a much better player.”
Coming over to a hated rival is going to be something that will be new for Jones in many respects – not the least of which will be getting after future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers.
For four years, he gained an undying respect for Rodgers, comparing him to a fine wine that gets better with age. But, during those four years, he couldn’t put a hit on Rodgers. When he lined up opposite No. 12, Rodgers was wearing a red jersey, which means he’s untouchable in practice. Jones is looking forward to the chance to come after his old friend with some bad intentions.
“Whatever side I’m fighting for, I’m fighting 100 percent,” Jones said. “Now I fight for the Minnesota Vikings. Aaron knows. He knows I’m coming hungry.”
From the outside, a one-year deal would tend to give the impression that the Packers didn’t view Jones, a part-time player through four seasons, as a must-sign free agent. The short-term deal he got from the Vikings spoke just as loudly to outsiders.
But, for Jones, it is an opportunity to continue his growth as a player and earn a long-term deal if he lives up to the expectations Mike Zimmer, Rick Spielman and the coaching staff have in him.
That’s all he wants and he’s going to get that chance, which has him ready to tackle this new challenge and become a key piece in an ever-changing Vikings defense.
“I’ve got a chance to prove myself and I feel like I can prove myself,” Jones said. “I’m a very passionate person in this sport and I just love getting after the quarterback. I love hitting the quarterback. I love being in the backfield. I love it all. At the end of the day, that really didn’t matter to me. It was more about the interest of how bad the team wanted me.”