Football fans don't always get it.
We deal with our football players as if they were commodities on the open market. Should we trade them? Should we sell them? Should we cut them, keep them or deal them?
Put all personal background aside. All that matters is whether this player will help or hurt the team. It's that simple. The benefit of the team is the only litmus test fans apply when speculating whether or not a player should be on a team.
The only difference between fantasy football and reality football is that in the NFL, the players get paid and the players make life-altering decisions determined by which team they are playing for. In the millions of fantasy football leagues across the world, the players play for free. The common denominator, however, is the same litmus test applies. How much a player will help a team accomplish its objectives is truly all that matters to most everyone involved — but the player also has more to weigh with his decision.
Let's spend a brief moment keeping up with the Joneses.
Two weeks into the season, the then 0-2 Minnesota Vikings were facing dire straits. Their defense, whose struggles were well-documented, needed some help. Strong safety Robert Griffith, one of the league's best, broke his leg and would be out at least a month, maybe more. Considering the amount of youth and relatively inexperienced players scattered throughout Emmitt Thomas' defense, the Vikings looked to add a veteran, someone who could step in and not only attempt to fill the gaping hole left by Griffith's absence, but give the team a dose of veteran savviness as well.
It seemed to be a no-brainer, then, when former Buffalo Bill and longtime veteran defensive back Henry Jones landed at Winter Park for a tryout. There he was, Jones, an 11-year NFL veteran who spent the entire 1990s decade with the Bills, perhaps the AFC's most powerful franchise over that span. Jones was a staple on a Bills defense that made four trips to the Super Bowl.
Surely, he could give the Vikings defense help. Surely, the Vikings could offer him a job and he'd simultaneously sign on the dotted line before they would even get a chance to finish their offer. After all, Jones was out of work. Here he was, in Week 2 of the season watching football from his favorite lounging chair in his living room, rather than spending Sundays covering receivers and tackling ball carriers.
As fans, that's all we consider. The player is out of a job, he gets offered a job with another team, naturally he takes it, right?
With some players, the answer is "Yes." With players like Jones, and others who have family commitments to think about before they spontaneously uproot and move to another city, the decision wasn't that simple.
"The biggest thing about deciding to come here or not is that my wife is due in December, and we were trying to figure out where to have the baby," said Jones, 33, who lived in Atlanta with his family. Jones and Joanna also have a 19-month-old daughter, Jada.
"At a certain point (of Joanna's pregnancy), the doctors don't want her to be flying on airplanes anymore, so it was really a big decision for us," he said. "Anytime you're talking about uprooting your family and moving across the country, it's a big decision. But what's good about our situation is that our kids are young; it's a lot harder when your kids are older."
It wasn't as if Jones' phone hadn't already been ringing. Because of Joanna's pregnancy, because she was carrying the couple's second child, Jones couldn't — and didn't want to — accept any offer that was thrown his way without carefully analyzing the situation first. If he was to play football again, the move needed to make sense. It needed to be logical, and practical for Henry and Joanna both. Before the Vikings had called in late September, Jones had already turned down contract offers from the New Orleans Saints as well as the Detroit Lions. His wife's pregnancy wasn't solely the reason, but it did play a factor in his decision-making process, he said.
So, too, did consultation with NFL brethren.
"I was talking with (former Buffalo teammate and current Chargers quarterback) Doug Flutie, and he almost retired instead of signing with San Diego this year," Henry said. "Because moving again was so difficult for their (9-year-old) boy (Doug Jr.)."
A move to Minnesota would hardly affect their 19-month-old daughter. Joanna would be the one making the largest sacrifice. If Henry came to play for the Vikings, Joanna would be having the baby in Minnesota rather than Georgia, a sudden change of plans for one on life's greatest memories.
"We're going to have the baby in Minnesota," Henry said. "My wife is very excited about it. She's supportive of my decision."
Because of that, when Jones' agent called back after consulting with the Vikings, the answer was a swift "Yes."
"My agent called and said that Robert Griffith had just broken his leg and that the Vikings would probably need a strong safety, and he asked if I'd like to go to Minnesota. I said ‘sure,'" Jones recalled. "I wanted to come to a team that could contend for the Super Bowl."
Jones signed a one-year contract with the Vikings for the NFL veteran minimum of $477,000. He also received a small signing bonus and an incentive clause based on his number of interceptions.
"I've watched Jones play for a number of years with Buffalo, and he's a big-time player," said Vikings defensive backs coach Willie Shaw. "Once we get him familiar with the system, he will definitely help us."
Jones has indeed helped the Vikings. In four games, he has 23 tackles. More importantly, Jones noticed upon his arrival that he saw a team at a crossroads, just two shorts weeks into the season.
A preseason Super Bowl contender had slipped, stumbled and skidded to an 0-2 beginning. After an undefeated preseason that included off-the-field turbulence, with expectations and prognostications raising the bar even higher, the Vikings' offensive machine sputtered.
Surprisingly, it may have been the Vikings defense that held it together. At times, the defense that was known for exhibiting the strength of a wet paper towel was suddenly forcing three-and-outs and making goal-line stands. The Vikings defense won't proclaim to be the Monsters of the Midway, but what the Vikings defense has done since that 0-2 start is giving its offense a chance. Jones has been part of that defense. The Vikings went 3-1 in their first four games since Jones' arrival. Coincidence? Probably. But don't discount the magnitude of adding another veteran to the Vikings secondary.
"I can slide right in here and be effective," said Jones, who as a player for the University of Illinois was a runner-up for the Jim Thorpe award, a trophy annually given to the best college defensive back in the country. "But I think it is important for a team to be together and get along with each other. Things got off to kind of a rocky start here, but I think we can turn this around from 0-2 and be a Super Bowl contender. I wouldn't be here if I didn't believe that."
Being an experienced veteran, it didn't take long for Jones to acclimate himself to the Vikings' defensive system. The learning curve was short, the time to learn was quick. Jones welcomed the challenge with the same open arms he welcomes opposing ball carriers coming his way.
"It's tough. It can be done, but it's really difficult to learn so quickly," Jones said. "Once you get out there you're trying to worry about what you need to do and where you need to go and you have to react to their offense. You'd rather have them reacting to you. Sometimes you get thinking too much and it slows you down.
"I'm feeling a lot more comfortable now. I'm getting a lot of things down pat and I'm trying to get the adjustments down right now."
His biggest adjustment, though, is coming in a few months, when he and his wife, Joanna deliver their second child. Thanks to the Vikings, that'll be in Minnesota. VU
Jones Making Personal Sacrifices
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