The Bengals have been fiercely loyal to Jones, whose career experienced a resurgence in Cincinnati in 2010 after off-the-field issues almost derailed it. They stood by him when he had troubles, including a January arrest last year that showed him caught on tape spitting on a jailhouse nurse and telling a cop, "I hope you die tomorrow."
But the Bengals might have finally ended their Jones era this week. At the very least, they partially closed the door on it.
Jones told Bengals.com that the team informed him they would not pick up the option on the final year of his contract, which will make him an unrestricted free agent when the new league year begins on March 14. Multiple sources confirmed the move to ESPN.
Jones also said the Bengals told him they would like to have him back to compete as a kick returner and nickel cornerback even though they will allow him to become a free agent.
Translation: The Bengals could find a place for Jones, but not at $6.9 million, which is how much he would have cost against the salary cap if they had chosen to exercise the option.
The parting of ways was inevitable, no matter how loyal the Bengals have been to Jones in the past.
Considering how well second-year player William Jackson III did in what was essentially his rookie season (he missed the 2016 season with an injury), Jones didn't really have a place anymore at that price point. Darqueze Dennard also played well enough as a nickel cornerback that Jones could have potentially been entering the 2018 season as the fourth cornerback on the roster.
Jones isn't playing at the level he once did, but he still has something in the tank as both a cornerback and a kick returner. He even had a 55-yard punt return for a touchdown this season that was ultimately called back due to a penalty on a teammate. Clearly, he's still capable of playing at minimum in a reduced role, but should it be in Cincinnati?
The Bengals needed to move on from Jones as a starter to move ahead with Jackson, their first-round pick in 2016. Being relegated to a backup behind a younger player could make a return difficult; however, it was clearly already in the making last season. As Jones struggled with injuries and eventually went on injured reserve, Jackson stepped up as the permanent outside cornerback next to Dre Kirkpatrick.
Still, a return shouldn't be ruled out. Jones undoubtedly would like to be a starter instead of a role player, but it might be hard for him to find a significant market due to his age and previous off-the-field issues. If other teams don't bite, it's possible the Bengals bring him back at a significant pay cut.