The Baltimore Ravens released wide receiver and kick returner Jacoby Jones on Wednesday, setting him free to sign with anybody before March 10. Jones was technically the Ravens third receiver, but his 2014 value came as a returner. Jones was second in the NFL with a 30.6 yard average on kick returns, and ninth with a 9.2 yard average on punt returns. He was third on the team in wide receiver snaps, but finished the season with only nine receptions for 131 yards.
While Jones is still a top flight return man, the Ravens realized he was making way too much money for such an exclusive role. They signed him to a four year, $12 million last year. It included a $3.5 million signing bonus, leaving them with a sizable dead money hit. According to Over The Cap, the team saves $750,000 in cap space. Since they would potentially replace him on the roster with someone making at least $435,000, they are not saving much money at this point.
The San Francisco 49ers have some questions in their return game. Bruce Ellington showed some signs he could be solid, finishing No. 7 in kick returns and No. 13 in punt returns. His punt returns seemed to be a frequent struggle, but he did get a lot of opportunities to build on that heading into 2015. The team signed Trindon Holliday late in the season, and he got a got in a game's worth of returns in Week 17. He averaged 27.7 yards per return on three returns, and will be competing in the offseason workout program and in training camp for a roster spot.
I am curious to see how the market develops for Jones. He is still a great returner, but I don't think he will get the kind of multi-year deal he got with the Ravens. If the 49ers can sign him to a relatively inexpensive deal closer to the veteran minimum, it would make sense for creating some competition in the preseason. I would not be surprised if we hear that the 49ers are bringing him in for a visit. Ideally Ellington could emerge as the return man, but it does not hurt to have some competition for the role.