Adam Jones shouldn’t even be here right now, on the verge of NFL free agency, with another payday coming and with the chance to pick his next destination.
There are so many other places he could be — in another league, in a wrestling ring, in the hospital, in prison or somewhere even worse — that it’s amazing to realize his phone will ring next week and on the other end will be a number of coaches and general managers selling their situations to him and asking if he’d like to come play for them.
A young man who seemed to be wasting his talents while a sensational player for the Tennessee Titans slowly developed into a more mature player, one who realized he had been given more opportunities than most players get and that they would eventually run out. And so, at age 32 and after a decade in the league, Jones is facing the kind of uncertainty he’s actually enjoying, not the kind that nearly knocked him out of the league after his early-career troubles, his one-year suspension and a neck injury that almost ended his redemption story with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Jones nearly derailed his career after the Titans made him the sixth overall pick in the 2005 draft.
The veteran cornerback can thank himself — and the internal pep talk he had in 2011 — for this latest opportunity.
"I told myself after the second surgery I will not short-change myself from this day forward as far as playing football. I had the game taken away from me twice — once by the commissioner and the second time by the man upstairs because of my injury," Jones told FOX Sports by phone this week. "The first time, my neck didn’t heal. I had a bone graft out of my hip the second time, and my neck healed. After that, I told myself I’m going to have to do whatever I have to do to get the last laugh out of this.
"I knew I had a lot more football in me at that time. That’s what really sparked me as far as studying and taking care of my body and doing the little things year round."
Next Wednesday, when free agency officially begins, a few defensive backs entering their prime will sign contracts for tens of millions of dollars each. With Josh Norman, Trumaine Johnson and Eric Berry tagged by their current teams, Janoris Jenkins, Prince Amukamara and Tashaun Gipson will be among those signing the biggest contracts.
But there are veteran players to be had, and Jones is perhaps the most intriguing of them.
Long since fully recovered from the surgeries required to correct a neck condition that ended his 2010 season, Jones has been a terrific cover corner for the Bengals over the past few seasons. He has three interceptions in each of those years and has become a smarter player thanks to the kind of film study and preparation a young Pacman never would have put in.
That dedication to the mental part of his game also extends to the physical.
"What everybody hate — coooooooooold tuuuuuuuub!" he exclaimed in a video he tweeted last season.
Jones says his body doesn’t feel like it should at this point in his career, in part because of the time he missed while suspended and recovering from his neck issues. He estimates he has four to five more years of football left.
"I think I’m just now really getting into my prime," he said. "You take a look at my career, I played three years of football — two in Tennessee, one in Dallas — all of that was on natural ability. I know it seems like I’ve been around a long time, but my body hasn’t gotten to play that much football, just because of circumstances of where I was at."
Jones likened himself to a power pitcher in baseball who relied upon a 95-mph fastball early in his career but now has developed other pitches to make him even tougher to hit.
"But that fastball is still 95 mph. Ask anybody around me," he said, pointing to his punt and kick returns over the past two seasons as evidence. "It’s like that on Sunday, but Monday through Friday, too. I enjoy the process, I practice hard, I enjoy teammates, I help out studying. But I’m a student of the game, and I really love playing football.
"There’s nothing in the world I love doing more than playing football, besides being with my wife and kids."
With other teams sure to want him, Jones might not be able to make amends in Cincinnati for his role in the Bengals’ controversial playoff loss to Pittsburgh.
Jones and the Bengals were unable to reach an agreement on an extension last season. He hasn’t closed the door on a return to Cincinnati but believes there will be a handful of suitors making a push early next week.
One of them is obvious. The Miami Dolphins recently hired Vance Joseph as their defensive coordinator after two seasons as the Bengals’ defensive backs coach. Jones credits Joseph as one of the two people (former Bengals corner Terence Newman being the other) who really taught him how to study film and apply what he learns there on the field.
"I would think V.J. would be interested," Jones said. "He’s taught me a lot and he knows I know everything in the system. He knows I’m a football guy. If I’m a betting man, I would think he’d try to bring me in there."
Then there’s Mike Zimmer, who was Jones’ defensive coordinator with the Bengals. The Minnesota Vikings could use some veteran help in the secondary, so consider them a possible suitor.
And there’s always a shot Jones could return to Dallas to join the Cowboys, who gave him his first chance at redemption, only to cut him after several off-field incidents led them to cut bait in 2009.
But this is a different Jones. He still plays with a lot of passion that spills over off the field (his since-deleted and NSFW postgame rant on Instagram after the controversial playoff loss to the Steelers is evidence of that).
But he’s a golf-playing family man and a pretty good teammate who could be a key piece for a team looking for the final few pieces to build a contender.
"I want to win. At least, I want to be somewhere I can contribute to winning," Jones said. "I really don’t want to go to a team that’s losing. If I feel me and a couple of more players can help the team win, that’s the situation I’m looking at."
That, and one other factor.
"I’m just trying to build on to my story," Jones said.