ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — D.J. Jones finally got his bag.
“It was a hell of a journey,” he told DNVR.
The defensive lineman signed a three-year, $30 million contract with the Broncos this offseason, ending a five-year run with San Francisco 49ers. The $9 million signing bonus he took home the day his pen hit the paper was more than the $6 million he made for the rest of his career combined.
The celebration was simple.
“We had dinner at the house,” Jones said. “I’m just a big family guy so we just had a family dinner.”
The road to the big ocntract wasn’t easy. Jones entered the league as a sixth-round draft pick out of Ole Miss in 2017. The average sixth-round pick is out of the league before the end of his second season, according to the NCAA.
“It puts you behind the eight ball,” Jones said.
Breaking through in San Francisco is even tougher.
When Jones joined the team, the 49ers had three first-round draft picks on rookie contracts (DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead and Solomon Thomas) in the defensive line room. They’d just added Earl Mitchell, an experienced lineman, to start at nose tackle. Tank Carradine was a former second-rounder in a contract year.
And they kept adding talent, too. The 49ers spent two more first-round picks on defensive linemen in Jones’ first three seasons in San Francisco.
“Every year they draft a first-rounder, just a high-caliber guy,” Jones said. “It made me a better player, playing with the caliber of guys that they drafted.”
One of those picks, the second overall pick in 2019 draft, was used on Nick Bosa. The rookie made his presence felt immediately.
“I mean, he’s sculpted like a Greek god,” Jones remembers thinking. “He can’t be too bad.”
Bosa definitely wasn’t bad. He was named the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year and he’s made two Pro Bowl’s before his 25th birthday. He was also Jones’ lockermate in San Francisco.
“All you gotta do is sit back and watch Bosa,” Jones said. “I got to see him every day. Just watching his work ethic and how he approaches his game; master of his craft.”
Despite the competition, Jones was able to carve out a role in the 49er defense. That role grew every season. By his third year, he was a full-time starter. His four-year, $2.5 million contract expired after his fourth season, and he had a chance to negotiate a deal for himself.
“I would get on the field and I was so worried about that contract that I wasn’t worried about my opponent,” Jones said. “It was harmful to my performance.”
The big deal wasn’t waiting for him at the end of the year. He’d put together a solid performance but didn’t differentiate himself from the other linemen on the market. Instead of leaping to a new team, Jones took another one-year contract in San Francisco because he knew he was capable of more in that system.
“I figured I have to take all of the emotions out,” Jones said. ”Don’t worry about the money. Just play the game that you grew up playing. I took all of the emotions out. I got more in my playbook. I just studied my opponent more and just worried more about my reps. Just make every rep count and don’t worry about the contract.”
“Of course people will be saying, ‘D.J., you’re playing yourself into a nice contract.’ I would let that go in one ear and out the other,” Jones said. “I was living outside of that contract. I was playing outside of that contract. I wasn’t worried about the contract.”
Jones is still in touch with his former teammates in San Francisco often. Playing them on Sunday Night Football this week isn’t going to change that.
“I love everybody over there, man. We saw it coming,” he said. “I love Kyle Shanahan, John (Lynch). From the owner to the janitors, I love everybody over there, man. Just much respect.”