Ravens' Arthur Jones celebrates after sacking Green… (Algerina Perna, Baltimore…)
Standing next to his brother, Jon "Bones" Jones, Ravens defensive lineman Arthur Jones couldn't suppress his laughter when asked if the Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight champion was in town to negotiate on his behalf with Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome.
"Is that the reason?" Arthur Jones said this week with seven games remaining on the final year of his contract. "This is my agent right here."
The business side of football will turn serious soon enough for Arthur Jones during the offseason when he's expected to emerge as a coveted commodity in free agency due to his versatility, scheme flexibility and consistency.
Unless the Ravens make a strong bid to retain Jones between now and March when he's scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent, the remainder of this season could represent an audition for his next NFL employer. The Ravens have a tight salary cap situation that may restrict their ability to retain their free agents.
"I could definitely see Arthur Jones getting a nice payday," said former NFL agent Joel Corry, who now writes about the business of football for National Football Post. "A good, young defensive lineman in his prime is hard to find."
In his fourth year in the NFL and playing under a one-year, $2.023 million restricted free agent tender, Jones is having arguably his best season. And he has done it all after overcoming an irregular heartbeat earlier this season. He has become indispensable for the Ravens' 15th-ranked defense with 28 tackles, four sacks and two forced fumbles.
Jones' preference is to extend his career with the Ravens, who drafted him in the fifth round in 2010 out of Syracuse. However, he acknowledged the unpredictable nature of contract discussions.
"Unfortunately, I know the business side of it," said Jones, who is represented by agent Joe Panos. "Hopefully, I'm here. If not, I'm always going to love this team. This team is my first love. I'm excited, but I try not to think too much about it.
"Sometimes, you can think about it too much and tend to outplay yourself by trying to do too much. I'm enjoying my time right now playing on the Ravens' defense. The future, it's kind out of my control."
Providing a run-stuffing and pass-rushing presence, Jones has upgraded his play significantly in the past two seasons. Over the past 25 regular-season games, Jones has 75 tackles and 8.5 sacks.
"It's very clear that he's come into his own," Jon Jones said. "When he first started, we'd be out there watching like, 'Is he even playing right now?'
"Not only has Arthur managed to be in the game full-time, but he's becoming an impact player. That's amazing to see. His progression is clear."
When Jones arrived in Baltimore, he wasn't even active every game. As a rookie, he played in just two games and had no statistics before increasing his role gradually with 18 tackles as a backup in his second season.
Now, he's someone that opposing offenses have to account for because of his ability to shoot gaps or bull-rush blockers while lining up all over the defensive line.
"I can't say enough complimentary things about him as a person and as a pro," Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. "I think he's one of the most improved guys that we have. From where he's come to where he is now, he's just vastly improved. There's really not a time when we come out of a game saying, 'Boy, I don't know about that game.' He's had great performances every week."
Jones has registered five tackles for losses and 15 solo tackles, impressing accomplished teammates like rush linebacker Terrell Suggs.
"It's pretty awesome," Suggs said. "When you see the potential of a player and he grows, and he starts to mature into himself, come into his own, it's pretty good."
Listed at 6-foot-3, 315 pounds, Jones has transformed his body in recent years, turning bulk into muscle. .
"Art has done a great job," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "He's turned into a very solid and even excellent defensive lineman in this league, and I think it is because of his work ethic. He's talented, he's quick, he's explosive.
"He's worked really hard in the weight room with [strength and conditioning coach] Bob Rogucki, and he's really maximized his physical potential, and he's one of the best defensive linemen now going."
Jones has trained a lot with his older brother, one of the most popular fighters in a growing sport. He attributes quicker hands and feet to mixed martial arts training.
"I work out with him faithfully on hand fighting, wrestling, leverage," Arthur Jones said. "Just having good pad level is a game-changer in this league."
Jones almost didn't reach this point, though, dealing with an unexpected heart issue in August. The condition cleared up only sidelined him for the season opener but he has played every game since.
Overcoming an irregular heartbeat has given Jones a newfound appreciation for his sport and his burgeoning status.
"Yeah, I'm definitely grateful," said Arthur Jones, who grew up in Endicott, N.Y. as the son of a pastor. "It wasn't that many weeks ago where I thought my days were numbered from playing. It's just a blessing that God isn't through with me on the football field. Faith is huge in my family."
As is success for the three Jones' brothers. Jon Jones has reached the pinnacle of UFC. The youngest brother, Chandler Jones, is a New England Patriots starting defensive end drafted in the first round last year.
Arthur Jones has already earned a Super Bowl title. Now, he's approaching a financial windfall after entering the NFL on a relatively modest three-year, $1.447 million deal.
"You've got to put the work in, and I've done a pretty good job of showing I'm a great player in this league," Arthur Jones said. "It's a blessing to play in a great organization that let me play a lot and learn a lot."