When people think of NFL free agency, they may just consider the signing of veteran free agents, generally before the NFL draft.
However, there is another type of free agency in the NFL that occurs after the NFL draft – the signing of undrafted, rookie free agents.
One of the best undrafted, rookie free agents signed by the Cleveland Browns was offensive lineman Tony Jones.
Nicknamed “T-Bone”, Jones spent the first eight years of his 13-year NFL career with Cleveland.
He was a durable and versatile (playing left tackle, right tackle, and right guard) lineman, whose play helped other offensive players and the Browns team be more successful.
We’re saddened by the passing of Tony Jones, who spent the first 8 of his 13 memorable NFL seasons in Cleveland. Our love and thoughts are with the Jones family.
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) January 23, 2021
We take a look at the life of Tony Jones – before, during, and after his NFL playing career.
The Early Years Through High School
Anthony Edward Jones was born in Royston, Georgia on May 24, 1966.
Royston is located in northeastern Georgia.
When Jones grew up there, Royston had a population of approximately 2,500 people.
Henry E. and Marlene Jones were Jones’ parents.
Jones attended Franklin County High School in Carnesville, Georgia.
Carnesville is about 11 miles from Royston.
After graduating from Franklin County High School, Jones received a football scholarship from Western Carolina University.
He headed to Cullowhee, North Carolina (in western North Carolina) to attend college at Western Carolina.
At tackle, Jones lettered in football at Western Carolina from 1984 to 1987.
When Jones played there, Western Carolina was in the Southern Conference, as part of NCAA Division !-AA.
Western Carolina posted records of 8-3 in 1984, 4-6-1 in 1985, 6-5 in 1986, and 4-7 in 1987.
After playing at Western Carolina, Jones headed to the NFL to play professional football.
The Pro Football Years
Jones was invited to the NFL combine before the 1988 NFL draft.
At the combine, Jones ran the 40-yard dash in 5.28 seconds and performed 19 “reps” (at 225 pounds) in the bench press.
While Jones went undrafted in the 1988 NFL draft, he was signed by the Cleveland Browns as a free agent.
As a rookie in 1988, Jones (playing at a height of six feet and five inches and at a weight of 290 pounds) saw limited action for Cleveland.
He played in four, and did not start any, regular season games.
The Browns, with a 10-6 record, earned a wild card playoff berth in 1988.
In the 1988 playoffs, Cleveland met the Houston Oilers on December 24, 1988.
Jones played in, but did not start, the game, as the Browns lost to the Oilers 24-23.
In 1989, Jones saw more action, as he played in nine, and started three, regular season games.
On December 10, 1989, Jones started his first NFL regular season game, replacing Dan Fike at right guard.
Jones’ play helped Cleveland quarterback Bernie Kosar pass for 353 yards and receiver Webster Slaughter catch six passes for 152 yards, in a 23-17 Browns loss to the Indianapolis Colts in overtime.
The following week, on December 17, 1989, with Jones starting at right guard, Bernie Kosar passed for 254 yards and two touchdowns and Browns receiver Reggie Langhorne caught six passes for 140 yards and one touchdown, as Cleveland defeated the Minnesota Vikings 23-17 in overtime.
In the next game, on December 23, 1989, Jones started for the third consecutive week and helped Cleveland’s offense gain 324 total yards, in a 24-20 Browns win over the Houston Oilers.
With the win over Houston, Cleveland won the AFC Central Division title in 1989, with a 9-6-1 record.
Jones contributed to the Browns ranking in the 1989 NFL regular season tied for eighth in fewest sacks allowed (34).
In the 1989 playoffs, the Browns first played the Buffalo Bills on January 6, 1990.
Jones continued to start at right guard, with his play helping Bernie Kosar pass for 251 yards and three touchdowns and Webster Slaughter catch three passes for 114 yards and two touchdowns, as Cleveland defeated the Buffalo Bills 34-30.
Cleveland then advanced to play the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship game on January 14, 1990.
Jones again started the game, but the Browns lost to Denver 37-21.
In 1990, Jones became a full-time starter for Cleveland, moving from right guard to right tackle and starting all 16 regular season games.
In 1990, the Browns had a 3-13 record.
Jones remained a full-time starter in 1991, as he again started all 16 regular season games.
However, Jones again changed his position, with new Browns head coach Bill Belichick deciding to move Jones from right tackle to left tackle.
The Browns had a 6-10 record in 1991.
Jones helped Cleveland rank in the 1991 NFL regular season ninth in passing yards (3,304) and tied for tenth in passing touchdowns (19).
In 1992, Jones again started all 16 regular season games at left tackle.
Cleveland had a 7-9 record in 1992.
Jones helped the Browns rank in the 1992 NFL regular season tenth in fewest sacks allowed (34).
In 1993, Jones again started all 16 regular season games at left tackle.
Jones helped Browns wide receiver Michael Jackson catch five passes for 105 yards and one touchdown in a 23-13 Cleveland victory over the San Francisco 49ers on September 13, 1993.
Cleveland again had a 7-9 record in 1993.
Jones helped the Browns rank in the 1993 NFL regular season tied for fifth in passing touchdowns (23) and tied for tenth in average yards per rushing attempt (4.0).
Jones, at left tackle, again started all 16 regular season games in 1994.
For his play in 1994, Jones was named second team All-Pro by the Associated Press, first team All-Conference by Pro Football Weekly, and second team All-Conference by United Press International.
With an 11-5 record in 1994, the Browns earned a wild card playoff berth.
Jones helped Cleveland lead the 1994 NFL regular season in fewest sacks allowed (14).
In the 1994 playoffs, the Browns first played the New England Patriots on January 1, 1995.
Cleveland advanced to play the Pittsburgh Steelers on January 7, 1995.
Jones again started the game at left tackle, but the Browns lost to Pittsburgh 29-9.
For the sixth consecutive year (the fifth consecutive year at left tackle), Jones started all 16 regular season games in 1995.
In 1995, the Browns had a 5-11 record.
Jones helped Cleveland rank in the 1995 NFL regular season tied for tenth in fewest sacks allowed (32).
The most important story of Cleveland’s 1995 season was the decision by Browns owner Art Modell to relocate the Browns franchise to Baltimore for the 1996 season.
Jones went from being a member of the 1995 Cleveland Browns to being a member of the 1996 Baltimore Ravens.
He was not happy to leave Cleveland.
“Cleveland is my home. My wife’s from Cleveland. I spent the best eight years of my life there. I thought I had a ball in college, but I really had a ball in Cleveland. I love Cleveland.”
“We left one of the greatest football cities in the world in Cleveland . . . The Dawg Pound was probably the biggest thing in football. I was telling some of the younger guys on our team, I’ve never seen a better group of fans than the Dawg Pound. . . . Those guys were a big part of our team. They supported us through the good seasons and the bad.”
In 1996, Jones missed his first regular season game since 1989.
He played in and started 15 regular season games at left tackle for Baltimore in 1996.
Baltimore had a 4-12 record in 1996.
Jones’ play helped Vinny Testaverde pass for 4,177 yards and 33 touchdowns, Michael Jackson catch 76 passes for 1,201 yards and 14 touchdowns, and Derrick Alexander catch 62 passes for 1,099 yards and nine touchdowns.
On February 14, 1997, the Ravens traded Jones to the Denver Broncos in exchange for a second-round draft pick in the 1997 NFL draft.
“Tony Jones has been a major part of the Cleveland Browns and then the Baltimore Ravens. He has been a solid player and great family man. I wish him nothing but the best.”
In 1997, Jones started all 16 regular season games for Denver.
He once again shifted positions, playing right tackle for the Broncos in 1997.
Denver, with a 12-4 record, earned a wild card playoff berth in 1997.
Jones helped future Pro Football Hall of Fame Denver quarterback John Elway pass for 3,635 yards and 27 touchdowns, future Pro Football Hall of Fame Denver running back Terrell Davis rush for 1,750 yards and 15 touchdowns on 369 rushing attempts, future Pro Football Hall of Fame Denver tight end Shannon Sharpe catch 72 passes for 1,107 yards and three touchdowns, and Denver receiver Rod Smith catch 70 passes for 1,180 yards and 12 touchdowns.
In the 1997 playoffs, with Jones starting each game at right tackle, the Broncos won four games (42-17 over the Jacksonville Jaguars on December 27, 1997, 14-10 over the Kansas City Chiefs on January 4, 1998, 24-21 over the Pittsburgh Steelers on January 11, 1998, and, in a game in which Denver allowed no sacks, 31-24 over the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXII on January 25, 1998) to earn Jones his first Super Bowl championship.
Jones switched positions for the fifth time in his professional football career, moving from right tackle back to left tackle, in 1998.
He started all 16 regular season games at left tackle in 1998.
For his play in 1998, Jones was invited to the Pro Bowl.
With a 14-2 record, the Broncos won the AFC West Division title in 1998.
Jones’ play helped John Elway pass for 2,806 yards and 22 touchdowns, Terrell Davis rush for 2,008 yards and 21 touchdowns on 392 rushing attempts, Rod Smith catch 86 passes for 1,222 yards and six touchdowns, and Denver receiver Ed McCaffrey catch 64 passes for 1,053 yards and 10 touchdowns.
With Jones starting each game at left tackle, in the 1998 playoffs, the Broncos defeated the Miami Dolphins 38-3 on January 9, 1999, the New York Jets 23-10 on January 17, 1999, and, in the second consecutive Super Bowl in which Denver allowed no sacks, the Atlanta Falcons 34-19 in Super Bowl XXXIII on January 31, 1999, earning Jones his second consecutive Super Bowl championship.
Jones played two more seasons with the Broncos.
In 1999, at left tackle, Jones played in and started 12 regular season games.
Denver had a 6-10 record in 1999.
Jones started all 16 regular season games at left tackle in 2000.
The Broncos had an 11-5 record in 2000 and earned a wild card playoff berth before losing in the 2000 playoffs 21-3 to the Baltimore Ravens on December 31, 2000 (with Jones starting the playoff game).
The loss to the Ravens turned out to be Jones’ final NFL game, as he retired after the 2000 season.
The Years After The NFL
Jones married Kamilla.
He had three children.
After his NFL retirement, Jones invested in various businesses, including restaurants, shopping malls, and a barbershop.
Jones also was involved with helping children.
“Tony loved mentoring kids in the community. It was important to him to make a difference in the kids he encountered. He would take the time to speak at schools, camps and special youth events. Tony often spent time training college and NFL prospects or kids who desired the same dream as he did as a child. He coached youth football and pushed kids to their highest potential. Tony is highly respected by many.”
In his birthplace of Royston, Georgia, both a street (“Tony Jones Street”) and a park (“Tony Jones Park”) have been dedicated to Jones.
Jones resided in Duluth, Georgia.
On January 22, 2021, Jones died in Suwanee, Georgia, at the age of 54.
RIP former Browns All Pro Tackle Tony Jones. pic.twitter.com/zg93k6XCWy
— Erik Stenger (@abitbig) January 23, 2021
As a charter member, Jones was inducted into the Franklin County Sports Hall of Fame in 1998.
Jones was named in year 2000 to the Western Carolina University 20th Century All-Time Football Team.
He also was named by “Pro Football Reference” to the second team All-Decade Team for the 1990’s.
It is always difficult to review the career of an offensive lineman because there is limited direct statistical information about his performance.
Nevertheless, four points can be made about Jones’ NFL career.
First, Jones was a durable player.
With the Browns, from when Jones first started in an NFL regular season game (on December 10, 1989), he started 103 consecutive regular season and playoff games.
Second, Jones was a versatile player.
He performed well at each of left tackle, right tackle, and right guard.
Third, Jones helped other offensive players perform better.
With the Browns, Jones’ play helped each of Bernie Kosar, Webster Slaughter, Reggie Langhorne, Leroy Hoard, Eric Metcalf, Mike Tomczak, Lawyer Tillman, Michael Jackson, Tommy Vardell, Todd Philcox, Mark Carrier, Derrick Alexander, Vinny Testaverde, Andre Rison, Rico Smith, and Eric Zeier have excellent games.
Fourth, Jones helped his teams achieve success.
With the Browns, Jones played on three playoff teams.
Most notably, in 1994, Jones was the starting left tackle on Cleveland’s offensive line, which led the NFL in allowing the fewest sacks.
In addition, the 1994 Browns team was the last Cleveland team both to win at least 11 regular season games and to win a playoff game for 26 years (until the 2020 Browns).
After he left the Browns, Jones also started on the offensive line for two Super Bowl-winning Broncos teams in 1997 and 1998.
Reflecting on his NFL career, in 1999, Jones stated:
“Nothing has even been given to me. I’ve always been the guy to outwork somebody else, the guy who wasn’t drafted and had to bust his butt to make the team. Then when I started, I had to bust my butt to keep it.”
Tony “T-Bone” Jones fits well in this tradition, helping Cleveland players and the Cleveland team be more successful over his eight seasons with the Browns.