He stood at his locker on the day after the season ended and answered every question. These three seasons, cornerback Sidney Jones admits, have tested him. He hasn't been healthy enough. He hasn't played well enough. He hasn't played enough.
"It's been challenging," said Jones, the Eagles' second-round draft pick in 2017. "This isn't what I envisioned when I was drafted, but you just have to be resilient. You have to push through it. That's what I'm doing. I feel good now. I feel like I'm about to play my best football."
From a pure numbers standpoint, you could look at Jones' stat line from 2019 and think he's heading in the right direction. He played in a career-high 12 games and had 10 passes defensed and two interceptions, both the best of his career. Jones was a factor down the stretch, when it really mattered, breaking up a key third-down pass to help beat the Giants in overtime, then ending the Cowboys' last-pass hopes with a breakup in the end zone on a throw intended for wide receiver Michael Gallup, and then coming back with a late-game interception and some good play on special teams in the win at the Giants that clinched the NFC East title for the Eagles.
Big plays at big moments. That's what Jones wants with the Eagles.
"That's when you step up and play at your highest level," he said. "I was ready for those moments and it felt great to come through and help the team win."
What's next for Jones at a position that is, inarguably, one of the key spots to watch for the Eagles as they prepare for 2020? There are many questions for the Eagles at cornerback, looking forward. Both Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills, the erstwhile starters, are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents in March. Avonte Maddox and Cre'Von LeBlanc are both young and capable and probably perfectly suited for the nickel position, although Maddox could get some consideration from the Eagles at safety given that starters Malcolm Jenkins, who is seeking a new contract, and Rodney McLeod, who is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent, have their own questions that need to be answered in the weeks ahead. Rasul Douglas played in all 74 defensive snaps in the regular-season finale at the Giants and then, like Jones, played only on special teams in the playoffs.
From a coaching standpoint, defensive backs coach Cory Undlin was hired by the Detroit Lions to be their new defensive coordinator, so there will be change there as well.
Clearly, the Eagles have a lot to juggle and a lot to clear up at cornerback moving ahead. Jones and his status is right there at the top.
"The only thing I can do is continue to prepare to play and be ready when I'm called upon," he said. "I love it here. I love this defense. I'm determined to continue to work hard and show them the best of me. That's all I can control. That's all I can do."
It wasn't supposed to be this way for Jones, a highly touted cornerback from the University of Washington, who was a potential first-round draft pick in '17. He tore his Achilles tendon prior to that draft and it robbed him of any first-round draft consideration. The Eagles used the 43rd overall pick in that draft to select Jones and then gave him the entire rookie season to rehab his injury. Jones played in the last game of that 2017 regular season just to get a taste of the NFL game life and then moved onto the offseason after the Super Bowl expecting to be a major part of the defense.
He's still waiting. Jones has played well here and there, but he hasn't put it all together as planned. Now, he's at a critical crossroads at a position that the Eagles need to make better. Let's face it. There were too many big plays allowed in the passing game and not enough takeaways and big stops.
What happens next?
"I don't know," Jones said. "I'm just going to keep working, keep improving myself. I will be back here in the spring, ready to compete. That's my plan."