Jacoby Jones emerged as a Super Bowl XLVII hero two years ago, hitting his high mark with the Ravens during a victory over the San Francisco 49ers in which he scored two touchdowns.
Jones' time with the Ravens ended Wednesday when the team terminated his four-year, $12 million contract. It wasn't a surprising roster move considering Jones plummeted on the wide receiver depth chart last season and was no longer as consistently dangerous or reliable as a kick returner.
His departure is unlikely to be the only change within the next two weeks as free agency approaches and the Ravens contend with a tight salary cap situation. The team is hoping to restructure contracts for defensive tackle Haloti Ngata ($16 million salary cap figure) and cornerback Lardarius Webb ($12 million) and no deals are imminent, according to sources.
Team officials and teammates said they anticipated the 2012 Pro Bowl selection would be released despite his past success with the team. Jones, 30, became much less reliable last season in terms of ball security, fumbling four times and losing two.
Jones' legacy with the Ravens includes the so-called "Mile-High Miracle" in which he tied a 2013 AFC divisional-round playoff win over the Denver Broncos. That score, on which Jones ran past Broncos free safety Rahim Moore, led to the Ravens winning the game in overtime on a field goal from Justin Tucker, which allowed them to reach the AFC championship game. Jones set Super Bowl records with a 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and 290 all-purpose yards versus the 49ers.
"We don't win Super Bowl XLVII without Jacoby," general manager Ozzie Newsome said in a statement released by the team. "Jacoby was an outstanding Raven and a good teammate on and off the field. We think he can still play in the NFL, and releasing him now allows him a better opportunity to land with another team."
The Ravens' decision was made for football, not financial, reasons. Jones' release creates just $750,000 in savings against the salary cap. He was due a $2.5 million base salary in 2015 and was one year into a contract that included a $3.5 million signing bonus.
Jones made $4.5 million last season, but didn't hit a $500,000 incentive clause for receptions. The New Orleans native caught just nine passes for 131 yards and zero touchdowns last season after he dropped several passes at the start of the season and lost playing time.
Jones declined an interview request when reached on his phone Wednesday afternoon, but wrote a brief message on Twitter: "#RavensNation it's been real …. #luv."
Jones averaged 9.2 yards per punt return last season. He averaged 30.6 yards per kickoff return with one touchdown, a 108-yard kickoff return in a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. He ranked second in the NFL in kickoff return average.
Jones has returned four punts and five kickoffs for touchdowns in his career, sixth in NFL history. Including the playoffs, he has 10 returns for touchdowns.
In 44 games with the Ravens, Jones averaged 30.1 yards per kickoff return, first in franchise history. He averaged 9.9 yards per punt return, including a 63-yard touchdown in 2012.
He caught 76 passes for 992 yards and three touchdowns over the past three seasons.
"We thank Jacoby for what he did for us," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said in a statement. "You think of how many games where his returns or long catches were the difference in winning, at Pittsburgh, Dallas, the 2012 playoff run to the championships and that great Minnesota game in the snow and ice at M&T Bank Stadium come to mind immediately."
Jones was the first Ravens player to have multiple kickoff returns for touchdowns in a single season, accomplishing that during their Super Bowl season. Jones scored 11 touchdowns with the Ravens, including three in the playoffs.
"He was invaluable to our success," Harbaugh said. "Opponents, especially on special teams, schemed to stop him. What a compliment to him. Jacoby is one of my most favorite players ever to coach, an absolute joy to be around. He's a good person with a good heart."