Cyrus Jones Jr. never thought getting cut by his hometown Ravens would be a blessing.
It might have saved his life.
After being released last November, Jones, 26, signed with the Denver Broncos. A minor stomach ailment thought to be a normal reaction to a change in altitude sent him to the team doctor. Probing discovered much more: a congenital coronary defect from birth that required open-heart surgery.
Now, nine months after the operation, the onetime Gilman star is recovered, working out and expecting to soon be cleared in a bid to latch on with another NFL team.
In hindsight, the cornerback/kick return specialist said the Ravens did him a favor.
“If I would have not got cut by Baltimore, I would have never found out what was really going on with me,” Jones said. “The congenital thing I was born with, that was overlooked my whole life — luckily, the unfortunate didn’t happen. They say the majority of the time, you never know until the worst thing happens — you drop dead — and, after the fact, they figure it out. So somebody has been watching over me this whole time, for 26 years.”
In Denver, doctors — aware of a blood clot issue that Jones experienced last spring — performed a CT scan of his chest as a precaution and discovered an anomalous coronary artery, a defect that causes it to grow in the wrong area of the heart. A few weeks later, he was on the table, undergoing a surgery that Jones said was necessary to give him a chance to return to the field.
“When you go through something like that, it forces you to dig deep and kind of figure out who you truly are, what you’ve really got in you and how much you’re willing to sacrifice to get back out there and chase your dream again,” he said. “I found out that I’m even more unbreakable than I thought I was. I’ve been through a lot in my career and having all that thrown on top of it definitely could have been a catastrophic thing. I could have just kind of given up, but that’s never been me.”
Adversity is nothing new to Jones.
Drafted by the New England Patriots in 2016, he has been released three times and missed the entire 2017 season with the Patriots after suffering a torn ACL and partially torn meniscus. Then, after his release by the Ravens, he never got on the field for the Broncos, who placed him on the reserve/non-football injury list before letting him go.
The latest setback has been the ultimate test of his mettle.
After the shock wore off, Jones put trust in the surgeons and their plan, leaned on his family for support and banked on his faith. He quickly showed what he was made of.
“The way he recovered the day after having open-heart surgery, to be able to sit up, move around — it was really a testament to who he is. He’s a warrior, a warrior without a doubt,” said his father, Cyrus Jones Sr., the former Dunbar boys basketball coach.
Since the first week in May, Jones has been training three or four days a week at Impact Sports Physical Therapy in Hanover, describing the process as weekly building blocks he’s been stacking on top of each other.
His trainer, Bobby Esbrandt, has seen Jones' strength completely return and his explosive burst almost there as well. Early on in his rehabilitation, Jones thought he would use this time to be ready for the 2021 season, but he believes that once he gets the green light from the doctor, he can crack a roster now.
“It’s a hell of a story for sure,” Esbrandt said. “Just seeing the progress from Day One to where he is now — I’m excited for when he gets the chance to get back out there on the field because I think for a small time I don’t know if he thought it would be possible. He’s a grinder, I don’t know what else to say.”
Jones' agent, Mike Swenson from California-based Wasserman, said there’s a handful of teams interested in bringing him in for a physical and workout once he has been cleared to play. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, practice squads have expanded from 12 to 16 players, which increases the chances of Jones getting on a roster this season.
“Him being a former second-round pick, that kind of thing, he’s definitely a playmaker and that’s what teams like about him and know about him, and the versatility he brings being able to not only play cornerback, but in the return game as well, so there’s a lot of value there,” Swenson said.
Former Ravens teammate DeShon Elliott, who often trained with Jones earlier in the summer at Impact Sports, saw the same determined Jones.
“For him being able to fight through that and be as resilient as he was, it was great to see the determination he has to get back with a team,” he said. “You could see the hunger in his eyes. He loves this game, and I know for a fact that he’ll continue to work his butt off to get back into the league. I have a lot of respect for Cyrus, and I’m just happy to know that he’s healthy.”
His absence from football has enabled him to focus on other areas of his life, including the foundation he founded in 2018. The Cy Jones Foundation is a nonprofit community service and empowerment organization that features enrichment programs in education, sports, health and wellness for multi-ethnic youth in the area.
As difficult as the times were for Jones in November and December, another life-changing day — this one bringing pure joy — took place July 11 when his girlfriend, Emily, gave birth to their first child, daughter Cayza.
Having already shown he needs no extra motivation, Jones, who with Emily and Cayza are temporarily living in Canton, got some nonetheless.
“You think about becoming a father all your life, what it’s going to feel like and all that and it’s an indescribable feeling,” he said. “I feel like she became the most important person in my life overnight. So it just makes everything that much more important, doing the right stuff and staying on the ground.”
Asked how he was feeling physically, Jones responds with a positive, confident tone.
He’s emphatic when he says he’s ready to play.
He’s grateful for his strong support system.
And he knows, if given the chance, when he does return to the field, he’ll return a better man.
“That’s what life is all about,” he said. “Nothing is perfect and everybody has to go through their own thing. But as long as you use the situations you go through and the cards you were dealt to learn something, you ultimately become better.”
Baltimore Sun reporters Jonas Shaffer and Mike Klingaman contributed to this article.