Northwestern linebacker Joe Jones (42) helps make a stop last season against Iowa. Jones, a Plano graduate, has signed as an undrafted free agent with the Dallas Cowboys. (Northwestern athletics)
Joe Jones confirmed his head was spinning.
The Northwestern linebacker, waiting to see if his name would be called, kept close tabs last Saturday on Day 3 of the NFL draft.
Would he be taken in the seventh and final round?
The Plano graduate wasn’t, but as the draft came to a close with Denver’s selection of Mississippi quarterback Chad Kelly at No. 253 overall, the fun for Jones was about to begin.
"For about 35 minutes after that last pick of the seventh round, things got extremely chaotic," Jones said.
One after another, three teams that had interest in signing him as an undrafted free agent were on the phone. The Dallas Cowboys. The Seattle Seahawks. And the soon-to-be Las Vegas Raiders.
"First one, then the other," Jones said. "Pretty soon, it was hard to think who said what, and I wanted to be dialed in and focused on what they said."
While not getting drafted may sting, it gives the player some leeway and power when it comes to signing an undrafted free-agent contract.
Jones and his agent can look at the rosters of various suitors and try to calculate where he will have a better chance of making a roster.
Jones let his agent, veteran Cliff Brady, do most of the talking with NFL teams leading up to the draft. Brady has been representing NFL prospects and draft picks since 1987.
Jones finally decided to go with the Cowboys. He will be heading to Texas later this week for rookie minicamp.
"They didn’t draft any linebackers," Jones said. "To make it in the league, though, I’m going to have to do well on special teams."
It’s where he made his mark in Evanston.
"I played behind great guys here," he said. "Obviously, I came here wanting to do more, but it’s difficult. Everyone here was a high school hero."
Pro interest in Jones, a fifth-year senior who didn’t crack Northwestern’s starting defensive lineup at outside linebacker until his final season, had been gaining steam since the Wildcats held their pro day March 14.
He made 43 tackles, 3.5 for loss, in 2016 and played much of it with a broken right thumb and his hand and wrist in a cast. He did the same his senior year at Plano, playing with a broken bone in his right hand.
Jones, who last year completed his degree in communication studies and economics, was not invited to the NFL combine in Indianapolis.
He did, however, put up intriguing numbers at those pro day workouts, highlighted by 4.45 and 4.50 seconds in the 40-yard dash and a 35 1/2-inch vertical jump.
Pro Football Weekly reported his numbers would have placed him at or near the top of all linebackers participating at Indy.
Teams doing their homework found a high-character young man with a great story. He married high school sweetheart Amber Schleifer midway through college and immediately became "Papa Joe" to his Wildcats teammates.
In October, fatherhood became a reality when daughter Scarlette was born, arriving conveniently during the team’s bye week.
"She’s been a huge blessing, and coach (Pat) Fitzgerald and the whole program really supported us," Jones said.
He’s become even more adept at budgeting his time, handling three part-time jobs in the offseason, two as a trainer and occasionally delivering flowers.
Jones will share a bond with Fitzgerald, who also went undrafted despite a much higher profile and signed with Dallas, lasting three preseason games.
"He’s a huge reason I came here," Jones said of Fitzgerald. "The guy loves us and wants us to grow. It really is a family here.
"I was just hoping for a chance at the NFL. Hopefully I can make the most of it."