The Hall of Fame defensive end, credited with coining the word "sack" for how he knocked down quarterbacks, was 74. The Washington Redskins said Jones died of natural causes at his home in Southern California on Monday night.
"Deacon Jones was one of the greatest players in NFL history. Off the field, he was a true giant," said Redskins general manager Bruce Allen, whose father, George, coached Jones with the Los Angeles Rams. "His passion and spirit will continue to inspire those who knew him. He was a cherished member of the Allen family and I will always consider him my big brother."
Because sacks didn't become an official statistic until 1982, Jones' total is uncertain. His impact as a premier pass rusher and team leader is not.
Jones was the leader of the Rams' Fearsome Foursome unit from 1961-71 and then played for San Diego for two seasons before finishing his career with the Redskins in 1974. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1980 and made the league's 75th anniversary all-time squad.
"Deacon Jones has been the most inspirational person in my football career," said former teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Jack Youngblood.
Jones made the Pro Bowl every year from 1964-70 and played in eight overall. He combined with fellow Hall of Famer Merlin Olsen, Rosey Grier and Lamar Lundy on a defensive line that at times was unblockable.
Olsen died in March 2010 at age 69 and Lundy died in February 2007 at 71. Grier, who is 80, is the only surviving member of the Fearsome Foursome.
George Allen, who coached the Fearsome Foursome, called Jones the "greatest defensive end of modern football." The Allen family had Jones present George Allen for his Hall of Fame induction in 2002.
The Rams' stats show Jones with 159 1/2 sacks for them and 173 1/2 for his career — all unofficial, of course. Jones also was one of the most durable players, missing just five games in his 14 pro seasons.
A 14th-round draft pick in 1961 out of Mississippi Valley State, which later produced Jerry Rice, Jones was the first defensive lineman with 100 solo tackles, reaching that mark in 1967.
"The thing we've got to remember being players in this era is to really respect the game 'back when,' because those guys could really play," said Chris Long of the Rams, whose father, Howie, also is in the Hall of Fame. "Deacon Jones is a perfect example. This whole league and everybody in this game should honour the past and the players who played in that era. Those guys paved the way for us."
Jones also had several small acting roles both during and after his playing career. He was a guest star on a handful of television shows — including episodes of "Bewitched," ''The Brady Bunch" and "The Odd Couple" — and appeared in the 1978 Warren Beatty film "Heaven Can Wait."
Most recently, Jones was the CEO of his own foundation, which he began in 1997. He also made several trips to visit troops on active duty in the Middle East.