Jarrett Bell, USA TODAY Sports

Deacon Jones became an NFL legend by becoming such a force in a violent game that his autobiography was titled Headslap.

But in the aftermath of Jones’ death at 74 on Monday night, fellow Pro Football Hall of Famer Lem Barney suspects that collisions in the trenches — violence that goes both ways — hastened his friend’s mortality.

“It’s a shame that he’s gone,” Barney told USA TODAY Sports. “I’m sure it’s due to the head injuries.”

Initial reports indicate that Jones died of natural causes, which essentially rules out an external force as causing the death. Barney, though, says that he believed that Jones’ condition had deteriorated over recent years, based on personal observations during face-to-face visits and numerous phone calls.

“I know he didn’t complain about it,” said Barney, the former Detroit Lions cornerback who played in five Pro Bowls with Jones. “But you could see that he was slower in speech when you saw him or had phone conversations.

“He was still the Deacon, but you could see some things being lost.”

Jones was one of the greatest defensive ends ever, a leader of the Los Angeles Rams’ famous defensive line — which included Merlin Olsen, Rosey Grier and Lamar Lundy — that was known as “The Fearsome Foursome.”

It is unknown whether Jones sought treatment for head injuries, which has had an increased level of consciousness in the NFL community. The NFL has been plagued by a series of suicides by former players who it was later determined had suffered from a degenerative brain disease associated with head trauma. A massive lawsuit has been brought forward by former players.

Barney, 67, is among more than 4,000 former players listed as plaintiffs in legal action that alleges the NFL didn’t tell players enough about the risks of concussions. Jones’ death adds to Barney’s frustration regarding the long-term effects of football.

“If I could do it all over again, I would play baseball, tennis or golf,” Barney said.

During his 11-year NFL career that ended following the 1977 season, Barney says doctors have estimated that he suffered seven concussions. He said that he is unsure, because the injuries were never classified as concussions by team doctors.

“They called them one of three things: Dingers, stingers or bell-ringers,” Barney said. “But no one ever called them concussions.”

Now Barney wonders whether head injuries played a factor in the loss of a friend.

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