Chandler Jones has become pretty much become exclusively a pass-rusher at this stage of his career, but one that can still function at a high level. Jones, who needed just five seasons to become the Arizona Cardinals’ all-time sack leader, had 10.5 sacks for the Cardinals in 2021, albeit five of them came in Week 1 against the Tennessee Titans.
Nevertheless, Jones is still a capable pass-rusher and at 31 still has some years left in him. It does not figure that those years will be spent in Arizona. Jones and the team have not discussed an extension in nearly a year, and that offer would have only netted Jones a base salary of $14 million.
In the current free-agent market, even if the Cardinals used the franchise tag on Jones, it would probably cost them at least $20 million. It is far more likely that the Cardinals let Jones walk. If so, where would this top edge rusher likely land? We take a look at some possible suitors come March 16.
This might have been a no-brainer if Brian Flores were still the head coach in Miami. Flores and Jones spent the first five years of Jones’ career together with the New England Patriots, where Flores was a defensive coach. A reunion there would have seemed inevitable.
That said, the new Dolphins head coach, Mike McDaniel, needs no introduction to Jones, having coached against him with the San Francisco 49ers before taking the Miami job. With the Dolphins flush in cap money, $73 million projected, the Dolphins could certainly fit Jones into any package of players McDaniel chooses to bring in. As a veteran with some miles left in the tank, and especially with a young player like Jaelan Phillips to mentor, Jones’ talents would be an ideal fit in South Beach.
Another team desperate for veteran leadership, and another team with a ton of cap space, estimated at around $61 million, the Jaguars are in prime position to make Jones an offer of around $14.5 million per year, which is the estimate for a player of Jones’ status.
The biggest development working in Jones’ favor of signing with the Jaguars is Jacksonville’s hiring of former Cardinals defensive line coach Brentson Buckner as their new line coach. That should be very appealing to Jones, who became the Cardinals’ all-time sack leader in just five seasons, the past two under Buckner.
The Cardinals’ defense would certainly become more formidable if they could pair Jones with Josh Allen, especially in a division where the Indianapolis Colts, Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans all have questions at the quarterback position. Signing Jones also frees the Jaguars to focus on the offense for the first pick in the NFL Draft, likely offensive lineman Evan Neal from Alabama.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers have all the firepower they need on offense, especially if they bring back Mike Williams. Either way, the Chargers are right there with Miami and Jacksonville in terms of salary cap room, and the thought of pairing Jones with Joey Bosa on the edges would have to strike fear in the rest of the division.
Throw in the emergence of Uchenna Nwosu and the Chargers would have one of the most talented defensive lines in the AFC, let alone the division. The 2022 Chargers can’t continue to be like the Air Coryell Chargers of yesteryear that scored at will but couldn’t stop anyone. Signing Jones would be a perfect step in the right direction.
New England Patriots
Talk about coming full circle. The Patriots traded Jones to the Cardinals back after the 2016 season and got guard Jonathan Cooper and a second-round pick in return. Of course, what the Patriots really got was the cap space to sign Dont’a Hightower and Stephon Gilmore, and the second-round pick got flipped, which resulted in the drafting of Joe Thuney, so no complaints from the Patriots’ side.
But after what happened to the defense down the stretch in 2021, the Patriots might want to revisit that transaction and bring Jones back into the fold to put pressure on Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen, especially if Hightower and cornerback J.C. Jackson leave via free agency themselves.
Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference