The Cardinals entered the 2016 season as Super Bowl contenders and will end it as massive disappointments, having stumbled to a 6-8-1 mark with one game remaining. But Arizona’s struggles haven’t been the fault of pass rusher Chandler Jones, whom the team acquired from the Patriots last March in exchange for a second-round pick and now-unemployed guard Jonathan Cooper.
Jones has started in each of his 15 appearances this season and piled up 47 tackles, 21 quarterback hurries, 9.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. As a result, he ranks 10th in overall performance among Pro Football Focus’ 110 qualifying edge defenders. Now Jones, who has amassed 45.5 sacks in his five-year career, could be on the cusp of playing his final game with the Cardinals. Although the soon-to-be 27-year-old is an impending free agent, he’d like to stay in Arizona.
“I love it here in Arizona – the coaches, the people, the whole atmosphere,” Jones told Josh Weinfuss of ESPN.com. “I love the vibe that people give off and I can see myself being here for a long time.”
The admiration is seemingly mutual, as general manager Steve Keim referred to Jones as “something we have not had here in years” in October. Back then, the Cardinals and Jones had reportedly been discussing a contract extension since training camp, though it’s unclear if those negotiations have continued.
It’s fair to suggest that retaining Jones over the long haul could cost Arizona similar money to what the Giants gave fellow pass rusher Olivier Vernon in free agency last winter. Vernon parlayed 29 sacks in four seasons with the Dolphins into a five-year, $85MM pact with $52MM in guarantees. Jones is aware of that deal, he told Weinfuss, but the Cardinals could place the franchise tag on him before the March deadline if they’re uncomfortable handing out a Vernon-esque contract. Jones is listed as a linebacker, a position that will carry a projected salary of $14.754MM via the tag in 2017, but the 6-foot-5, 265-pounder could argue that he’s a defensive end in order to secure a richer payday ($16.955MM).
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