Chandler Jones is an impeding free agent the Arizona Cardinals may struggle to keep. He’s 31 and has suffered with inconsistency in recent seasons, but Jones is still one of the most accomplished pass-rushers in the NFL.
Jones is sure to draw interest when free agency begins on Wednesday, March 16. His best fit might be with the team he called home before joining the Cardinals in 2016.
That’s a scenario two ESPN analysts think should come true this offseason.
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Jones Deemed ‘Best Fit’ for Former Team
Fowler noted how “New England showed a willingness to spend big in last year’s free agency, and it can use its familiarity with Jones’ game to pair him with Matthew Judon off the edge. Jones could also serve as a hybrid weapon for the Patriots.”
Bowen took up a similar argument: “At this stage of his career, Jones fits best in a heavily schemed front, which he will get with Bill Belichick in New England. And the Patriots need another pass-rusher opposite of Judon who can be deployed from multiple alignments.”
Both offered an interesting take because Jones made his name as a versatile edge defender after being taken in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft. He logged 36 sacks in four seasons and won Super Bowl XLIX against the Seattle Seahawks.
Jones was a perfect fit for head coach Bill Belichick’s diverse defensive playbook. The Patriots mix three- and four-man lines, ideal for a player able to operate as a standup outside linebacker or put his hand in the dirt as a traditional defensive end.
He left a legacy few Patriots edge-rushers have been able to match since 2010, per Ryan Spagnoli of SB Nation’s Pats Pulpit:
Yet, as they often do, the Patriots cashed in when one of their defensive studs reached peak value. They got a second-round pick and guard Jonathan Cooper for Jones in ’16.
While the Pats went on to win two Super Bowls without Jones, the Cardinals were hardly losers in the trade. Not when Jones became the franchise’s all-time leader in sacks in 2021:
His 71.5 sacks would be hard, but not impossible, for Cardinals’ general manager Steve Keim to replace.
Cards Not Short of Jones Alternatives
Fortunately for Keim, the Cardinals have more than one useful pass-rusher on the books for next season. J.J. Watt is still a force up front when healthy, while Markus Golden and Devon Kennard are capable rushing off the edge.
There are also some bargain options set to be available in this year’s market. They include veterans like Justin Houston, Jerry Hughes and Jason Pierre-Paul. Somebody like Miami Dolphins’ hybrid end Emmanuel Ogbah would also be a good fit.
Perhaps a project would be worth a risk. An edge defender with upside like Indianapolis Colts’ rotational rusher Al-Quadin Muhammad makes sense.
A smart under-the-radar option would be San Francisco 49ers’ roving defensive lineman Arden Key. He can win on the outside or slide to the interior and generate pressure from the defensive tackle spot, as Bleacher Report’s Brandon Thorn highlighted back in December:
Keim will need to be creative because Spotrac.com projects the Cardinals to have just $2,744,575 worth of space under the salary cap. Limited resources will make it tough to keep Jones if the Patriots, big spenders a year ago, come calling for their former pass-rusher.