How Could the Arizona Cardinals Let Chandler Jones Leave?

Photo: Michael Chow/Arizona Republic - USA Today Network

I’ve always lived by the notion that you never improve your team by allowing good players to walk out of your building – especially without being compensated for them. It’s total mismanagement and not a long-term recipe for success. In terms of roster construction, when you acquire cornerstone players by way of the draft, it allows you to build your team with good players on a rookie contract, which in turn helps you to do the same in other areas of your team. This is especially true if your team has a franchise quarterback also on their initial rookie deal, which the Arizona Cardinals currently have with Kyler Murray. 

Great. Fantastic.

But.

The Cardinals have allowed the best pass rusher in the history of their franchise to walk out of their building without any compensation in Chandler Jones.

This move is perplexing on a couple different fronts. They acquired him in a steal of a trade from the New England Patriots, who obviously had reservations about paying him significant money on a long-term contract following his rookie deal. The move was widely considered to be attributed to the Patriots’ team building philosophy and their aversion to allocating big money to individual players, rather than an indictment on the player himself. However, since he arrived in Arizona in 2016, he has been nothing short of spectacular.

In 2019, he had a ridiculous year with 19.0 sacks, solidifying himself as one of the elite pass rushers in the NFL. In 2022, he missed 11 games with a torn bicep. Other than his injury year, he has recorded double-digit sacks every other year. In 2021 he had 10.5 sacks, 26 QB hits, six forced fumbles and 12 tackles for loss. He earned 1st-Team All Pro in 2017 and 2019. He’s recorded a whopping 107.5 sacks since 2012 – the most in the NFL and Jones accomplished all of this without a significant pass rusher on the other side. He’s been the focus of opposing offensive lines the whole time.

If you knew you didn’t want to re-sign him, why not trade him a year ago when he actually requested a trade? Arizona could have gotten maximum return on their investment – plus, he was a year younger. Coming off his 19.0 sack year, no team would project a huge drop off based on a bicep injury – his value was still high. Why allow him to walk in free agency and acquire a compensatory pick when you could have got much more in return?

In my opinion, the manner in which you acquired him demonstrated the acumen of a competent general manager. However, the manner in which he leaves shows a level of incompetence and an inability to construct a roster that consistently competes for championships. The Cardinals signed defensive lineman J.J. Watt, who has an AAV of 14 million (approximately) and he’s been hurt far more than Jones has, who in just six short years he became the best pass rusher in the history of the franchise.

The Las Vegas Raiders, who were already a good team in 2021, obviously still believe he has more in the tank. They signed Jones to a three-year, $51 million max contract, after all. His AAV is slightly higher and he will be a year older, clearing indicating that they project the production will continue and what’s even scarier is that he is now playing opposite another premier pass rusher in Maxx Crosby. Jones has never had that. And now he has a guy who has been stellar since he was drafted and just rewarded with a huge contract of his own.

How can you say you want to contend for championships yet allow a premier player to leave your building without securing maximum compensation? I project that Jones will have another stellar, double-digit sack year in what could be one of the best years of his career while Arizona will again have to answer for yet another head-scratching move by the front office.

 

Written By:

Drae Harris

Senior NFL Draft Analyst

Drae Harris is a Senior NFL Draft Analyst and seven-year scouting veteran in the NFL. He's a former player for the Cal Golden Bears and San Francisco 49ers.

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