With Cardinals veterans set to report to training camp Tuesday, the anticipation surrounding linebacker Chandler Jones amped up Sunday when Jeremy Fowler of ESPN tweeted, “All-Pro pass rusher Chandler Jones requested a trade from the Arizona Cardinals this offseason, per sources. Jones has been unhappy with his contract and future with the team. Cardinals don’t want to trade him and expect him to report to camp. But certainly a situation to watch.”
Yes, it is, as we chronicled three days ago. The tweet makes the situation sound dire, but it’s surely reasonable to figure that Jones’ trade request was done within the context of wanting to be somewhere else if the Cardinals refuse to do anything agreeable on his contract.
Since being traded to the Cardinals in 2016 when he was in the final year of his contract with the New England Patriots, Jones has been an All-Pro twice and in two Pro Bowls. He was in the Pro Bowl once with the Patriots in his first five seasons.
Jones is entering the final year of an $82.5 million contract of which he has been paid $67. His 2021 salary of $15.5 million has no guaranteed money.
While Jones did not participate in the team’s OTAs and minicamp last month, he was present for photo and video sessions used by the team for promotion purposes.
That’s likely why the Cardinals “expect him to report,” but that’s not guaranteed either.
What makes this a somewhat unusual situation could be a difference of opinion regarding Jones’ value in the market. Yes, he was the NFL runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year in 2019 when he had 19.0 sacks on a five-win team. However, he turned 31 this offseason and had one sack in five games in 2020 before missing the final 11 games because of a torn biceps.
While it’s likely the Cardinals want him in Arizona beyond 2021, it’s also understandable if they want to see him return to at least close to All-Pro form before committing to another lucrative contract, one that probably wouldn’t be for more than two or three years. It wouldn’t be a surprise to figure other teams see it the same way.
Consider again the light of 32-year-old pass rusher Melvin Ingram III. He hasn’t produced like Jones has in his career, but he’s also no slouch. When Ingram became a free agent this offseason after having no sacks in seven games for the Chargers in 2020, he faced a decidedly quiet market. He finally signed a one-year deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers last week worth $4 million with only his $2.925 million signing bonus guaranteed. His base salary is a non-guaranteed league minimum $1.075 million. The contract also includes four voidable years, so the bonus can be prorated over five years.
While Jones wonders about his future beyond this season, he’s certainly not alone. He might have to accept the reality that, like many NFL players, his future is linked to what he does on the field in 2021.