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Chandler Jones: 'Paying the Man' Often Not as Easy as it Appears

Analyzing what it might take for the Cardinals to ensure that Chandler Jones remains in Arizona after the 2021 season.

Now that Chandler Jones has returned to earth and for the time being the reactionaries screaming “pay the man” without, you know, offering any suggestions of what to actually pay the man have been temporarily muted, it’s a good time to explore what actually might make sense.

Following an “epic” performance in the season opener against Tennessee, it was again clear how hard it often is to simply get a sack in the NFL. Some games, it appears easy, but that’s a tease.

After playing 75% of the snaps in Week 1, Jones was on the field for all 61 against the Vikings, had no tackles or sacks and the only entry on his stat line were three quarterback hits.

His presence surely makes offenses account for him as they do for defensive end J.J. Watt, who had only two tackles in 55 snaps (90%) Sunday.

For the time being, the over-reaction crowd, those that were actually saying it was possible Jones could total 85 sacks after Week 1, have been quieted as his current “projection” is a mere 42.5.

Still, Jones is a generational player, one that will likely receive strong Hall-of-Fame consideration when the five-year waiting period ends after his retirement.

Still, the Cardinals and Jones face the reality that there are 15 regular-season games remaining on his contract.

When general manager Steve Keim appeared on the Burns and Gambo show on Arizona Sports 98.7 last Friday, he was asked about the trade request Jones admitted to making in the offseason.

Keim said, “The one thing, and I've always sort of dealt with business this way, is any conversation with our players and their specifications remains confidential. But I will tell you this: I can't be more proud of a player than Chandler Jones. The way he came off the biceps injury. I mean, he came to camp in probably the best shape of his career, really lean.

“You can see in his play, his explosiveness, his first step, his repertoire of pass-rush moves. He came back with a vengeance and really excited about where he's at and looking forward to a huge year for him.”

While no explanation has been given for the trade request, sources have indicated to AllCardinals that the thinking of Jones was that if the Cardinals weren’t willing to extend his deal beyond 2021 perhaps another team would.

However, it’s not as if the Cardinals didn’t want to extend. The difficulty is determining the value for a player who will be 32 in February. While former NFL safety Rodney Harrison claimed the Cardinals should pay Jones like the Steelers did linebacker T.J. Watt, the reality is that the Cardinals, much less another team, are unlikely to guarantee $80 million over three years, which Pittsburgh did for Watt, who turns 27 next month, for Jones. Ain’t gonna happen.

When Keim was asked if he’d like to get Jones under contract before the end of the season, he said, “Easy Question. No. 1, he's rubbing the wrong pockets. And No. 2, we're not in the business of moving on and getting rid of good football players. So that's a pretty easy answer.”

Breaking down that answer, the first part referred to Jones patting Keim’s pocket on the sideline late in the game against Tennessee. While Keim was noting that owner Michael Bidwill is the guy that signs the checks, the reality is that Keim negotiates contracts and surely is supported by the owner in doing deals he believes make sense.

That’s why when he was asked if a great game increases the urgency to get Jones signed, Keim said, “I don't think so. I think you always want to get good players under contract. But as you know, there's always a million different moving parts. And I have to continue to look at this roster moving forward, generally from a three-year standpoint, but again, there's so many moving parts to it all. Again, to answer your question, we certainly want to keep good players under contract.”

It could be pointed out that the Cardinals didn’t try very hard to re-sign cornerback Patrick Peterson after the 2020 offseason, and he landed in Minnesota on a 1-year contract. It could be inferred that Keim and the Cardinals didn’t believe Peterson was that good a player anymore.

It’s safe to say they feel differently about Jones, but it still begs the question about value.

The Cardinals have the ability to place a franchise tag on Jones in early 2022 at a cost of $18.6 million guaranteed once signed (120 percent of his $15.5 million salary this year).

That essentially becomes the starting point for negotiations. Would the Cardinals do that? Possibly, especially if he has that “huge” season Keim predicted. But where does it go from there? In long-term contract discussions, agents love to project out future franchise-tag increases, which for Jones would be $22.32 million in 2023.

Would the Cardinals be willing to guarantee him $41 million for two years with a third season that includes an early league-year roster bonus in 2024 when he turns 34? Would there possibly be two voidable years to spread the salary-cap charge for a signing bonus over five years? Would another team pay that much, if he becomes a free agent?

Those are the “moving parts” Keim talks about, parts that often make doing deals not as easy as simply “paying the man.”