Cardinals veterans report to training camp in five days (July 27) and the question on most everyone’s mind is whether linebacker Chandler Jones will be there with his teammates.
Jones did not participate in the team’s OTAs and minicamp last month, leading to the obvious conclusion that he wants a new contract and might stay away from training camp until he gets one.
League sources told AllCardinals that Jones’ plan is unknown. It’s believed he hasn’t firmly decided to not report, but it remains a possibility.
The big question is what Jones wants or expects in a restructured deal, one that he still hopes will be forthcoming if exhibits good faith and does report.
Jones was the runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year in 2019 when he was second in the NFL with 19.0 sacks on a team that won five games. However, he played in only five games last season thanks to a torn biceps suffered in Week 5 against the New York Jets.
In the 2017 offseason after being designated the team’s franchise player, Jones signed a five-year, $82.5 million contract two days after the beginning of the league year that had $53 million guaranteed and included a $15 million signing bonus.
After being paid $16 million last season with a salary-cap charge of $21.3 million, Jones has collected $67 million of the total value of the contract.
For this season, his salary is a non-guaranteed $15.5 million with a cap hit of $20.2 million.
So, what does Jones want? And, even more important, what are the Cardinals willing to do for one of the best edge rushers in the NFL when healthy, albeit one that turned 31 in February?
Possibly complicating the situation is the two-year, $28 million contract 32-year-old defensive end J.J. Watt signed in March that included $20 million fully guaranteed at signing. Watt receives $14.5 million guaranteed this year in salary ($2.5 million) and signing bonus ($12 million).
Another $3.25 million of his $11.25 million 2022 salary is guaranteed along with a $2.25 million roister bonus. An additional $3 million becomes fully guaranteed in March, 2022, if he’s on the roster at an unknown date but likely a few days after the March 16 start of the league year.
Of course, Watt was a free agent when he was signed and was being pursued by other teams. Jones is under contract for 2021.
The reality, at least potentially in Jones’ mind, is that he has no guarantees this year or beyond and Watt has at least $20 million guaranteed and possibly $23 million for 2021 and 2022.
Coincidentally, Los Angeles Chargers edge rusher Melvin Ingram III was the team’s franchise player the same year as Jones was with the Cardinals.
Ingram subsequently signed a four-year contract worth roughly the same per year ($16 million) as Jones ($16.5 million), but with less guaranteed ($34 million with a $10.5 million signing bonus). Ingram played only seven games last season because of a knee injury.
He became a free agent in March, turned 32 in April and had marginal interest in the market until signing a one-year contract earlier this week with the Steelers that is reportedly worth up to $4 million including incentives.
So, again, what does Jones want?
Is it a gesture by the Cardinals to guarantee his 2021 salary while also adding some guarantees in 2022 that could lead to another adjustment and extension next year provided his performance returns close to an All-Pro level?
Does he want two or three years added to his contact, something the Cardinals are possibly balking at doing for a player coming off an injury that will be 34 in 2024?
We don’t know the answers to those questions. However, we will starting getting an inkling when Tuesday rolls around.