With Arizona Cardinals pass rusher Chandler Jones set to be a free agent in 2022, where are his potential landing spots this offseason? How has Jones performed this year, what size contract could he potentially be looking at, and which teams might be interested in the 2022 NFL free agent pass rusher?
Chandler Jones landing spots
Coming off an injury last year, 2021 started with a bang for Jones. He had 5 sacks in the Cardinals’ Week 1 game against the Titans. Coming off a summer in which he had requested a trade, 2021 looked set to be a big season for Jones. However, since then, Jones has added just 4.5 sacks in 11 games. He currently sits at 9.5 sacks for the season, with 22 QB hits, and 4 forced fumbles.
It has been a frustrating season for Jones as he looked to make a big impact ahead of free agency. Between 2016-2019, Jones racked up 60 sacks at an average of 15 per season. During that stretch, no one in the league had more sacks than Jones. He also led the league with 17 in 2017. In those four years, Jones was named a first-team All-Pro twice and looked ready for a big potential payday as a 2022 free agent.
However, things have not gone to plan in the last two seasons. Jones managed to play just five games in 2020 with only 1 sack. Add that to his 9.5 sacks this season and his stock is certainly not on the rise heading into free agency. That has somewhat limited what we might see in terms of a potential contract for the 31-year-old.
It seems unlikely that Jones will come close to challenging the top of the edge market, led by T.J. Watt at $28 million per year. His likely ceiling sits around the bottom of the top 10 at $17.5-18 million per year. However, he might be hard-pressed to find a team willing to commit that much over more than a couple of years given his struggles in the past two seasons. Where could we see Jones land this offseason?
Could we see Jones head down to the Miami Dolphins to continue his career?
This might be one of the most natural landing spots for Jones simply because of who heads up the coaching staff in Miami. Brian Flores was the safeties coach in New England when Jones was with the Patriots. While he might not have worked directly with Jones, there will be familiarity both personality and scheme-wise.
The Dolphins have a need to add a pass rusher. Emmanuel Ogbah is set to be a free agent, and there is not an obvious leader at the position for the Dolphins. Jaelan Phillips has impressed as a rookie, and Andrew Van Ginkel is an effective role player. However, a player like Jones would allow those two to work effectively off the opposite edge. This really does feel like a natural fit for Jones down in Miami.
The Denver Broncos need a premier edge rusher to replace Von Miller
It will be interesting to see what happens in Denver this offseason. Vic Fangio’s job does not seem to be completely secure, which could change the entire complexion of their offseason. However, as it stands, they really need to add a pass rusher in the mold of Jones to replace the legendary Broncos pass rusher Von Miller.
The Broncos have some intriguing young pieces, but they don’t have a leading pass rusher. Bradley Chubb has not evolved into that role due to injuries hampering him. Meanwhile, the other current options are not the potential X-factor we know Jones can be. There are several dominoes to fall in Denver, but if they stick with their current scheme, then Jones feels like a good fit.
Would the Los Angeles Chargers be willing to go all-in on their defense?
The Chargers already have an impressive defense led by Joey Bosa and Derwin James. Yet, the departure of Melvin Ingram has left a hole opposite Bosa in terms of pass-rushing. That should be one of the Chargers’ focuses this offseason, and they have the cap space to make a splash.
A trio of Bosa, Jones, and DT Jerry Tillery upfront would be one of the stronger pass-rushing trios in the league. Combine that with the talents they have at linebacker and in the secondary, and this defense could be instantly upgraded. With close to $73 million in cap space available to them, the Chargers could be one of the more aggressive teams this offseason.
Cap space could limit the interest from the Tennessee Titans, New York Giants, and Los Angeles Rams
Three other teams that Jones would be a good fit with the needs of the roster are the Titans, Giants, and Rams. However, all three of those teams are tight on cap space.
The Titans have the most with $11.5 million. But they have other needs to address this offseason, much like the Rams and Giants.
Of course, cap space can be opened up in the NFL by releasing players or restructuring deals. All three of these teams may look to do that this offseason and then become players in the market for Jones.
For example, we have seen the Rams’ willingness to be aggressive in the hunt for a ring. If they do not win one this season, it’s possible they go hard after another premier pass rusher next offseason.
Could the Steelers look to pair Jones with T.J. Watt?
Excitement crackled around the NFL when J.J. Watt was signed by the Cardinals to play opposite Jones during the last offseason. Things have not worked out how the Cardinals hoped, but could we see Jones move across the country to join another of the Watt brothers in Pittsburgh?
Alex Highsmith has failed to make splash plays in a starting role in 2021 with just 3 sacks. A big reason the Steelers were willing to let Bud Dupree walk was so that Highsmith could step up. Unfortunately, he has not made a big impact in that starting role.
Therefore, it might push the Steelers into the free-agent market for a pass rusher this offseason. A pairing of Jones and T.J. Watt would have offensive lines around the NFL dreading to play the Steelers.