Where will Chandler Jones play in 2022? Dolphins, Chargers, Chiefs, Colts could target veteran edge rusher

If the Arizona Cardinals don't re-sign Chandler Jones, where could the veteran pass rusher land in free agency?

Does anyone remember what the Cardinals sent to the Patriots in exchange for Chandler Jones in 2016? A second-round pick and guard Jonathan Cooper — that’s it. That’s all Arizona sacrificed for an edge rusher on the cusps of Hall of Fame consideration. But now, Jones’ five-year contract in the desert is coming to a close. Will he re-sign with the Cardinals, or will he go elsewhere in free agency?

Chandler Jones’ free agent profile

Everyone probably remembers Jones’ hot start in Week 1. He posted 5 sacks in a win over the Titans, seemingly priming himself for an excellent campaign in the final year of his Cardinals contract. Jones has continued to play well, but the sacks haven’t been there. The 31-year-old has managed only 5.5 sacks since the opening week. However, he’s still been able to affect the pocket, as his 36 pressures rank 16th in the NFL.

Despite his production, it seems unlikely Jones will be back in Arizona next year. After missing all but five games in 2020 following a torn biceps, he skipped minicamp in June and subsequently requested a trade in July. With only one year remaining on his contract, Jones clearly wanted an extension.

However, Jones and the Cardinals have not discussed a new deal since July, as Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com reported in September. Per La Canfora, Arizona offered Jones only a one-year, $14 million extension with an additional $1.5 million available via incentives. If he reached those incentives, Jones would have earned the same $15.5 million in 2022 that he collected in 2021.

Arizona could franchise tag Jones, but given that the relationship between the team and player seems to be at least bordering on acrimony, that seems unlikely. Plus, Arizona only has $18 million or so in cap space for next season, and the edge rusher franchise tag is expected to exceed $20 million.

Jones’ landing spots

If Jones doesn’t re-sign with Arizona, where might he go? Here are a few potential suitors.

The Miami Dolphins can sign anyone they want

With $73 million in projected cap space, the Dolphins should be very active on the 2022 free-agent market. Of course, Miami is searching for a new head coach, so until we know what their schemes will look like next year, it’s difficult to pair them with free agents that may fit. Luckily, Jones has the ability to play on almost any defensive front.

Jaelan Phillips looked excellent in his rookie campaign, posting 8.5 sacks and 26 total pressures. But veteran Emmanuel Ogbah (9 sacks) is heading towards free agency. It’s truly anyone’s guess as to how the Dolphins will approach this offseason. But Jones would be a solid addition as a player who can not only still hold his own (and then some) but serve as a mentor to Phillips.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers could add yet another piece

I know, I know — how can the Buccaneers possibly enter the free-agent market after retaining all their core pieces last offseason? Well, Tampa Bay should go into 2022 with roughly $20 million in cap space. They can still restructure several contracts on their roster, and they could also work out a deal for Jones that includes a small cap hit next season. It’s not the most forward-thinking salary cap strategy, but for a Super Bowl-winning team with a 44-year-old quarterback, it’ll work.

Tampa Bay already has Shaquil Barrett and 2021 first-round pick Joe Tryon-Shoyinka under contract for next season. But I don’t know if they could resist bringing in another contributor like Jones, especially if they don’t re-sign Jason Pierre-Paul. Plus, Jones already has a relationship with Bucs head coach Bruce Arians, who worked alongside the pass rusher in Arizona from 2016-17.

Could the Indianapolis Colts bolster their defensive line?

The Colts may have bigger issues to fix in 2022, such as figuring out if Carson Wentz is still the team’s starting quarterback or determining how to beat the Jaguars on the road for the first time since 2014. But Indianapolis needs to address its pass rush and pass defense as a whole this offseason. The Colts ranked second-to-last with an 18.1% pressure rate in 2021, while their pass defense finished 19th in expected points added (EPA) per dropback.

2021 first-round pick Kwity Paye played well in his rookie season, but the Colts need more help on the edge. General manager Chris Ballard has tried to add reinforcements via several second-round picks in recent drafts, but Ben Banogu, Tyquan Lewis, and Kemoko Turay haven’t really worked out. The Colts have invested in veteran pass rushers before. In 2019, Indy signed then-30-year-old Justin Houston to a two-year, $24 million contract. Jones will be more expensive this offseason, but he’s not out of the question for the Colts.

The Kansas City Chiefs might re-organize their front four

Frank Clark is a problem. He’ll count for $26.3 million on Kansas City’s salary cap next year, the sixth-largest figure among edge defenders. But he’s been playing like one of the worst defensive ends in the NFL for the past three seasons. It’s time for the Chiefs to cut ties. If they designate Clark a post-June 1 release, KC can create $19.5 million in cap space while incurring only $6.8 million in dead money.

With Clark out of the picture, the Chiefs will need to realign their defensive front. Alex Okafor will also likely be gone, but I’d expect Kansas City to work out a new deal with midseason trade acquisition Melvin Ingram. Still, that leaves one open defensive end spot, assuming the Chiefs don’t want to move Chris Jones to the edge again. KC would arguably give Chandler Jones his best chance to win the second Super Bowl of his decorated career.

Jones and Joey Bosa would give the Los Angeles Chargers a fearsome duo on the edge

Here is my itinerary for the Chargers this offseason:

  • Re-sign WR Mike Williams or find an ample replacement
  • Replace RT Bryan Bulaga
  • Load up on front seven players

With the second-most projected cap space in the league, Los Angeles should have plenty of money to achieve these goals. Jones probably isn’t going to do much to help the Chargers’ putrid run defense, but he can still get after opposing quarterbacks. Even if LA re-signs 2022 breakout performer Uchenna Nwosu, they could still be in the market for Jones. Joey Bosa can’t do it alone, and given that the Chargers figure to play in plenty of high-scoring games with Justin Herbert under center, they need a rusher capable of disrupting the pass game.

Dallas Robinson is a Writer and News Editor at Pro Football Network. You can read his other work here and follow him on Twitter: @dallasdrobinson.