Upgrade Your Fandom

Join the Ultimate PHNX Sports Community!

Cards will need to get creative in replacing Chandler Jones

Johnny Venerable Avatar
April 11, 2022

For the first time in six seasons, the Arizona Cardinals will suit up next fall without star pass rusher Chandler Jones. Gone from Arizona to Las Vegas will be his near sack per game pace (71.5 sacks in 84 games) that included 33 forced fumbles. Jones was once upon a time brought in as the “missing piece” for a then Arians-led Cardinals team back in 2016. While the Super Bowl title never came, Jones set nearly every sack record in club history en route to becoming an all-time great Arizona Cardinal.

Now he’s gone.

While Jones’ departure was mostly forecasted give both his age and stout contract demands, his absence now leaves a glaring hole at the position of outside linebacker. Even with fellow double-digit sack artist Markus Golden still in house, the Cardinals are suddenly vulnerable at a position that was previously viewed as a strength under Jones. Internal options remain modest, with free-agent bust Devon Kennard set to return on a greatly reduced contract. Kennard, who was once seen by the club as a starter, is likely entering his final season with the team. Rotational edge rusher Dennis Gardeck was rewarded this offseason in tune of a three-year contract extension, yet still projects more as a situational option long-term.

Like so many other positions on the roster, the Cardinals did not have a proper contingency plan for Jones’ eventual cash grab. This has remained all the more prevalent given the team’s inactivity during the first wave of free agency. While the Cardinals had interest in bringing back former first-round pick Haason Reddick, they misjudged his market, which saw the Philly native bolt back home to sign with the Eagles. Outside of a potential reunion with the former Temple product, the Cardinals haven’t been linked to one free-agent edge rusher of note. Meanwhile, quality options in the form of Za’Darius Smith and Randy Gregory were scooped up by already pass rush-rich teams in Minnesota and Denver.

Arizona’s hesitation in diving into the free-agent pool is alarming, but can be forgiven if general manager Steve Keim is able to ace the upcoming NFL Draft. That’s easier said then done, however, for an executive who has largely been seen as a liability come late-April. Couple that with the fact that even with a glaring need at pass rusher, an argument could be made that positions such as wide receiver and defensive tackle should take precedence.

There is also the growing concern of allowing Cardinal defensive coordinator Vance Joseph the opportunity to sit yet another first-round linebacker for Arizona. Following the selections of both Isaiah Simmons (2020) and Zaven Collins (2021), Joseph promptly made the decision to bench the inexperienced yet highly athletic prospects in favor of journeymen vets. Should Keim pull the trigger on the likes of George Karlaftis out of Purdue, who’s to say Joseph won’t hold yet another first-round hostage during this rookie season?

Would anyone be surprised to see Kennard logging crucial November snaps over someone like Karlaftis, despite the clear talent discrepancy?

All of this likely adds up to the GM conjuring up one of his early-to-mid summer specials, otherwise known as a “Keim-time” signing. Of the pass rush variety, pre-Chandler Jones, Keim did manage to secure both John Abraham and Dwight Freeney well after the draft. Both edge rushers were thought to be on the downturn of their careers but were quickly revitalized in the desert. Abraham was a Pro Bowler in 2013 after netting 11.5 sacks for Todd Bowles. Freeney, who was signed in early October of 2015, managed eight sacks in just 11 games while helping the Cardinals reach the NFC Championship.

Given Joseph’s affinity for veteran players, pairing him with an afterthought edge addition makes too much sense at this point. Of the options still available, former top pick Jadeveon Clowney is a name to watch.

Forever stout against the run, Clowney had a nice year in Cleveland last season, tallying nine sacks in a loaded AFC North. Allowing Clowney to operate on early downs with a sprinkling of Gardeck here and there wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. There is also the added benefit of reuniting Clowney with his old Houston running mate in J.J. Watt. Joseph could benefit from both men’s familiarity playing in multiple schemes, allowing each to line up in three-point stances while flanked on the edge during passing downs.

Melvin Ingram, Justin Houston and Jason Pierre-Paul round out the rest of the “forgotten” that Keim could potentially target. Expect any move to take place post-draft, with teams likely to reset their rosters should they miss out on a top target. Until then, the majority of Cardinals fans can continue to sweat out a linebacking core that is suddenly minus the franchise leader in sacks.

Follow Johnny Venerable on Twitter

Scroll to next article