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Jones, Cards at an Impasse?

Washington Football Team v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

On the eve of the Cardinals’ OTAs, the Suns walloped the Lakers with J.J. Watt and Kyler Murray cheering from their courtside seats. Everything about the Suns’ convincing victory on the eve of the Cardinals’ OTAs feels wonderfully auspicious.

Except perhaps the notion that the Cardinals and Pro Bowl DE Chandler Jones may be at an impasse with regard to Jones’ 2021 salary.

Heading into the off-season, Jones’ 2021 $15.5M base salary (unguaranteed) in the final year of his 5 year $82.5M contract was the potential elephant in the room, so to speak.

Somewhat lost in the disappointing finish to the Cardinals’ once promising 2020 season is the fact that Chandler Jones had not only suffered a season-ending tricep tear in Week 5, he was suffering through the least productive five game stretch of his tenure with the Cardinals. It is still hard to imagine how Chandler Jones only produced 1 sack and 10 QB pressures in 5 starts.

Part of the reason why Jones’ anomaly of a season was somewhat lost by the end of the season was the Cardinals’ emergence of two stellar edge rushers in Haason Reddick (12.5 sacks, 56 QB pressures) and Dennis Gardeck (7 sacks, 18 QB pressures in a mere 94 snaps) —- plus the return of fan favorite Markus Golden (4 sacks 41 QB pressures) —- all of whom helped to keep the romance of the Cardinals pass rush alive and very well, indeed!

However, right from the very start of the off-season, Michael Bidwill and Steve Keim made it crystal clear how excited they were to be getting Chandler Jones back for the 2021 season.

Bidwill effused during a post-season trade interview, “We get Chandler Jones back! That was a huge loss for us. Getting him back on the field in 2021 is going to be so important.”

When Steve Keim was asked whether the Cardinals could consider trading or releasing Chandler Jones to add his $15.5 unguaranteed base salary to the team’s salary cap, Keim quipped, “I’ll reject that.”

Some fans like myself felt fairly certain the the Cardinals would ask Chandler Jones to take a pay cut, one which would lower his $20.83M 2021 cap hit, but one which could put more guaranteed money in his pockets. That would seem like a win-win.

When Jones’ teammates Justin Pugh and Jordan Hicks were agreeing to pay cuts, Chandler sent out a tweet that basically said that sometimes the best thing a man can do is stand pat and bet on himself. The timing of that tweet may have suggested to some (myself included) that Jones had been asked to take a pay cut, but wanted to stand pat while he and his agent continued trying to negotiate a contract extension.

Since those early days of the off-season, while allowing to Hasson Reddick to sign a $6M deal plus $2 in incentives with the Carolina Panthers, the Cardinals have re-signed Markus Golden (2 years $5M), Dennis Gardeck (R2 tender of $3.384M) and Kylie Fitts ($920K), Furthermore, the Cardinals drafted Duke DE Victor Dimukeje ($700K),

In addition, Devon Kennard, whom many predicted to be a June 1 cut, is not only sticking with the club, his $6.25M base salary has been guaranteed.

Speculation —- I think it’s quite likely that the Cardinals have tried to offer Chandler Jones a guaranteed portion of his 2021 base salary, if he would agree to come down somewhat from the $15.5M.

Thus, it’s curious right now that Devon Kennard has $6.25M of guaranteed money, Markus Golden $2.5M and Dennis Gardeck $3.384M, while Chandler Jones has $0.

It wouldn’t be all that surprising if the Cardinals have told Chandler Jones and his agent that they want to see how well Chandler bounces back this season before discussing a contract extension. Perhaps Chandler’s agent has given the Cardinals some extension numbers to chew on, but at this point the Cardinals have the leverage.

Therefore, because Chandler Jones has to sweat out the fact that he has no guaranteed money to fall back on should he get injured again prior to Game 1, it would likely behoove him to be a no-show at OTAs and training camp —- which for a team captain is a very awkward and tenuous situation. Chandler could gamble that the Cardinals would still have him on the roster come Week 1 because that’s when his $15.5M would become guaranteed. But how well prepared would Chandler Jones be to play Week 1 without attending training camp?

The timing of Chandler Jones removing all photos and references to the Cardinals from his Instagram page —- on the eve of OTAs —- could be significant —- or could be nothing at all.

Could there be a swap of Joneses in the works? Chandler for Julio? The Falcons have a glaring need for an edge rusher. Chandler’s and Julio’s 2021 base salaries are $15.5M and $15.3M.

However this Jones for Jones wouldn’t solve the Falcons’ need to create much needed cap space. However, what if the Cardinals added DT Leki Fotu to the deal for DT Grady Jarrett. Jarrett is in the 3rd year of a 4 year $68M contract and his are salaries are $13.5M this year (at age 28) and $16.6M next year (at age 29). $38M of his $42.5M guaranteed money has already been paid.

The Cardinals would have to make some corresponding moves to free up a little more cap space —- or they could simply work out a contract extension with Grady Jarrett.

If Jarret is out of the question, other Falcons’ players the Cardinals could consider: Dante Fowler ($6M base 2021) and TE Hayden Hurst ($1.98M g-ted base 2021).

While the likelihood of a Jones for Jones swap would seem slim, it is an interesting and curious coincidence that their 2021 base salaries are basically the same.

Regardless, it would seem that right now the Cardinals and Chandler Jones find themselves at an impasse.

One might also make the argument that recovering Chandler Jones’ $15.5M base salary would easily enable the team to sign CB Steven Jackson or Brian Poole, plus DT Sheldon Richardson or Geno Atkins and still have plenty of cap space left over to add a TE like Zach Ertz, should Ertz become available.

However, Chandler Jones has been one of the few very bright spots on the Cardinals during what has been a dark stretch of seasons. Chandler has not only been a stellar Pro Bowler on the field, he’s been a highly enthusiastic leader who has bonded particularly well with young stars Budda Baker and Kyler Murray.

The best scenario would appear to be a compromise in which the Cardinals and Jones agree to a guaranteed money figure for this season as an adjusted base salary that would put Jones’ mind at ease and would add some more cap space for the Cardinals.

For example, if Chandler would agree to accept $11.5M guaranteed, it would add $4M to the Cardinals’ cap space. Realistically, were Chandler holds out of training camp and is released just prior to Week 1, could he expect to be given more than $11.5M from another team at that point? Coming off an i injury-marred 2020 season in which he clearly did not look himself?

On a personal note, I have always been very fond of Chandler Jones, the player and the man. I told this story a few years back, but I think it warrants repeating.

A few weeks after the news that the Cardinals had traded for Chandler Jones, I was standing in the checkout line of the Foxboro MA Stop and Shop, when a lovely elderly woman wearing a bandana pulled her cart up behind mine.

When I looked at her pretty face, she smiled.

While waiting for the customer in front of us to pay for her tab, the woman and I struck up a conversation. She asked me what line of work I was in and I told her that I was a teacher at Foxboro High School.

Perhaps the woman had heard of how much support Robert Kraft had been giving to the local schools and to individuals in need, because the woman asked me if I knew how to get in touch with Robert Kraft.

She said that as a three time cancer survivor, she started knitting sweaters and scarves for cancer patients. She knew that Tom Brady’s mom was battling cancer at that time, so she wanted to give Tom Brady’s mom a special sweater she knitted for her and figured that Robert Kraft would be able to pass the sweater along.

I suggested that she bring the sweater with a note for Mr. Kraft to the main office at Gilette Stadium and that he surely would receive it and likely thank her for it on behalf of the Bradys. But, just in case that didn’t work, I offered to do whatever I could, so I gave her my phone number and email address.

As we were pushing pout carts toward our cars in the Shop and Stop parking lot, the woman turned and said, “I am a little heartbroken these days.”

“How so?” I asked.

“Well, the Patriots just traded Chandler Jones to Arizona and he is my favorite player.”

O the dramatic irony of her telling an avid Cardinals’ fan and blogger this!

The lovely woman said with a deep sigh, “I met Chandler here at Stop and Shop one day and it was when I was battling through my third bout with cancer. He could not have been nicer to me. He offered to help me out if I ever needed something from the store or if I needed just someone supportive to talk to. We exchanged phone numbers.”

“I actually took him up on his generous offer one evening when I was feeling too weak to go to the store, So he did a small shop for me and brought it over. I tried to give him the money, but he insisted on paying for it. We sat and talked and I cannot tell you how much it meant to me. How much he cheered me up at a time when I needed it most.”

”I miss my talks with him. But, he told me he would check in with me every now and then from Arizona.”

At the time of the trade, as most of you know, Chandler Jones had become a persona non grata amongst some Patriots’ fans for the bizarre incident where he ran half naked to the Foxboro Police Department after having a bad experience smoking synthetic marijuana.

It was on the eve of the 2015 playoffs and despite the incident, Bill Belichick decided to play Chandler anyway. Chandler responded well, having an excellent game and coming up with a big sack in the Patriots’ 27-20 win over the Chiefs..

But the decision to trade Chandler Jones was a typical Belichick business decision —- he knew that it was going to be pretty much impossible to re-sign both Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower. Hightower was the captain of the defense, so Jones was the player to move.

Since the trade, the Patriots have not had an explosive pass rusher quite like Chandler Jones, but they have won two Super Bowls anyway, one thanks in large part to a very timely strip-sack by Dont’a Hightower of Matt Ryan.

And since the trade, a lovely knitter of sweaters in Foxboro has been cheering Chandler on every sack of the way.