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Josh Jones and his unknown future with Cardinals

Fourth-year pro enters contract year; Cardinals own deep offensive tackle group

Arizona Cardinals v Las Vegas Raiders Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

Perhaps one of the biggest questions surrounding the Arizona Cardinals’ offensive line is what role Josh Jones will have in the upcoming football season and beyond.

Jones, 25, was the 74th overall selection out of the University of Houston in the 2020 NFL Draft. After experimenting with him at right guard (9 starts) and right tackle (3 starts) two seasons ago, the Cardinals opted to move Jones again to left tackle in 2022.

The transition to left tackle was a seamless move considering Jones made 45 collegiate starts at that position. Jones played well in every game he started in place of D.J. Humphries, who missed nine out of the last 10 games last season with a back injury. His impressive performance on the football field speaks for itself and Pro Football Focus agrees after receiving quality grades across the board in pass blocking (75.9), run blocking (74.0) and overall (75.8).

As Jones said in the video above, “it just feels like home over there” playing at left tackle.

Unfortunately, Jones is now put in a position where his role and future with Arizona is in question as a player that is simply too talented to just remain a backup on the roster but also might not have a place in the starting lineup. Some might be wondering why and it is in large part because the Cardinals have one of the deepest offensive tackle groups in the NFL.

Humphries is back to full health and restructured his contract in March, clearing $5.33 million in cap space this season. Cardinals selected Ohio State offensive tackle Paris Johnson Jr with the No. 6 overall pick. 11-year veteran Kelvin Beachum, who made 47 starts at right tackle for Arizona since 2020, was re-signed to a two-year deal. Other veterans on the roster include Julie’n Davenport and Jackson Barton, who was active for six games on the Raiders’ roster last season.

Arizona Cardinals v Cleveland Browns Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images

So what will the Cardinals do with Josh Jones in 2023?

Barring injury or an unexpected trade that involves Humphries, it is doubtful for Jones to start at left tackle for Arizona this season as he enters the final year of his rookie contract. As he showed in 2021, Jones is not comfortable playing on the right side of an offensive line. His best chance to make the starting lineup is at left guard, which figures to be a wide-open position battle composed of Elijah Wilkinson, Dennis Daley, Marquis Hayes, and their pair of rookies in Paris Johnson Jr and Jon Gaines II.

For Jones, he could be given the Laremy Tunsil treatment. Tunsil was the 13th overall selection by the Miami Dolphins in 2016 that began his NFL career as a left guard before replacing long-time veteran Brandon Albert at left tackle a year later. This scenario will be dependent on how the Cardinals plan to utilize first-round pick Paris Johnson Jr. and whether Jones is even part of their future plans.

NFL: APR 27 2023 Draft Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

If Jones impresses at left guard, he could earn himself a contract extension. If he is viewed as their future starting left tackle, then Humphries could be a cap casualty next year. According to Over the Cap, Humphries has a cap hit of over $22 million each of the next two seasons. His release would save the Cardinals over $9 million in 2024 and $16 million in 2025 while incurring over $20.7 million in total dead cap. He turns 30 this year compared to Jones, who is four years younger.

With all of this said and acknowledging his performances as a starting left tackle, Jones would be a valuable trade piece that could net them a late day 2 or early day 3 draft pick. It is fair to assume he will receive a payday in 2024 regardless of what his role looks like this year after taking a look at the contract Andre Dillard received. Dillard made only seven starts at left tackle in his four years with the Philadelphia Eagles (0 in ‘22) but inked a three-year $29 million contract with the Tennessee Titans this offseason.

There are scenarios in which Jones will have an opportunity to earn a starting job in his contract year. There remains the possibility he could simply just be an important backup on the roster as he prepares to be a free agent after the season. As fans saw only a few months ago with top Cardinals like Zach Allen and Byron Murphy departing in free agency, no player is safe to remain in Arizona. Tough calls will need to be made and deciding on Jones’ future is certainly one of the most difficult.

Arizona Cardinals v Tennessee Titans Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images