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After Mid-Career Entrance, Chandler Jones Creating Strong Cardinals Legacy

Sack master has made huge impact since 2016 trade

OLB Chandler Jones has turned into a superstar with the Cardinals.
OLB Chandler Jones has turned into a superstar with the Cardinals.

It's not uncommon for star players to change teams in the NFL, as Chandler Jones pointed out in a virtual press conference with Arizona media on Tuesday afternoon.

"Look at Tom Brady," the Cardinals' All-Pro outside linebacker said. "Honestly, I thought he would be on the Patriots for his whole career."

While it's true Brady left for the Buccaneers in free agency, his arc has followed a familiar NFL script. Brady spent his prime years with the team that drafted him, and his legacy will be forever linked to New England.

Jones is an interesting departure from that. He lived up to his first-round draft billing with the Patriots -- winning a Super Bowl and making a Pro Bowl in his four seasons alongside Brady -- but then came the trade at age 25 to the Cardinals.

Jones has taken his game to new heights in Arizona, averaging 15 sacks and 4.3 forced fumbles per year while garnering a pair of All-Pro nods. With exactly half of his career spent in each spot, the Cardinals have now become the team he's more associated with.

"When I got traded to the Cardinals, I thought of it as a new start, you know?" Jones said. "A fresh start. … I feel like it's good to always advance, no matter where you are. And that's what I've tried to do."

Jones believes a major reason for his Arizona success has been the transition to outside linebacker. He has played three seasons of his four seasons there with the Cardinals, and in those years has accumulated 47 sacks and 14 forced fumbles.

"I'm more comfortable as an outside linebacker," said Jones, whose All-Pro nods both came at the position. "When I started in the NFL I was a defensive end, so I'm familiar with the position, but I like playing outside linebacker."

Jones hasn't just grown on the field in Arizona, but off it. He has a child now, and went back to Syracuse this offseason to obtain his degree in human development and family sciences.

"I didn't have that degree, what, nine years out of college?'" Jones said. "I was like, 'You know what? I need to finish.' … My kids can look back at that: 'My dad graduated.' I'm happy. It's a huge accomplishment for our family. It hangs right up there with that Super Bowl ring."

Kliff Kingsbury knows how much of a luxury it is to coach a star player who is also a quality person.

"Chandler just continues to amaze, really," Kingsbury said. "You look at the production on the field – All-Decade team, most sacks since he's come into the league. The leadership he brings, he's always positive. What he's done in the community. I saw the 150,000 meals in New York and here. That's just who he is, day in and day out. He's smiling, he's excited to be there, he's working his tail off. I think it was something that was near and dear to his heart, and his family's, for him to get his degree. I couldn't be more excited for him."

Jones said his inclusion on the All-Decade team for the 2010s was a tremendous honor, as he was recognized alongside pass-rushing greats like Julius Peppers, J.J. Watt, Khalil Mack and Von Miller.

Sixty of Jones' 96 career sacks have come with the Cardinals, and now he is only seven away from breaking the franchise record.

In Week 12, Jones will return to Gillette Stadium for the first time since getting traded, with another chance to build on his Cardinals legacy.

"I haven't been back to Foxboro or Boston since I've been traded," Jones said. "Fun fact. I haven't been in Massachusetts. So it's going to be exciting to land back in Massachusetts. All the fans, everyone is great out there. It's going to be quite the feeling. Hopefully we can go out there and whoop up on them a little bit."