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No Future For Chandler Jones - Yet

Cardinals linebacker refuses to look forward, whether it's playoffs or contract

Linebacker Chandler Jones rushes the passer against the Cowboys last weekend.
Linebacker Chandler Jones rushes the passer against the Cowboys last weekend.

Chandler Jones thought he was at 10 sacks, but he wasn't.

He was in the middle of a good game against the Cowboys Sunday when he swept in with a patented hammer-down swipe on the right arm of Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott, causing a fumble and – every other time he's done it in his career – adding a sack to his season title.

But Prescott was able to pick the ball up and shovel it forward for an incomplete pass, leaving Jones at 9½ sacks on the season.

"I don't think that's ever happened to me," the Pro Bowl outside linebacker said. "I actually checked with (director of media relations) Chris Melvin on the sideline, asked him, 'Was that a sack?'

"That was different, but the rules are the rules. Hopefully we can get after it again next week."

The play couldn't have been a better example of the season Jones has had, one that looked like it could be record-breaking after five sacks on opening day, but one that still has him looking to reach double-digits as he hurtles toward free agency in March.

Jones isn't talking about the future. That included on Tuesday the "p-word" – playoffs – and certainly his contract status.

"Yeah, no," when asked about his potential free agency. "You knew the answer."

But he was willing to talk about a season that won't look gaudy statistically, not compared to some of his other seasons.

"I'm not satisfied, never satisfied," Jones said. "I feel like I can play better. But when you talk about statistics … when you turn on the film and you watch the games, you definitely know the stats don't really matter. It depends on the plays that are being made, or the effect you have on a game.

"It's better when you actually watch the game than looking at the stat sheet at the end of the game."

No, the sack total won't look like it did in 2017 (17.0) or 2019 (19.0). But many of his numbers, in 14 games compared to 16, are close to what he produced in that 19-sack 2019 season. Jones has 12 tackles for loss, one more than he had in 2019, four passes defensed (one fewer) and has five forced fumbles (he had eight in 2019).

Jones will end up missing two games because of Covid, but again he will have stayed healthy, making 2020 his outlier with injury. According to Pro Football Focus, he has the seventh-best pass-rush grade of all edge rushers (88.2), behind Myles Garrett, Maxx Crosby, T.J. Watt, Joey and Nick Bosa and Houston's Jonathan Greenard.

Jones, who will turn 32 in February, had been hoping for a contract extension before the season. But there have been no rumblings of a deal since the season started. (If the Cardinals were to use the franchise tag on Jones for a second time – he was tagged in 2016, some weeks before he signed his extension – it would be worth about $24.2 million in 2022.)

As currently constructed, Jones would remain the team's top pass rush threat next season if he were to stay.

"I think Chan has had some great rushes and the ball's been gone," defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said recently. "Chan has had some of his best games, really he's had his best games when he's had sacks on second down. That's the fair down for Chandler. Once we get to third down, there's going to be a plan to block Chandler."

Even without sacks Jones has been disruptive of late, earning praise from 49ers Pro Bowl veteran tackle Trent Williams as the best pass rusher in the game. That, Jones said, was "tremendous." Being healthy this season after his biceps injury has also been a source of pride.

What it all means after the season, when Jones gets a new contract somewhere, is to be determined.

Not that Jones – at least outwardly – is looking beyond Jan. 9 for now.

"It's important for me to finish the season strong," Jones said. "I've always had the mindset of not looking ahead."

Images from the Cardinals' 25-22 win over the Dallas Cowboys Week 17 of the 2021 NFL Season