The success of the Arizona Cardinals defense in 2021 hinges largely on the play of two veteran pass rushers. However, they began the latest phase of their preparations for the new season without one of the men shouldering that burden, edge rusher Chandler Jones.
Jones was not present at the start of mandatory minicamp on Tuesday, fueling talk of a potential holdout as he approaches the final season of his contract.
Since his trade from the New England Patriots, Jones has consistently excelled for the Cardinals, racking up double-digit sacks in four successive seasons before injury cut short his 2020 campaign.
He played just five games last season before a torn bicep ended his involvement, complicating Arizona’s decision about a player who has otherwise done more than enough to earn an extension.
Jones had just one sack prior to his season-ending injury, and the Cardinals—scheduled to have the 20th-most cap space assuming a salary cap of $208.2 million in 2021, according to Spotrac—may be reluctant to reward a 31-year-old pass rusher before they see whether he can get back to his best alongside J.J. Watt following the three-time Defensive Player of the Year’s arrival this offseason.
For his part, Jones has not officially said he is holding out in search of an extension, and Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury did not sound a worried note when asked about the situation.
“Nothing new to report there,” Kingsbury, per AZ Central, said in response to a question about Jones and inside linebacker Jordan Hicks, who has been given permission to seek a trade.
“We’ve been in communication with both guys. We know the situations. I’ll leave that dialogue between us. Nothing else to report on that.”
Yet given Jones’ importance to the defense over the years, the Cardinals will likely grow more concerned if his absence stretches into training camp and he does declare himself as a contract holdout.
The Cardinals were tied for fourth in the NFL in sacks in 2020 with 48, but 12.5 of them came from Haason Reddick, who signed for the Carolina Panthers in free agency.
Arizona will likely want to rely heavily on Jones and Watt to replace that production and produce pressure at a rate that makes life easier for a secondary that looks unconvincing beyond All-Pro safety Budda Baker.
It isn’t clear whether the Cardinals view Jones as a long-term solution at this stage in his career but, in the short term, his possible holdout could present a significant headache for a team under pressure to deliver in year three under Kingsbury.