The Arizona Cardinals were heading into training camp filled with optimism. The addition of veteran players like wide receiver A.J. Green and three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt were supposed be the missing pieces in the postseason puzzle, the finishing touches that would help propel a deep playoff run.
However, in recent days, some cold water has been thrown on that enthusiasm. The veteran edge-rusher who was to be Watt's running mate has reportedly made it clear that he wants no part of this year's party in the desert.
And while the Redbirds have (so far) indicated that they are not inclined to trade Chandler Jones, it's fair to wonder if the 10th-year veteran's days in the Valley of the Sun are numbered and, if so, where the 31-year-old might be headed next.
It was ESPN's Jeremy Fowler who broke the news Sunday that Jones, who is headed into the final season of the five-year, $82.5 million pact he signed in 2017, was requesting a trade.
Jeremy Fowler @JFowlerESPN
All-Pro pass rusher Chandler Jones requested a trade from the Arizona Cardinals this offseason, per sources. Jones has been unhappy with his contract and future with the team. Cardinals don’t want to trade him and expect him to report to camp. But certainly a situation to watch.
Jones isn't negotiating from a position of strength. Last year, he managed just a single sack in five games before an arm injury ended his season. But Jones' first four seasons in Arizona were outstanding. He tallied a whopping 60 sacks and was named a first-team All-Pro twice.
As Fowler reported, the Cardinals have (to date) shown no interest in trading Jones and expect him to be in attendance when training camp starts Friday. It's possible that Arizona general manager Steve Keim will dig in and Jones will be left little recourse but play out the last year of his deal before hitting free agency in 2022. Or that the team will do a little creative accounting, sweeten the proverbial pot for Jones this year and get him back in the fold, whether it's for one more season or several.
But Keim could decide the distraction caused by an unhappy Jones isn't worth the headache. Given Jones' age, his injury last year, his robust cap number in 2021 ($20.8 million) and the fact that he would all but certainly be seeking a multiyear extension, a Day 2 pick is probably what the Cardinals could reasonably expect in return.
Still, there could be something of a silver lining for a team that brought in Jones as a rental for 2021. If the defensive end leaves that team next year in free agency, said franchise would receiver a higher-end compensatory draft pick, possibly even a third-rounder.
There is no shortage of NFL teams that would have interest in bringing in a player with Jones' resume, but there are several that stand out as logical destinations.
The Baltimore Ravens have already shown a willingness to be aggressive on the trade market, flipping Pro Bowl tackle Orlando Brown Jr. to the Kansas City Chiefs for a package that included a first-round pick in this year's draft.
Now it may be time to pull a similar move in reverse.
The Ravens have a lot going for them, including an MVP quarterback in Lamar Jackson, one of the league's best ground games and arguably the best one-two punch at cornerback in the league.
What the Ravens don't have is certainty at edge-rusher. The team attempted to address that need with the 31st pick acquired in the Brown trade, drafting Penn State's Odafe Oweh. But after losing both Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue in free agency, the pass rush in Baltimore's biggest question mark.
Once news broke that Jones wanted out of Arizona, it didn't take long for a prominent player in Baltimore to start lobbying for general manager Eric DeCosta to make a call.
The Ravens would have to clear cap space, as the team has just $8.8 million to work with, per Over the Cap.
But the Ravens already showed in trading for Ngakoue last October that they aren't averse to bringing in a player for a year, and flipping a second-round pick (or possibly even late first) could be worth getting over the hump.
It's no secret that improving the pass rush is one of Buffalo's top priorities in 2021. The team spent its first two picks in the 2021 draft on edge-rushers in Gregory Rousseau and Boogie Basham. But there's a whole lot of difference between adding two talented but unproven edge-rushers and bringing in a veteran who is three sacks shy of 100 for his career.
As a matter of fact, Peter King of NBC Sports thinks that Jones is worth the Bills' first pick in the 2022 draft:
"Buffalo has a crying need for a pass-rusher, which is why the Bills reached for the green Gregory Rousseau from Miami in the first round last April. Let me stick my nose in Buffalo GM’s Brandon Beane's business: If I were Beane, and if Jones is healthy after missing the last three months last year with a torn biceps, I'd offer Arizona GM Steve Keim my 2022 first-round pick (likely to be between 27 and 32) to get one of the game’s most disruptive players."
Getting a first-rounder in return would be an offer that Keim would at least have to consider. And for a Bills team that's in win-now mode, sacrificing a little future to be significantly better in the present is a risk worth taking.
There's quite a bit of optimism surrounding the Chargers in 2021. After a 3-9 start to the 2020 season, they finished the year on a four-game winning streak. Quarterback Justin Herbert set a new record for touchdown passes by a rookie (31) and was named the Offensive Rookie of the Year.
The Chargers made major improvements to the offensive line in the offseason with the addition of veteran center Corey Linsley and rookie tackle Rashawn Slater. They may not be a real threat to dethrone the Chiefs in the AFC West, but a wild-card spot is well within the realm of possibility.
There is a problem, though.
The Bolts possess one of the league's best edge-rushers in Joey Bosa, but after the team didn't bring back Melvin Ingram in free agency, the depth chart behind Bosa isn't especially impressive. L.A.'s second-leading pass-rusher in 2020 was Uchenna Nwosu, who had 4.5 sacks. (Ingram only played seven games while battling a knee injury.)
The acquisition of Jones would give the Chargers—in the opinion of more than 50 league executives, coaches, scouts and players surveyed by Fowler—two of the top five edge-rushers in the league.
With a duo like that, Los Angeles might be able to give the Chiefs a scare after all, even with Kansas City's rebuilt O-line.
The Chargers also have the most cap space of any team on this list, with just under $20 million.
Coming off a surprising 10-win campaign, the Miami Dolphins are looking to take the next step in 2021 and make the postseason. The team added a talented young edge-rusher in this year's draft in Jaelan Phillips, but Jones would be a massive upgrade opposite 2020 breakout Emmanuel Ogbah.
And in a couple of respects, the Dolphins are uniquely positioned to make a run at landing Jones.
For starters, all of the wheeling and dealing over the past couple of years has left the team flush with draft capital, including an extra first-rounder in 2023. General manager Chris Grier has shown he's willing to make splash moves as well.
With that said, the Dolphins might not have to give up a pick—or at least not a high one.
Miami has a disgruntled defensive star of its own. After leading the league with 10 interceptions in 2020, cornerback Xavien Howard reportedly wants a new (larger) contract, or he could request a trade out of Miami.
The financial finagling would be complicated given the extensions that both Jones and Howard would certainly want. But getting one of the NFL's top corners would alleviate a lot of the sting of losing Jones, especially in an NFC West loaded with wide receiver talent.