Week 2 Recap
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The Arizona Cardinals have yet to offer anything beyond a one-year contract extension to star pass rusher Chandler Jones, according to his agent, Ethan Lock, and even that included a salary decrease from his already below-market 2021 compensation, leaving the sides far apart and lacking any recent communication on a new deal for the pending free agent.
Lock has been trying to engage the Cardinals in a meaningful discussion on a new deal for the two-time All Pro for nearly 18 months, since the end of the 2019 season, he said, getting stonewalled by general manager Steve Keim, prompting Jones to eventually request a trade this offseason. The sides have never had a formal back and forth about a new deal and Arizona’s lone proposal came just days before camp, Lock said, which included just a $14M base salary for next season and $1.5M in incentives (should he reach 15 sacks in 2021); Jones, who had five sacks last Sunday, is making just $15.5M this season while recent extensions for other top pass rushers like Myles Garrett, Joey Bosa and TJ Watt are averaging between $25M-$28M per year. The Cardinals’ lone proposal included just $4.5M guaranteed at the time of signing, Lock said.
“The July 21 offer, the only one they have made to date, was rejected without hesitation,” said Lock, a well-respected agent and negotiator with nearly 40 years in the industry. “Since then, I have read that the parties are continuing to talk about an extension – that is incorrect.
“There have been no talks. None. In fact, the Cardinals have not engaged in any meaningful negotiations about extending Chandler during this entire period.”
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Keim intimated in an interview with the Arizona Republic prior to the start of the season that the sides were actively negotiating – “We’ll continue to have one-on-one talks with him and his agent,” he said. However, Lock staunchly maintains that his repeated overtures have been rebuffed since early 2020, when Jones was coming off a monster 19-sack season with two years left on his deal (agreed to in 2017 after playing under his fifth-year options following a trade from New England).
Jones, who was an unstoppable force in the backfield keying a Week 1 win at Tennessee, stayed away from the team all offseason as the Cardinals made no attempt to renew him while paying big money to newcomer JJ Watt and others. It was the second straight offseason in which the team spent heavily for outside additions but failed to address Jones in a reasonable manner, Lock said, frustrating the agent and his client and leading to some terse exchanges and him seeking a trade.
“For the record, Chandler wanted to remain with the Cardinals if he received a multiyear deal commensurate with his value,” Lock said. “But if the team refused to extend him, yes, he wanted a trade.”
Jones, 31, has been more productive than any edge rusher in the NFL since he entered the league, and vastly outperformed a five-year deal (averaging $16.5M/year) that expires after this season. Last season, Jones barely played due to a season-ending biceps injury in October, but still has 5 1/2 more sacks than any player in the league since entering the NFL in 2012 (102 sacks in 125 games). In his last four full seasons (2016-2019) Jones amassed 60 sacks, a staggering eight more than any other player in that span.
Lock said attempts to engage in extension talks after 2019 went nowhere. Keim “didn’t return my call while we were in Indianapolis (at the combine),” Lock said, despite agreeing to a face to face there, “and never called me when we returned to Arizona” (where Lock also resides). Lock said when he did finally reach Keim on the phone last year he was told the team had to first work on extensions for safety Budda Baker and corner Patrick Peterson – since they had just one year left on their deals – before addressing Jones, who had two at the time.
Despite being a team leader, living year-round in Arizona and being an ambassador for the team beyond his on-field production, Jones watched as the Cardinals traded for De’Andre Hopkins in early 2020, then rewarded him with a record extension before he ever played a down and with three years remaining on his deal. Lock said he reached out to Keim after the 2020 season as well, and by the time he was able to get the general manager to respond to him the team had signed Watt (older than Jones and with a far more extensive injury history) and acquired center Rodney Hudson and reworked his contract, too.
“The phone call was contentious,” Lock said, “not only because he had blown me off twice, and in doing so had blown Chandler off, but also because he went from originally telling me he loved Chandler like a son and wanted him to retire as a Cardinal, to now saying – ‘I’m not going to extend him, the guy is 31, he had one sack last year, and he’s coming off an injury.'”
During that conversation, Lock said he put forth a reasonable extension proposal that gave the Cardinals what they said they needed at the time – no increases in pay or cap hit in 2021, pushing any raises into the future when the cap is projected to escalate significantly. He received no counteroffer from Keim, and Lock said he later heard back from another member of the organization that the team could not address the situation this offseason.
“‘So Chandler Jones is going into the final year of his contract,” Lock said he asked the team official, “with not a penny of guaranteed money, and you’re telling me you can’t do anything?’ And he repeated: ‘That’s right.'”
After Keim reached out to Jones directly, the sides finally met at the team facility around the team’s spring minicamp. The trade request was issued at that time when the Cardinals made no attempt at a multiyear extension, Lock said, with no reason to anticipate that scenario changing given the way events have unfolded to this point.
“Chandler was not upset at all that the team tried to improve its roster by signing other players,” Lock said. “He supported that. But he understood that that did not preclude the Cardinals from extending and paying him what he deserved.
“And it was particularly upsetting when Keim’s excuse for extending Chandler was his age and torn bicep in 2020, his only injury with the Cardinals, when Watt was older and had more serious and depreciating injuries and surgeries prior to the Cardinals signing him. Chandler just had a bicep.”
Arizona made no attempt to deal Jones – not surprising given the low salary and history of elite productivity – and Jones returned for the start of training camp with serious financial disincentives for holding out in this collective bargaining agreement. He is clearly highly motivated to have another big season and has yet to experience free agency in his career thus far, though he is closer to it than ever.
When asked about Jones last week Keim said: “We’re not in the business of getting rid of good football players.” Barring him placing a massive franchise tag on Jones, it’s hard to envision the Cardinals doing so at this point short of a complete reversal from the past 18 months.
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