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Could Colts Pursue Cardinals Prized Free Agent Pass Rusher Chandler Jones?

It looks like one top veteran free agent pass rushers may actually be testing the market.

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Arizona Cardinals v Tennessee Titans Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

With Arizona Cardinals’ prolific free agent pass rusher Chandler Jones sounding increasingly unlikely to return to the desert, it certainly raises the question of whether the Indianapolis Colts should be potentially interested:

The 32 year old is coming off another highly productive season in which he recorded 41 tackles (31 solo), 12 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks, 47 total QB pressures, 6 forced fumbles, 4 passes defensed, and a fumble recovery during 15 starts in 2021.

Per PFF (subscription), Jones had their 9th highest pass rushing grade at +87.7 overall among the entire edge position this past season.

Jones has a highly decorated NFL career as a Super Bowl Champion, 2x NFL First-Team All-Pro, 4x NFL Pro Bowler, and NFL 2010’s All-Decade Team member. (He is also the younger brother of former Colts defensive tackle Arthur Jones, and ex-UFC Champion Jon Jones).

Entering his 11th NFL season, the veteran sackmaster, with 107.5 career sacks and counting, appears to still have plenty of gas left in the tank to offer prospective NFL suitors.

Much like the signing of fellow veteran Justin Houston did three years ago for the Colts in 2019, Jones would theoretically provide a highly impactful, experienced pass rushing presence off the edge—which the Colts could certainly use, that is, according to the team’s general manager Chris Ballard recently:

“But looking back defensively, you know we were really young up front with the young defensive ends we drafted (Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo), who I think both are going to be really good players,” said Ballard reflecting on areas for improvement after the team’s late season collapse on 1075 The Fan’s ‘The Dan Dakich Show’ on Wednesday.

“But you know, rushing the passer in this league, it’s not just a talent, there’s a know-how and experience factor that comes (into play). Some guys that have been playing in this league a long time just understand how to set a (offensive) tackle up and finish when they need to finish, so that’s an area that we definitely have to get better at.”

At a listed 6’5”, 255 pounds (with 35 1/2” arms), Jones is the type of athletic, long-armed defensive end that Ballard typically covets as a pass rusher.

Despite being a tad slower than the prototype, but also featuring a power element to his game, Jones also largely fits as a natural ‘LEO’, as the ‘wide-9’, weak-side speed edge rusher in new Colts’ defensive coordinator Gus Bradley’s evolved ‘Cover 3’ scheme:

“You have some general ideas of what it should look like, but then there’s always that guy that breaks the mold,” Bradley said back in 2017 as the Los Angeles Chargers’ former defensive coordinator regarding the LEO position. “A LEO is typically 6’3” or 6’2”, has got good length at about 255 pounds and runs a 4.6 [40-yard time].”

However, Jones also has the versatility to be deployed as a stand-up pass rushing SAM linebacker (which would enable Bradley to get both Jones and 2nd-year pass rusher Kwity Paye, also projecting as a natural LEO, both on the field simultaneously at times):

Think of how Bradley sometimes utilized both Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa previously with the Chargers to be able to deploy both pass rushers at once to consistently terrorize opposing quarterbacks:

Marcus Mosher of RaidersWire
https://raiderswire.usatoday.com/2021/02/13/what-will-gus-bradleys-defense-look-like-with-the-raiders/

Given his current age, Jones figures to obtain a fairly short-term contract in this year’s open free agent market—as Spotrac projects a 3-year, $43.8M deal for the former Arizona Cardinals and New England Patriots standout. (For what it’s worth, the Colts currently have a projected $35.8M of total available team salary cap space).

For perspective, Jones is almost a year younger than reigning Los Angeles Rams’ Super Bowl Champion pass rusher (and fellow free agent) Von Miller—who also figures to be a prized pass rushing target for quite a few needy NFL contenders (or playoff hopefuls).

The Colts have a definite pass rushing deficiency—and a clear call for added experience and production, especially for a longtime veteran who can help mentor some of their younger defensive ends who are still developing—while also showing them a thing or two in the process.

Could such a key pass rushing addition be Chandler Jones for the Colts?