Chandler Jones entered this season in the last year of his contract with the Arizona Cardinals, and in the offseason, that relationship seemed irreparable. Jones reportedly asked to be traded over the summer, although the Cardinals obviously didn’t give in to that request.
Instead, the Cardinals held onto Jones, a vital part of their defense, hoping that he and former NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt could form a ferocious pass rush and that they could work out a longer-term contract with Jones later.
Jones certainly started the 2021 season the way someone in a contract year would hope to. He had five sacks and forced two fumbles in the team’s opening-week win over Tennessee. The 5-sack performance ties him for eighth among a group of legendary players who have had at least five sacks in a game. Derrick Thomas has the single-game record with seven in a game. Thomas also had a six-sack performance, and five other players have had 5.5 or 6 sacks in a single game.
Jones has more sacks than anyone in the league since 2012, so his performance isn’t necessarily surprising. But in the context of his contract situation, it is certainly eye-catching.
I think I played best when I don’t go in thinking about the deal or the contract,” Jones told ESPN. “Is it something that, I mean, [I think about] off the field? Yeah, I mean, of course. I don’t know where I’m gonna live next year. But in the same situation, I think, when the season starts, I tell my agent let’s put all that to a side, you take care of that. If you want to talk about it, you talk about it. As far as for me, I’m going to play, and I’m going to play my best football, and we’ll see what happens then.”
After finishing with just one sack last season in an injury-plagued year, Jones has come back hoping to chase Michael Strahan’s single-season NFL record of 22.5 sacks. In his first performance of the season, he even had Titans offensive tackle Taylor Lewan praising his abilities, even though Lewan was primarily the blocker who Jones was beating throughout the game.
Jones was held without a sack in Arizona’s week two win over Minnesota, but he did get three hits on quarterback Kirk Cousins. Even with the shutout, he’s still more than on pace to approach the NFL record and, if he keeps it up, should be well-positioned to win the NFC’s Defensive Player of the Year award.
He’s also likely to get many big contract offers, including from his current team. Jones joked after his strong performance in the first game by rubbing general manager Steve Keim’s pockets. Keim laughed at the gesture, but did say that re-signing him is the plan.
“We’re not in the business of moving on and getting rid of good football players,” Keim told an Arizona radio station. “That’s a pretty easy answer.”
Still though, reports indicate there hasn’t been progress made on a new deal, which should make Jones one of the biggest available names in free agency next offseason.
Jones isn’t the only star defensive player having a big bounce back season, either. Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller missed all of last season with an ankle injury. He’s also played at a high level in a physical position at linebacker for 11 seasons. At 32 and coming off of a major injury, it wouldn’t be surprising to see. Miller’s play slip. Instead, he looks like his vintage self.
Miller has led the Broncos to a 2-0 record and has three sacks in two games. Miller’s strong play in week one even caught the attention of basketball star LeBron James, who praised his performance.
For a Denver team that has suddenly competent quarterback play from Teddy Bridgewater and strong offensive weapons, if Miller can reinvigorate the defense, then Denver all of a sudden becomes a strong contender in the playoffs.
Miller himself is a former Super Bowl MVP who would love for the franchise to return to those heights. Miller told Bridgewater that he hasn’t felt this good about the team since Peyton Manning was leading the Denver offense.
“It’s good to see his face again in the huddle when we’re breaking it down and everything,” teammate and fellow linebacker Josey Jewell told ESPN. “He’s definitely a great player. It’s just fun to see him go out there and kick people’s butt.”
Both players are entering the final year of their contracts and do still have to overcome recent injuries and last the full season. But with both teams off to 2-0 starts, Jones and Miller could both be prominent figures in strong playoff runs this season.