Arizona Cardinals linebacker Chandler Jones insisted he wasn’t seeing dollar signs dance through his brain after he made his third sack, fourth sack and then fifth during a spectacular performance in Week 1.
“I was more of thinking about getting the ball so [quarterback] Kyler [Murray] could go score another touchdown,” Jones said.
Then he grinned and winked.
Okay, maybe he thought about the money just a little.
It’s no secret that the two-time All-Pro is in the last year of his current contract and would like a lucrative new deal. He also has acknowledged he asked for a trade from the Cardinals during the off-season. But instead of pouting or holding out, he reported to training camp in great shape and had arguably the best game of his career in a 38-13 win over the Tennessee Titans.
The 31-year-old edge rusher finished with five sacks, six quarterback pressures and two forced fumbles, earning NFC Defensive Player of the Week honours.
“I think I play best when I don’t go thinking about the deal or the contract,” Jones said. “Is it something off the field? Yeah, of course. I don’t know where I’m going to live next year.
“But in the same situation, when the season starts, I tell my agent ‘Put that to the 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 play my best football.”
Jones has been playing really good football for a decade now in the NFL. His 102 sacks over his 10-year career are second among active players behind Von Miller, who has 108. Jones missed the final 11 games of last season because of a torn biceps, but looked great in his return on Sunday, terrorizing Tennessee left tackle Taylor Lewan and quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
“It’s tough when you know he’s coming,” Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said.
Even so, the linebacker said there’s room for improvement. He said he’s working to be even better when the Cardinals host the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.
“What’s significant about this game is you can never have a perfect game,” Jones said. “There’s never perfect football. There’s always something you can clean. There’s a few plays out there that I could have been better with my hands in the run game, my hand placement. A few of my stunts they were a little sloppy, they could have been cleaner.”
Kingsbury and teammates have been appreciative of the way Jones has handled his contract issues. Murray said Jones might not look like an NFL superstar in the locker-room, but he proves his worth every week.
“He’s a really unorthodox guy, he takes his shirt off and he doesn’t look too good,” Murray said, laughing. “But he makes plays on Sundays. He gets after the quarterback, he’s one of those dudes who is really instinctual. He’s an expert at rushing the passer.”
He’s also apparently an expert at not letting a contract dispute change his production. Cameras caught Jones talking with Cardinals GM Steve Keim and owner Michael Bidwill on the sideline late in the game, though the linebacker didn’t drop many clues about the conversation.
But there’s no doubt Jones provided quite the eye opener about how much he’s worth. His decision to show up to camp and produce is looking better by the day.
“In this situation here, it’s advantageous for me to show up for sure,” Jones said. “I know I wasn’t at mini-camp or OTAs but when it comes to the season, I think doing your job is essential. Putting the team first, ignoring the noise, and like I said, just managing expectations.”