TEMPE, Ariz. — About an hour-and-a-half after J.J. Watt broke the news on Twitter he’s signing with the Arizona Cardinals, defensive linemate Jordan Phillips tweeted the question everybody is asking.
“Who are you gonna double now lol,” he posted with a few laughing emojis followed by a skull emoji.
In other words: pick your poison. It’s a valid question: Watt or Chandler Jones?
The Cardinals can now boast one of the best pass-rushing duos in the league by pairing Watt, who agreed to a two-year deal that’s reportedly worth $31 million with $23 million guaranteed on Monday, with Jones.
Who are you gonna double now lol ????
— Jordan Phillips (@bigj9797) March 1, 2021
Watt has been one of the best pass-rushers since he entered the league in 2011, with 101 career sacks. Jones leads the NFL with 97 sacks since 2012, when he was drafted in the first round. Who was second during that span? Watt with 95.5.
The Cardinals’ blitz rate the last three seasons has been 38%, the second-highest in the NFL. Having All-Pros on either edge of the line will pay dividends when offensive lines start double teaming one or the other. Last season, Watt was double teamed as an edge rusher 30% of the time, according to ESPN Stats & Information, the most in the NFL. By comparison, Jones was doubled 16% of the time as an edge rusher in 2019, the last full season he played.
Since 2017, Watt has averaged 3.16 pressures per game, the fifth-most in the league, while Jones was seventh with 3.09 per game, among players with at least 40 games played.
Last season, Watt had a pass rush win rate of 20.4. In 2019, Jones’ last full season, his was 17.8. Watt’s rate increased to 22.9% last season when he played the nine-technique, which lines up on the outside shoulder of a tight end.
Now they’re teammates. At least for the time being.
Jones is entering the final year of his contract and will levy the Cardinals with a cap hit of $20.8 million in 2021. Even though Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said earlier this month he would “reject” the idea of cutting Jones to save that cap room, a lower salary cap league-wide could force teams into decisions they may not want to make.
But it’s not just Jones who’ll carry a large cap hit in 2021. Fellow outside linebacker Devon Kennard has a cap hit of $7.9 million. Inside linebacker Jordan Hicks has a $9 million cap hit.
If the Cardinals don’t want to part ways with Jones, they’ll face this decision: either keep him at his current cap number or figure out a way to reduce it, possibly through a contract restructuring.
Jones’ recovery from a biceps injury suffered in Week 5 seems to be on track, according to this social media posts. He posted a video of him doing a back flip off a boat in Hawaii this past weekend on his Instagram stories.
And on Monday, Jones shared on a conversation he had with Watt last month about joining forces.
Chandler Jones posted this conversation with J.J. Watt from Feb. 16 on his Instagram. Looks like Jones is cooking. pic.twitter.com/4JzwL7arr8
— Josh Weinfuss (@joshweinfuss) March 1, 2021
Having two of the best pass-rushers in the NFL on the field at the same time could give the Cardinals the boost it needs to go from an 8-8 record in 2020 to the playoffs — and potentially deep into the postseason.
It’ll help that Watt will face the AFC South in 2021, a division he’s had 48 sacks against — the second most sacks for a player against a single division since 2002, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
If Watt can continue that pace and Jones can return to be the 19-sack guy he was in 2019, opposing offensive lines may have some restless nights ahead.
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