The perfect countermove. That’s succinctly surmises what Las Vegas Raiders general manager Dave Ziegler did by landing Chandler Jones in free agency this past week.
The addition of Jones to the Raiders defense was the Silver & Black’s answer to the Denver Broncos solving their long-standing quarterback quandary by trading for Seattle Seahawks signal caller Russell Wilson. The swap of draft picks and players between Seattle and Denver on March 8 caused quite the ripple effect in the AFC West. The Los Angeles Chargers responded first by trading for ex-Raider and Chicago Bears pass rusher Khalil Mack on March 10.
Just six days later, the Raiders snared Jones. Why is the acquisition of Jones the perfect countermove? I’ll let Josh Dubow provide you insight first and foremost:
Chandler Jones has sacked Russell Wilson 16.5 times in his career. The only player to sack a single QB more in past 10 seasons is Cam Jordan w/ 23 vs Matt Ryan— Josh Dubow (@JoshDubowAP) March 16, 2022
Just when Wilson thought he left Jones and the ultra-competitive NFC West behind, the quarterback joins a suddenly cutthroat AFC West. And lo and behold, No. 55 — a pass rusher that’s terrorized him aplenty — will be across from him, lined up and eager to reacquaint himself or the 17th (and preferably more by the Raiders) time in the backfield.
“I think I’ve sacked Russell Wilson more than I’ve sacked anyone,” Jones said in his introductory press conference. “He’s a competitor. He’s a hell of a player. Even to have an opportunity to play against him twice a year will be fun. He thought he could get away from me (by) leaving, but I’m right here with him again, so that’s going to be fun to get after him a little bit.”
Keep a close eye on the fun part. Because Jones will undoubtedly bring his well of experience, pass rush toolbox, 107.5 career sacks, and work ethic to the Raiders. While he may be getting long in the tooth at age 32, Jones racked up 10.5 sacks this past season with the Arizona Cardinals, making him a formidable tag team partner for Las Vegas’ incumbent terrorizing pass rusher Maxx Crosby. As soon as the signing of Jones hit the newswire, No. 98 was quick to greet No. 55 on social media.
Jones’ presence in Patrick Graham’s Raiders defense will amplify the effectiveness of Crosby. This isn’t to throw shade on Mad Maxx’s previous pass-rush partner in crime, Yannick Ngakoue, who did everything Vegas could’ve asked from him after his team-leading 10-sack 2021 campaign this past season. He and Crosby formed an impressive duo on their own right.
But what Jones brings is more edge discipline — Ngakoue had a penchant to go too wide and run past the quarterback — and a grizzled lead-by-example and follow-my-lead veteran presence for Crosby. What Jones can impart on Crosby and vice versa will help each grow as the 2022 season continues and, the Raiders hope, ultimately culminates in a postseason appearance and title.
From practice habits, to the speed-to-power conversion, or how to attack an offensive linemen, Jones’ influence on Crosby is going to be tremendous. One area of opportunity Crosby can learn from Jones is getting the ball out of the quarterback’s hands — the sack-fumble. Jones has 33 career forced fumbles, six last season, while Crosby boasts four over the course of his three NFL seasons.
Jones has been looking forward to the partnership.
“When me and Maxx talk, we small talk. We texted even before I knew I was going to be here,” Jones told Raiders.com. “When you talk to another pass rusher, you always have that thought in the back of your head, ‘What if? What if we played together? That would be fun.’ Once I saw that there was an opportunity when I got into contract negations with the Raiders, I said, ‘Wow this is a possibility.’ That weighed a lot of my decision.”
Not only was Jones drawn to the possibility of playing with Crosby, but Graham’s presence as the defensive boss in Vegas was integral, too. Graham was the New England Patriots defensive line coach when Chandler was drafted in 2012 and that was the inception of a long-standing relationship between coach and player.
“When you have someone with the brain of Patrick Graham — the first word that comes to mind is creativity,” Jones said. “This guy is an Ivy League graduate from Yale. So when you just talk about that in itself, you talk about how creative someone can be. Then when you bring it over to the sport of football, that’s easy for him. That’s X’s and O’s for him. He’s so creative and to know that and be such a proven person, the sky’s the limit.”
And that’s just the on-field aspect. Jones respect for Graham is steeped in trust because the coach isn’t solely about the game of football. Graham gets to know his players and speaks on the outside interests and family of his group. To Jones, Graham is the genuine article.
“They’re not going to say, ‘Hey, how’s your leg holding up?’, they’re going to say, ‘Hey, how’s your family? How’s your kid doing?’’ And when you have a guy and you connect the players like that, it makes them play harder for you,” Jones said. “They go that much more above and beyond to do what you’re telling them to do. To do your scheme, to do what’s right, to be disciplined, to stay in your gap, to execute.
“You start thinking, ‘Hey, Pat Graham is a guy that cares about me. Let me do what he’s telling me to do.’”
Crosby got a taste of this when Graham came aboard and called him to ease his concerns about where exactly No. 98 would line up.
That’ll come in due time.
As will the havoc Jones and Crosby are slated to create this coming season.