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Raiders Outlook 2022: Chandler Jones’ arrival

Vegas will find out early if addition of pass rusher pays dividends

Syndication: Arizona Republic
Chandler Jones, right, and Russell Wilson will renew acquaintances in the AFC West this season. Jones and the Raiders defense squares off against Wilson and the Broncos offense in Week 4.
Rob Schumacher/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

Long in the tooth is a relative phrase for Chandler Jones. Despite entering his 11th season in the NFL at the ripe age of 32, the pass rusher still presents one sharp tooth when it comes to hunting down quarterbacks. And that’s exactly what the Las Vegas Raiders are banking on.

Jones’ arrival in Silver & Black gives the desert marauders an accomplished and still productive bookend to in-house, homegrown pass rusher terror Maxx Crosby. The veteran edge rusher is familiar with the Raiders new brain trust of general manager Dave Ziegler and head coach Josh McDaniels. Jones is also a known commodity to defensive coordinator Patrick Graham as all four spent time together as New England Patriots.

When the Arizona Cardinals released Jones, he immediately became the top pass rusher on the free agent market and Ziegler and the Raiders swooped in. Vegas wasted little time and flew under the radar to snare Jones with a lucrative three-year, $51 million contract.

There’s no getting around this, so let’s get to it: Jones’ arrival must pay dividends immediately. There’s two reasons for this. First, the Raiders first five games of the 2022 campaign are against teams with solid quarterbacks.

The opener sees the Silver & Black pitted against their Justin Herbert and his Los Angeles Chargers. That’s followed by Kyler Murray and his Arizona Cardinals. Then it’s Ryan Tannehill (Tennessee Titans), Russell Wilson (Denver Broncos) and Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City Chiefs) to close out the initial five weeks before a by week.

The Raiders defense will need Jones hunting down each of those quarterbacks like a predator famished for a feast. If Jones is firing on all cylinders, that should be a ripple effect for Crosby and other defenders to be on point, too.

AFC Wild Card Playoffs - Las Vegas Raiders v Cincinnati Bengals
Raiders pass rusher Maxx Crosby (98) engulfs Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow for the sack during the third quarter of the team’s AFC Wild Card playoff game on Jan. 15.
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The second reason: The Raiders added Jones and then shipped off 2021-sack leader Yannick Ngakoue (10 sacks) who is five years Jones’ junior. While Jones is the more accomplished sack artist, Ngakoue is the younger player who trailed the former by only half a sack last year.

Jones should hit the ground running on both of those two fronts mentioned above. He’s a scheme-versatile defender who has lined up at both defensive end and outside linebacker. Graham is a defensive coach that tailors his scheme to maximize the impact of his best defenders. So, regardless if the Raiders are lined up in a traditional 3-4 or in a nickel alignment — or anything else — expect Jones to do what he does best: Pin his ears back and get after the quarterback by racking up sacks — and arguably most importantly — takeaways with forced fumbles. Jones has a total of 33 forced fumbles during his career, with six coming this past season.

That’s going to be a crucial x-factor against the likes of Herbert, Wilson and Mahomes, the signal callers of the AFC West foes the Raiders face in the first five games. Wilson in particular is going to be an interesting case. Denver brought in the former Seattle Seahawks quarterback in hopes of being a long-term fixture at the position and the missing piece to get the Broncos over the hump.

With the Raiders bringing in Jones, that’s going to be quite the feat for Denver. Reason being, Jones has had a whale of a time dropping Wilson throughout his career. In total, the pass rusher has sacked the quarterback 16.5 times during his career. Take a look at the tweet below for further context:

“I think I’ve sacked Russell Wilson more than I’ve sacked anyone,” Jones said in his introductory press conference back in March. “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.”

If history continues to hold in 2022 and beyond, Jones’ addition just might be the Wilson neutralizer that keeps the Raiders ahead of the Broncos in the AFC West arms race.

But, like any other player, there’s financial implications tied to Jones success. If he brings the heat as he’s expected, the $7.812-million cap number in 2022 leaps to an impressive $19.4-million cap figure for the 2023 and 2024 seasons. That’s the two proverbial carrots dangling at the end of the stick for the veteran pass rusher. Of course, those would mark Jones’ age 33 and 34 seasons, but the Syracuse product has long remained a productive defender.

Outside of his on-field production, Jones will also serve as an excellent experienced veteran sounding board for Crosby and any other pass rusher on the Raiders roster. They can see up close an approach to not only the game, but practice and prep Jones displayed up to this point. They can soak in the rush tips to add to their own toolbox. That is an invaluable thing to have.

Crosby, in particular, already has an impressive pass rush toolkit and a relentless motor, but if he were to pick up Jones’ penchant to dislodge the ball from the quarterback’s hands on sacks, that’ll make the younger rusher an even more dangerous defender. Crosby had four forced fumbles in his rookie year three seasons ago but didn’t have any the last two years.

If both the Raiders edge rushers are giving back the ball to the offense, that’ll portend to good things for the Silver & Black as a whole.