Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury confirmed, via Darren Urban (@cardschatter), that Cardinals star linebacker Chandler Jones is undergoing surgery on a bicep injury he sustained against the New York Jets on Sunday. The loss of Jones is a huge blow for the Cardinals defense, which only just regained the presence of standout safety Budda Baker from a thumb injury sustained in Week 3. Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, whose underperforming defense has already garnered some criticism through the first quarter of the season, now has the unenviable task of replacing one of the league’s top edge rushers.
Chandler Jones Out for the Season
What Cardinals Lose
Coming off a 19 sack season in 2019, Chandler Jones has quietly asserted himself as one of the NFL’s premier talents on the edge. Despite having a low-key start to his ill-fated 2020 season, Jones’ presence clearly draws the attention of opposing offensive linemen. Although Jones has managed only 1.0 sack, fellow outside linebackers Haason Reddick and Devon Kennard have each totaled 2.0 sacks so far this season, demonstrating Jones’ intangible value to the team.
Via a Zoom call on Tuesday, inside linebacker De’Vondre Campbell noted that ‘you can’t individually replace the impact of somebody like Chandler,’ suggested a ‘collective effort’ would be needed to fill the void. Unfortunately, the Cardinals Week 4 game against the Carolina Panthers displayed just how significant a single player can be. The absence of Budda Baker severely limited the team’s ability to stop Teddy Bridgewater in the 31-21 loss; his replacement, Curtis Riley, was cut from the team days later. After a dismal 2019 campaign overall for the Cardinals defense, the loss of one of his stars could spell trouble for Vance Joseph and his future with the team.
The good news is the Cardinals do have depth at linebacker. Both Kennard and Reddick have shown to be effective rushing the passer from the outside and this is the most likely combination that the Cardinals will utilize for the rest of the season. However, in a unit that boasts some of the most athletically gifted players on the roster, there is a possibility for rotation through various packages.
The first player that springs to mind is the Cardinals top draft pick Isaiah Simmons, whose snaps so far have been severely limited, both by his own lack of development and the emergence of De’Vondre Campbell. The loss of Jones could see Simmons deployed as a speed rusher on the outside, acting as a stopgap for the injured star as well as helping to gain some on field experience. However, as with the conversation concerning Simmons’ move to safety after the Baker injury, there may be some reluctance to shift Simmons outside. It may ultimately hinder his development as an inside linebacker, where the team intends him to play in the future.
Alternatively, De’Vondre Campbell has claimed that he also possesses an effective pass rush, in addition to his stellar pass defense skills. To take this route would satisfy both the need at outside linebacker as well as allowing Isaiah Simmons to take snaps and gain experience at inside linebacker. However, given the continued production of Campbell on the inside, it would be surprising if the Cardinals chose to shift one of their best defensive players from the spot where he has been most effective.
Another solution might be Dennis Gardeck, who stepped in on short notice after Jones left the game on Sunday. Gardeck, largely a special teams player, made a good impression, securing two sacks against the Jets. With this strong performance, Gardeck has certainly presented himself as a genuine candidate to play a significant role in the Cardinals defense going forward.
The Arizona Cardinals have a host of options at outside linebacker, but losing one of the league’s very best in Chandler Jones is a huge blow to their hopes for the season. Moving forward, reigning NFC Offensive Player of the Week Kyler Murray and the offense will have to shoulder a greater share of the load as the defense attempts to contend with the void left by one of their best and brightest stars.