Rob Schumacher/The Republic-USA TODAY NETWORK

Rob Schumacher/The Republic-USA TODAY NETWORK

Are the 49ers contenders for Chandler Jones?

Rohan Chakravarthi
Mar 11, 2022 at 9:15 AM--

Arizona Cardinals star pass-rusher Chandler Jones is slated to hit free agency in 2022 for the first time since signing a five-year, $82.5 million deal with the Arizona Cardinals in the 2017 offseason, and he's expected to be a hot commodity.

Jones, 32, is coming off a Pro-Bowl season in which he accumulated 10.5 sacks, 41 tackles, six forced fumbles, four pass deflections, and 36 pressures, per Football Reference, returning to his old self after playing just five games in 2020 due to injury.

The San Francisco 49ers have been one of the best teams at rushing the passer over the past few seasons, ranking amongst the top three in sack percentage in the NFL as a team in two of the past three seasons, which is the primary reason that they've reached the NFC Championship Game twice in that time period.

Building their defenses from the inside-out, San Francisco could look to add to its pass-rushing arsenal in 2022 alongside star Nick Bosa to fully commit towards maximizing their Super Bowl window with a quarterback, Trey Lance, on a rookie contract.

For reference, each of the last five Super Bowls has had a quarterback playing on their rookie contracts: Carson Wentz(although he was injured), Jared Goff, Patrick Mahomes(2x), and Joe Burrow.

So, with the intention of being a Super Bowl-contending team in 2022, should the 49ers be in the market for a marquee pass-rusher like Chandler Jones? Let's take a dive into the possibility.

Salary Cap

Currently, the 49ers are over the 2022 salary cap by around $6-9 million, including the recent contracts of Nate Sudfeld, Maurice Hurst, Kevin Givens, JaMycal Hasty, and Colton McKivitz, who were all re-signed by the organization on Thursday.

Before free agency even begins, San Francisco must get under the cap, which likely occurs via a Jimmy Garoppolo trade, who is expected to be off the roster by March 16th, the start of the new league year.

Garoppolo's removal creates $25.5 million in cap space, placing the 49ers under the cap, but not nearly at a point where they can comfortably re-sign key free agents and fill out the remainder of their roster.

Other potential moves to create space could be extensions for defensive lineman Samson Ebukam and defensive backs Emmanuel Moseley and Jimmie Ward, as well as restructures for defensive lineman Arik Armstead and tight end George Kittle, although the latter is the least likely option. (Stay tuned for my in-depth 49ers offseason plan coming soon to see how much cap space the 49ers can free up).

The Possibility of Acquiring Chandler Jones

Jones currently has his fair share of suitors, as the Seattle Seahawks, Atlanta Falcons, Denver Broncos, Buffalo Bills, Philadelphia Eagles, and Miami Dolphins are all interested in the star pass-rusher, per Jordan Schultz.

But, there's a caveat. Earlier this week, Jones went on the "NFL Players Podcast" with his former New England Patriots teammate Logan Ryan and shared his free agency philosophy going into his age-32 season, explaining that, at this point, money isn't the priority, but rather fit and utilization.

"It's not about money at all," Jones said. "Where I am in my career, I've gotten contracts, I've gotten a Super Bowl, but scheme is huge or for me it's winning more championships. I'll say it again, it's not about money. I will say, I want to go to a place that maximizes my talents. … When it comes to my decision, where does Chandler Jones become Chandler Jones – where does he maximize his talent?"

That's where the 49ers come in. San Francisco has continuously found ways to consistently scheme their defensive linemen in a way to increase production, hence why they've been so successful in developing talent such as Arden Key, Jordan Willis, and Samson Ebukam this past season.

Jones would enter a 4-3 system, as opposed to a 3-4 outside linebacker, where his sole focus would be to rush the passer. In addition, Jones, who has inside/outside flexibility stemming from his days as a Patriot, could be utilized in a role that places him in 1-on-1 situations, giving him an opportunity to maximize production.

Jones would certainly be a costly signing, but could take somewhat of a team-friendly deal in the $13-16 million per year range to join the 49ers, where he'd be a seamless scheme fit and could be in a great position to win, while also remaining on the West Coast.

I'd expect a two-year deal worth $27-32 million for Jones, with incentives placed based on sack totals to potentially lower the 2021 cap hit. A two-year deal can lower the cap hit for 2022, while providing Jones with more guaranteed money towards the tail end of his prime.

Now, should Jones's price range lie outside the $13-16 million per year range due to his suitors, it's extremely unlikely that San Francisco prioritizes him in free agency, given how they may only be able to clear $40-45 million in cap space, leaving them with limited room to fill out the remainder of the roster.

Not to mention, the 49ers are entering a draft class in which there's high-caliber depth at the edge position, so they could be better off placing their money towards other positions where they currently lack depth, such as on the offensive line and in the secondary, since there are only three cornerbacks on the roster currently.

However, Jones would push the needle at the position San Francisco most prioritizes, and could be inclined to go to the 49ers, given his preferences, forming one of the most formidable pass-rushing duos in the NFL.

With Jones on the roster, the 49ers would then have him, Bosa, Arik Armstead, Javon Kinlaw, Charles Omenihu, Dee Ford, Kevin Givens, and Maurice Hurst as the defensive linemen on the roster, with the potential to add another piece in the draft to complement the current group.

For reference, the 49ers carried eleven defensive linemen on their 53-man roster in 2021.

Is Jones a necessity? Not entirely. Is Jones expensive? Certainly. But, he's consistently been one of the best pass-rushers in the NFL when healthy, with seven seasons of 10+ sacks in his career.

Additionally, Jones has a propensity for creating turnovers, as he's been amongst the top 10 in forced fumbles in the NFL five times in his career, while also having the most forced fumbles of any active player in the NFL currently.

Now, are the 49ers at a disadvantage should they not sign Jones? No. There are numerous pass-rushers on the market, such as Carolina's Haason Reddick, who can play the edge in this system, but Jones would provide the combination of inside/outside flexibility and elite play, alongside his preference of scheme fit over money in free agency.

At the least, this development is something to monitor as we approach free agency, with the "tampering" period beginning on March 14th.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.

1 Comment

  • James Gore
    The 49ers should pursue & sign Chandler Jones. Attacking Free Agents from division rivals, Cardinals & Seawhawks.
    Mar 12, 2022 at 9:53 AM

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