New England Patriots edge defender Chandler Jones has finally put it all together. Not for one play. Not for one drive. Not for one game.
He finally has taken the step into stardom and he's going to wreck havoc on the league for the rest of his career. The big question is whether that career will take place with the Patriots.
Jones has 8.5 sacks on the season, good enough for the share of the league lead with Texans superstar J.J. Watt. Jones has played seven games, to Watt's eight. Jones is the first player under Bill Belichick to lead the league in sacks through eight weeks, and is the first Patriot to hit 8+ sacks before the team's 9th game. The 6'5, 265 lbs defensive end leads the team with 26 pressures and 8 quarterback hits.
Teams only run towards Jones on 16% of their attempts, the second lowest rate in the league. Over the team's past five games teams are averaging just 3.00 yards per carry in his direction, the third lowest rate in the league. Teams don't even want to test him.
Chandler Jones is a complete player. He can shed his blockers to make tackles in the hole, he has a vast array of pass rushing moves, and he's even dropping into coverage. He's the player that everyone wanted when the Patriots selected him 21st overall in the 2012 draft.
How much longer will he be in New England?
The Patriots have Jones under control for the rest of 2015 and they've picked up his option for 2016. That's the baseline, and there's room to consider using the franchise tag on him for 2017 if he continues to grow as a player.
These are the average contract values of the league's most expensive edge defenders:
Ranks 1-5: $14.4 million (ex: Justin Houston, Robert Quinn, Chris Long)
Ranks 6-10: $10.2 million (ex: Ryan Kerrigan, Demarcus Ware, Jerry Hughes)
Ranks 11-15: $8.4 million (ex: Julius Peppers, Paul Kruger, Jared Allen)
Ranks 16-20: $7.7 million (Carlos Dunlap, Pernell McPhee, Brian Orakpo)
Even if you don't think that Jones is a top five or top ten player, he definitely comes in above the Peppers and Allen retirement home tier. He can command $9 million per season, which is the contract the Bills extended to Jerry Hughes.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft hightlighted Jones as one of the reasons New England exited the Darrelle Revis sweepstakes this offseason. Jones is considered a piece of the team's future, along with fellow 2012 draftee 25th overall pick Dont'a Hightower and 2013 2nd round pick Jamie Collins.
Hopefully the team won't have to make a decision among the three players, but if Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio had to make a cap decision, would Jones make sense as the casualty?
Not so fast. The top five linebackers average a contract of $11.2 million per season, while linebackers six through ten average $8.7 million. It wouldn't be a difficult argument to say that both Hightower and Collins are top ten linebackers. Thomas Davis of the Panthers averages $9 million per season, and Brian Cushing earns an average of $8.75 million.
This means that all three players could be fielding contracts worth roughly $9 million per season. All three players are playing incredible ball at this point in time. The team wants to keep all of them.
Fortunately for the team, they have no priority free agents this offseason and can work on extending all three defenders for the foreseeable future. Just note that if Jones continues on his trajectory, his price tag will soar through the roof.