TEMPE, Ariz. -- The end of Chandler Jones' story is already written.
He'll play for the Arizona Cardinals in 2017 one way or the other.
It's how he gets to that point that is yet to be determined.
Jones is the highest profile of the Cardinals' 19 unrestricted free agents this offseason. Arizona has made it clear publicly it wants the 26-year-old outside linebacker back. They have two ways of doing that.
The first is to sign Jones to a long-term megadeal, on par with the other elite pass-rushers in the NFL.
He has the third-most sacks over the last two seasons with 23.5 -- 11 of which came last season, his first with the Cardinals. The two players with more sacks than Jones are Oakland's Khalil Mack with 26 and Denver's Von Miller with 24.5. Mack just finished the third year of his rookie deal, which will allow him to renegotiate with the Raiders. He's likely in line for one of the highest-paying contracts at the position. Miller received a six-year contract worth $114.5 million with $70 million guaranteed and a $17 million signing bonus last offseason, setting the bar for other outside linebackers, especially other 3-4 outside linebackers like Jones.
It's likely Jones wants to be paid similar to Miller or Olivier Vernon, the pass-rusher who received a five-year, $85 million contract with $52.5 million guaranteed with the Giants a year ago.
The Cardinals' offseason is more than six weeks old and a long-term deal with Jones has yet to be reached -- which could lead to the second way the Cardinals can make sure Jones stays in Arizona.
Wednesday is the first day teams can franchise a player, and the Cardinals have been extraordinarily candid about their desire to franchise Jones if a deal can't be reached.
"Chandler's not going anywhere because if we have to, we will franchise him," coach Bruce Arians said in January. "Hopefully we will get it all done and be able to move on."
During an appearance Tuesday on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, Cardinals president Michael Bidwill supported Arians' previous statement that the team will franchise Jones. The question now becomes, if a deal isn't reached, when. Teams have until 4 p.m. ET on March 1 to issue franchise tags, giving Arizona and Jones' camp exactly two weeks to come to a deal. If not, the Cardinals could end up paying Jones almost twice his $7.79 million salary from 2016.
According to ESPN NFL Insider John Clayton, the franchise tag for linebackers, based on a $168 million salary cap, will be $15,287,383 -- which would equal the third-highest per-year salary of any 3-4 outside linebacker in the league.
However, one distinct possibility is Jones could be franchised within the next two weeks and then the two sides could reach a deal, lifting the tag and replacing it with a long-term contract.
Come Wednesday, the clock on Jones' future with the Cardinals begins.