TEMPE, Ariz. -- Chandler Jones let his play do the talking for him last season.
Next season, his first on a five-year contract signed Friday with the Arizona Cardinals, Jones is prepared to take the next step as both an elite pass-rusher and a locker room leader.
“With [last season] being my first year [with Arizona], I was kind of shadowing a little bit,” Jones said during a news conference Thursday. “I was trying to feel my way around, especially when I first got here. Now, knowing that I’m going to be here, I kind of can change roles a little bit, be more of a leader, be more vocal.”
Jones was aware of his standing in the locker room last season, his first with Arizona. He was cautious not to overstep his bounds or intrude on the leadership of veterans such as Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu and Calais Campbell. (Campbell left the Cardinals this week for the Jacksonville Jaguars via free agency.)
“I didn’t want to be the new guy coming in calling guys around, and you got great leaders like Calais and Patrick Peterson and Tyrann -- those guys are great leaders and they’re doing a great job. But now that I have a year under my belt and I kind of got those guys’ respect and trust now, I feel I can be more verbal.
“The sky’s the limit for this team.”
As it is for the Cardinals’ pass rush. Jones thinks last year was just the beginning. The Cardinals featured two players with double-digit sacks for the first time since the mid-1980s. Jones had 11 and Markus Golden 12.5. It will be tough for offensive lines to double-team both of them, Jones said, because of simple math: There aren’t enough blockers.
“You can’t just ignore that,” Jones said.
Jones cited the growth of Rodney Gunter, the potential of Robert Nkemdiche and the development of Xavier Williams as other reasons he’s excited for Arizona’s pass rush, which produced a league-high 48 sacks.
“I feel like last year we just scratched the surface and we led the league in sacks,” Jones said.
He feels the same way about his play. Late last season, he told ESPN that the longer he’s in the Cardinals’ defense, the more comfortable and productive he’ll become. Jones said his goal every season is to improve from the year before. He statistically regressed in 2016, with 1.5 sacks fewer than he had in 2015, his last season with the Patriots, but he doesn’t expect another regression.
Jones, who wants to be more consistent next season, said he felt comfortable last season standing up in Arizona’s 3-4 scheme compared to when he played with his hand in the dirt in New England’s 4-3 defense. There were a few games last season when he could have rushed the quarterback better, he said.
He knows he’ll continue getting the questions: What’s your goal? How many sacks do you want?
Jones will stick with his motto of doing better next season than he did last season, but entering his second year with the Cards, he has a better grasp of what he can do.
“I’m always trying to do more,” Jones said. “I’m always trying to do better to help this team win and go to the top. I’m just working every day to become better.”