No 'magic ball' needed: Chandler Jones key to rebuilt Las Vegas Raiders' defense

HENDERSON, Nev. -- When it comes to rushing the passer, would you rather have Chandler Jones' past or Yannick Ngakoue's future?

The Las Vegas Raiders' regime made it clear which route it preferred when general manager Dave Ziegler and coach Josh McDaniels traded Ngakoue, who is 27 and has 55.5 career sacks, to the Indianapolis Colts for cornerback Rock Ya-Sin and signed Jones to a three-year, $52.5 million free-agent contract with $34 million guaranteed.

On the same day, March 17.

The question now for Vegas: Can Jones -- who is five years older than Ngakoue and has 52 more sacks -- still wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks, especially in the quarterback-rich AFC West? Because if he stays on the field and produces at his normal level alongside rising star Maxx Crosby, it unlocks a lot for a rebuilt defense. Otherwise... let's not go there, yet. It's still June, after all.

Jones, with 107.5 sacks in 139 games over 10 seasons, smiled when asked how much he has left.

"I don't have a magic ball to sit here and tell you, Chandler's going to play this many, or X-many more years, or how much is in the tank," Jones said. "It will be unfair for me to sit here and tell you, 'Oh, I can do this and I can't do that.'

"I feel great and I'm excited to play this season, and we'll move forward from there."

Fair enough. But replacing Ngakoue, who had 10 sacks in 17 games for the Raiders last season, with Jones, who had 10.5 sacks in 15 games for the Arizona Cardinals, is one of the bigger moves the Raiders made this offseason.

Jones does not seem to be slowing down as he continues to craft his Canton-worthy case. Far from it. Consider: After being limited to a career-low five games in 2020 due to a season-ending torn right biceps, Jones responded by sacking Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill five times in his first game back.

And in his first offseason program with the Raiders, Jones has provided more than his résumé.

"I always like to pick the brain of someone who has 100-plus sacks," Raiders defensive line coach Frank Okam said.

"He's a true professional…you see how hard he's running to the ball. He's leading by example with this effort. And I think that's the thing that is a testament to his longevity in his career and why he's been so successful for this long amount of time."

Just don't tell Jones he's in Las Vegas simply to inspire his younger teammates and impress his new coaches.

"I don't want to go in front of these guys and say, 'Hey, you know what I can do. You saw me a few years ago. You saw me on ESPN. You saw me in 2019, I had 19 sacks,'" Jones said.

"What have you done for me lately? And what can you do for me now?"

Bookending Jones, who has had at least 10.5 sacks in seven of his 10 seasons, with Crosby will bring out the best in both. At least, that's the plan. After all, Crosby sprinting from one drill to the next during organized team activities and this week's mandatory minicamp has lit a fire in Jones.

"He's pushing me in that sense already," Jones said of Crosby. "I'm excited to rush with him. He was a huge reason why I came to Las Vegas. One of the main reasons I came was to play with him. I get giddy even talking about him. That's my boy.

"I knew Maxx prior to coming to the team. I would text him, talk about pass rush for years before coming here. So the opportunity for us to be on the same team, it's just surreal."

Remember, Jones is the youngest of three brothers who grew up in an ultra-competitive household with Jon a UFC champ and Arthur having played seven years in the NFL as a defensive tackle.

"It was very competitive growing up, and that leads to a lot of my success today," Jones said. "Who can eat their food the fastest? Who can run to the refrigerator the fastest? I was the youngest, so I was always losing. But it made me better."

Good enough for the Raiders to choose Jones over Ngakoue, who is on his fifth team in four years and told golongtd.com he would make the Raiders "pay" for trading him.

The Colts visit the Raiders on Nov. 13.

"Now that I'm 11 years in, I understand the severity of this job, but [also] this opportunity that I have," Jones said.

"What I like about the group that we have is that everyone wants to learn and there isn't any players that are saying, 'Oh, I got this.' Or, 'Oh, I did this before.' Everyone's like, 'Hey, what's that? Hey, can you do that again?' If you get a room full of guys that are like that, the sky's the limit. I'm not here to make guarantees but that's a very good thing to have on a team ... we have a room, a team full of guys, that want to learn. And we have coaches that want to coach. So, it's fun."

The past? The future? Jones was talking about the present.