When the Arizona Cardinals' front office designed the organization's 2015 roster, there was little doubt Arizona had an opportunity to have its best team in years.
The Cardinals were seemingly devoid of any glaring weaknesses, and loaded with young talent at critical positions like running back and defensive back.
Arizona had a strong mix of up-and-coming youth and experienced veterans at most position groups, but what the Cardinals lacked in 2015 was a dominant edge rusher.
Early in the season, when Arizona's top weakness was revealed, general manager Steve Keim attempted to rectify the issue, signing free agent pass-rushing specialist and future Hall of Famer Dwight Freeney.
Freeney exploded onto the scene in Arizona, playing primarily in the team's third down package, and wound up leading the team with 8.5 sacks despite a late arrival that caused him to miss a handful of games.
Freeney instantly became a fan favorite and a valued presence in the Cardinals' locker room, but after the team was bounced from the playoffs last January, Arizona made the position to pursue other options. Though reports suggested Freeney had interest in returning to Arizona, the Cardinals opted to move in a different direction.
By doing so, Keim and head coach Bruce Arians kept Arizona in the headlines, as the team acquired pass-rusher Chandler Jones in a high-profile trade with the New England Patriots that indicated the Cardinals were going all in on making a Super Bowl run in 2016.
Jones in 2016
Jones' arrival last offseason offered the Cardinals a world of possibilities, many of which delighted veteran teammates who felt the franchise was better positioned for a Super Bowl chase with his addition.
In training camp, Cardinals teammates speculated Jones could finish the year with 20 sacks, and that he and defensive tackle Calais Campbell would make one of the best one-two punches in the NFL this season.
While Jones didn't live up to the loftiest of the expectations set forth, he did enjoy an impressive, productive campaign in his first season in Arizona. The Syracuse product finished with 49 tackles and 11.0 sacks, ranking second on the team to second-year pass-rusher Markus Golden in the latter category.
Jones' presence helped the Cardinals go from ranking 20th in the NFL in sacks in 2015, to leading the league in the same category in 2016.
Armed with a wide array of pass rushing moves that he couples with elite quick-twitch movement skills off the edge of the line of scrimmage, Jones proved himself a feared rusher because of his ability to force offensive tackles onto their heels and put them in uncomfortable situations on a consistent basis.
Though Jones finished behind Golden in sacks, he probably enjoyed a more dominant season as a pass rusher because he so often commanded double teams, especially in long yardage situations.
Still, the knock on Jones' game is his inability to stop the run more consistently, and his troubles in this regard cost Arizona at key times in 2016. Golden was the superior run defender and did a better job at holding contain than Jones, who too often struggled to get off blocks and free up his outside shoulder as the contain defender.
Though the Cardinals obviously brought Jones in to rush the passer, they probably hoped he would flash more brilliance in the run game than he did last season.
Jones in 2017
Keim, Arians and Arizona Cardinals' team president Michael Bidwill have all assured fans that Jones will be back in 2017 despite an expiring contract, and all have said the organization won't be afraid to use the franchise tag on the 26-year-old defender.
Though Arizona likely hopes to work out a long-term extension with Jones before free agency begins, the window is closing as free agency starts in less than three weeks.
With Golden's rookie deal set to expire after the 2018 season, Arizona is probably being cautious with offering Jones a significant sum in a long-term deal because it knows Golden may turn out to be the more productive player and will likely only be able to afford one of the members of the pair after 2019.
Because of that, the Cardinals may have to bite the bullet and use the franchise tag this year to keep the pass-rushing rotation intact and determine which player, Golden or Jones, fits the organization better in a long-term capacity.
While the Cardinals would love to do everything they can to keep both players in Arizona over the long haul, making that a reality is much easier said than done. Still, Arizona knows Jones will be back in 2017, but it's yet to be determined whether he'll be playing out another contract year.