Analysis: Jarvis Jones signs with Arizona Cardinals

The Arizona Cardinals agreed to terms with former Pittsburgh Steelers' outside linebacker Jarvis Jones on a one-year contract Tuesday.

The Arizona Cardinals invited former Pittsburgh Steelers' outside linebacker Jarvis Jones in for a visit Monday, as former Cardinals' linebacker Alex Okafor visited the New Orleans Saints.

All indications suggested Arizona wanted to re-sign Okafor for the 2017 season, but that the team was bringing Jones to Cardinals' headquarters in the event that Okafor elected to sign elsewhere.

Hours after Okafor sealed up a one-year deal with the Saints Tuesday morning, the Cardinals announced they agreed to a one-year contract with Jones, a former first round draft pick of the Steelers who has just six career sacks over four seasons.

Even though it's possible Jones flourishes in a new environment and finally taps into the raw potential that made him a coveted prospect coming out of college, it's clear Jones was not the team's first priority in the free agent market, and demonstrates once again how the Cardinals were forced to settle with executing a backup plan.

On the first day of free agency, the Cardinals knew they were going to lose Calais Campbell and Tony Jefferson, but that didn't stop Arizona from reportedly making a multi-year offer to Campbell to keep him around. When Jacksonville ponied up nearly double the money, Campbell's time in Arizona was up.

When Jefferson began to entertain offers near the top of the free agent market for safeties, the Cardinals found themselves out of the running for his services, and instead elected to sign veteran Antoine Bethea for a whole lot less.

Free agency hasn't been kind to Arizona, and Tuesday's flip-flop of Okafor and Jones at outside linebacker is another example of how the Cardinals haven't exactly improved in the way the team was hoping to this offseason.

Arizona wanted to re-sign Okafor, a player who's had his fair share of ups and downs, but has still had far more ups in his career than Jones, and that didn't happen.

Instead, the Cardinals ended up with a 6-foot-3, 280-pound outside linebacker who might qualify as more of a run downs specialist than a rotational pass-rusher. 

If that turns out to be the case, then the Cardinals could end up satisfied with this transaction, because Jones could spell fellow outside linebacker Chandler Jones in short yardage situations as opposed to long yardage situations. 

In 2016, Chandler Jones' biggest weakness was defending against perimeter runs attacking his side of the field, and if the Cardinals use Jarvis Jones in short yardage situations, Arizona may actually improve its run-stopping capabilities. 

Last season, Okafor spelled Jones and Golden on more obvious passing downs, which forced Jones to play in every short yardage scenario because he was a better run defender than Okafor. Now, with Jarvis Jones in the mix, Chandler Jones can take a breather in running situations, and remain on the field as an anchor of the Cardinals' pass rush on third and long or other obvious passing downs.

The most important factor in having a serviceable third outside linebacker is that he can take away 10-to-15 reps from a starter over the course of a game and provide some sort of spark to a defense. Most of the players in this role are pure pass rushers (see Dwight Freeney with Arizona in 2015), but if the Cardinals use Jones as a run-first defender, what does it matter? Arizona will be able to unleash Chandler Jones on pure passing downs, when the sixth-year player out of Syracuse is most effective anyway.

Of course, Arizona probably didn't enter the free agent market hoping it would need to nab another outside linebacker, as Okafor was a 2013 fourth round draft pick for the franchise and still offered the Cardinals value. However, Okafor elected to pursue a new opportunity, and even though Arizona might be downgrading with his replacement, the Cardinals were still ready to sign another outside linebacker and prevent other teams from stealing all of the depth options on the market this offseason. 

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