New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan has quietly put up an incredibly consistent body of work as a stellar pass rusher.
Cameron Jordan’s name is not the first one on the list. It likely isn’t the second one either.
If you polled the casual NFL fan to list the league’s best pass rushers, you might not even get to Jordan’s name until after some careful consideration or even dropping a hint or two. That’s not a jag in any way against Jordan. It’s the nature of his quiet, consistent body of work—a career on the verge of all-time great consideration in another season or two.
If that last fragment strikes you as odd, it’s likely because you’ve been too distracted to notice. You’re not the only one. Jordan has never once led the NFL in sacks. He’s also never been a Defensive Player of the Year. He’s overshadowed in his own division by Aaron Donald. He’s never earned half the headlines of a Khalil Mack, Von Miller, or J.J. Watt yet he’s gone to five Pro Bowls, been named All-Pro twice, and now at the age of 30, he’s playing better than ever.
It’s that last note that is going to put him over the top and, eventually, will draw the necessary discussion around his play. This year, Jordan turned 30 years old shortly before Saints training camp, just one month after signing a brand new three-year contract extension worth up to $52.5 million. The Saints knew firsthand how valuable Jordan can be and that size of a deal shows little-to-no worry on the franchise’s end that Jordan may hit some wall as an aging player.
Instead, he’s put up his best effort yet on this side of 30.
So far this season, Jordan has put up 14.5 sacks, 14 tackles for loss, 24 quarterback hits, and 52 total tackles. The sacks are a career-high, who now has 86 for his career, tied with Willie McGinest on the NFL’s all-time list at No. 57 (9th among active pass rushers), and there’s still one game to go in 2019.
Even if Jordan hits a minor wall and averages only 10 sacks in the next two years on this current contract, it will place him in the top 25 players in NFL history—tied with Trace Armstrong with 106. From there, he begins to climb among some very important names.
This is all conjecture of course, but it’s important to look at just how steady Jordan’s work has been as a pass rusher for the Saints. Ever since they selected him in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft, Jordan has rewarded the Big Easy with nearly unparalleled production as an iron man of a performer. Jordan has never missed a single game for the Saints—ever—and his sack totals over the last three years (13, 12, 14.5) show a player whose experience allows him to get the best of opponents.
Last year, Saints quarterback and future Hall of Famer Drew Brees remained entrenched in the Most Valuable Player conversation not only for his incredible stat line in 2018 but also because it felt like the right time to honor him for a body of work that had never once received the league’s MVP award. Jordan’s career feels somewhat similar—a longtime local hero in New Orleans who has yet to receive the national acclaim that he deserves.
Coming into this season, Pro Football Focus noted that Jordan’s overall grade was tied with Calais Campbell for third best defensive end in the NFL over that time. He was also ranked among the league’s best run defenders, showing how strong he is an all-around player and not just a situational rusher. Yet this year he’s eclipsed career totals and put up his best work yet.
Jordan’s ability to produce at such a high level has been especially important this season in a year where the Saints couldn’t rely on Brees’ heroics for much of the midseason due to an injury to his throwing hand. Brees missed five games yet the Saints won them all, including a road game at Seattle. The Saints forced seven turnovers in those five games and held four of those opponents to under 260 total yards in each game.
If Jordan were to decide to retire at season’s end for some reason and forgo the remaining two years on his current contract, he would undoubtedly find himself enshrined into the Saints Hall of Fame, a name to forever remember in the Big Easy alongside the likes of Rickey Jackson, Pat Swilling and Wayne Martin. For most players, even that would be a dream come true after a long productive career.
However, Jordan continues to elevate his game now that he’s into his thirties, and it’s clear he’s onto something about how to not only stay in shape but to remain as sharp as ever on the field. Once again, he’s sacking quarterbacks at an unprecedented rate and he’s doing so each and every week since Jordan never misses a game.
There’s much more evidence, at this point, weighing on the side of Jordan’s effectiveness lasting another 2-4 years than there is reason to believe he might hit some mythical wall. If he’s able to maintain this steady pace, we will be debating his Hall of Famer merits as one of the NFL’s underrated all-time greats.