Cardinals' Jones brings veteran experience to reshaped WR room

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TEMPE, Ariz. -- When Arizona Cardinals receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. found out that his newest teammate, wide receiver Zay Jones, was 29 years old, it caught the rookie by surprise.

"You been in it for a minute," Jones recalled Harrison saying to him. "I was like, 'Yeah.' I was like, 'I used to watch your dad.'"

Now Jones, who signed a one-year deal with the Cardinals in May and is entering his eighth season, gets to be a mentor to the younger Harrison. Jones' age and experience will be a boon to both Harrison and the Cardinals' offense, which reshaped its receiving corps this offseason by signing three new receivers and drafting Harrison and Tejhaun Palmer.

While coach Jonathan Gannon believes that coaches should be the ones responsible for bringing along young players -- especially rookies -- he also likes having a veteran presence around to show the youth of the locker room the way.

"Anytime you add a smart vet that does things the way that you want them done as a team-first guy, that helps," Gannon said. "It kind of sets an example."

The Cardinals' wide receiver room looks different than it did in 2023, when its leading receiver was tight end Trey McBride (81 receptions for 825 yards). Former Arizona receivers Marquise Brown (51 catches for 574 yards) and Rondale Moore (40 receptions for 352 yards) are with the Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons, respectively. Arizona used the draft and free agency in hopes of improving its No. 30 ranking in yards per reception.

Jones is tied with Zach Pascal for the second-oldest receiver in the position group behind Chris Moore, 30, another veteran who also signed a one-year contract with Arizona this offseason. Jones, who visited the Tennessee Titans, Kansas City Chiefs and Dallas Cowboys in addition to the Cardinals in free agency, knows what it's like to have an older player share his advice and experience.

After he was drafted in the second round in 2017 by the Buffalo Bills, the likes of Jordan Matthews and Tyrod Taylor helped Jones through his rookie year, showering him with encouragement, love and help. Now, he's that guy to the next wave of receivers in the nascent phase of their careers.

"I love relationships with people," Jones said. "I've taken something or learned something from the majority of people that I've played with and it's been really special to me."

However, Jones' role with the Cardinals isn't just to be a mentor. He was signed to be an impact player for an offense that could be on the brink of breaking through.

Jones, who was traded from the Bills to the Las Vegas Raiders in October 2019 and then signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars in March 2022, set career highs with 82 catches and 823 yards during his first year with Jacksonville. He was limited to nine games in 2023 because of a PCL injury, cartilage issues on the femur in his right leg and a hamstring injury.

He told The Florida Times-Union he was "very" frustrated last season, describing it as a "speed bump" after never playing less than 15 games in a campaign before 2023. Jones, released by the Jaguars in April, spent this offseason "recalibrating and reloading and focusing on how I can prevent those things."

A healthy Jones could mean a productive Jones, as he proved in 2022. And there's no limit to where he can line up for the Cardinals, Gannon said.

"He's really a three-position guy," Gannon said. "He can play it all. He's smart enough to play all of it."

Jones called Gannon's description a compliment, adding that he has played inside and outside since he was a rookie.

Even though he's entering his eighth season, Jones doesn't view himself "anywhere close" to being an established player just yet. Prior to his successful 2022, his best campaign was his sophomore year in Buffalo, when he started 15 games for 56 catches, 652 yards and seven touchdowns.

"I think you have to have that mindset," he said. "I always want the mindset that I can get better."

He knows he has the quarterback to help get him there.

Jones is already impressed, on and off the field, with Kyler Murray after just a handful of practices. Jones quickly noticed Murray's presence.

"He seems like a great leader," Jones said. "Just has a way about himself that he carries himself that I admire."

Then there's what Jones has seen of Murray on the field. Even in walk-throughs, Jones could see what Murray has in his "arsenal."

"Just the way he spins it," Jones said. "He's got a beautiful touch of the football, just pretty off the hand and it's very catchable from what I can see so far.

"So, really excited to work with him and keep talking with him and even just learn from him and how he sees the game."