This offseason, the New England Patriots sent away edge defender Chandler Jones to the Arizona Cardinals in exchange for offensive guard Jonathan Cooper and a 2016 2nd round pick.
Jones was entering the final season of his contract and the Patriots knew they wouldn’t be able to retain his services moving forward since so many other players on the roster needed contract extensions and the price tag for pass rushers were so great.
Cooper was a bust for the Cardinals and Arizona traded for Jones with a contract extension already envisioned; they didn’t have the same hesitation about Jones’ role in their future.
We’re now a quarter of our way through the 2016 season. How is this trade looking so far?
Jones "has been the team’s best pass-rusher this season and is grading better than he ever did in New England," per Pro Football Focus (PFF). He ranks as the NFL’s 8th best pass rusher per PFF’s ratings, and he has racked up 4 sacks, 5 tackles for loss, 7 quarterback hits, a forced fumble, and two fumble recoveries.
The Patriots pass rush has been inconsistent this year, although it is likely linked to circumstance (the Patriots weren’t all-out rushing Ryan Tannehill and Tyrod Taylor). Jabaal Sheard is slowly warming up after returning from his knee injury, while Chris Long has been trending in the other direction and seeing a reduced impact in each subsequent week. Trey Flowers has looked promising at times and Rob Ninkovich should join the rotation to reduce the snap load of Long to keep him fresher and more energetic.
Have the Patriots missed Jones’ presence? It’s undeniable that Jones has been more productive than any of the Patriots edge defenders. He has as many sacks and quarterback hits as Sheard and Long combined and he’s been solid against the run.
But Jones has always started hot, with 30.5 of his 40 career sacks coming in the first half of the season. His impact will be more important to monitor down the back-half of the season.
For the Patriots side of the trade, Cooper has done absolutely nothing for the Patriots as he’s recovered from a foot injury. It’s unlikely he has a starting job when he’s healthy as second year RG Shaq Mason is settling to the line-up.
The other starting guard has come from the 2nd round pick the Patriots acquired. The Patriots traded down from the Cardinals 2nd round pick and acquired a 3rd and a 4th, which were turned into LG Joe Thuney and WR Malcolm Mitchell.
Thuney is coming off the best game in his young career, per PFF, and he’s looking like a franchise left guard. Mitchell has also been clutch at wide receiver and should continue to add value as an outside target.
For me, the real question is whether the final season of Chandler Jones’ contract is worth the value from four years of Thuney and Mitchell, and one year of Cooper. The Patriots effectively traded one year of a franchise pass rusher for what appears to be the start of a career for a franchise left guard.
In retrospect, I’d make that trade all over again in a heartbeat, even after seeing Jones’ success with the Cardinals. The Patriots have a nice depth chart of pass rushers, but they’ve struggled to find an adequate starting guard- never mind a really good starting guard- since Logan Mankins. This trade fixed that weakness.
What do you think?