In April 2015, the New England Patriots announced that they have picked up the fifth-year contract options of defenders Dont'a Hightower and Chandler Jones. Because of the move both players' 2016 salaries became fully guaranteed, meaning that the Patriots will have to pay Jones $7.8 million next year.
Given that the soon-to-be 26-year old Jones is one of the most valuable defenders on the team – good against both the pass and the run – and is coming off a Pro Bowl season, the Patriots front office seemingly has two options this offseason. The team could either let the defensive end play on his $7.8 million salary or extend him to possibly lower his 2016 cap hit.
But there is another, less obvious option: a trade.
At first glance, trading away a talented player in his prime looks like a ludicrous idea. However, there are two factors that make such a move seem like a realistic option: New England's positional depth and Jones' contract status.
Last offseason, the Patriots have signed free agent Jabaal Sheard, who is just nine months older than Jones. Sheard has had a very good first year in Foxboro and joined a positional rotation that included Jones, veteran Rob Ninkovich and youngsters Trey Flowers and Geneo Grissom. With a lot of talent and depth on the defensive edge, the Patriots could theoretically afford to trade Jones for (a) future draft pick(s) before his rookie deal is up.
Unless the Patriots and Jones' camp are able to agree to an extension in the upcoming months, this happens in March 2017 and Jones will enter unrestricted free agency. Given that the team has three other core defenders up for new contracts – linebackers Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins and cornerback Malcolm Butler – Jones might be the odd man out, especially if another team offers him a contract New England is uncomfortable matching.
With the possibility of the defensive end leaving via free agency anyway, why not try to maximize the financial resources available to keep Hightower, Collins and Butler while simultaneously getting one or more draft picks as compensation? The Patriots have to answer this question for themselves. However, before doing that, they need to keep a few other points in mind.
For one, the team and the player still have more than one year to reach a deal that satisfies both parties and is a fair representation of Jones' work both on and off the field. Even if the negotiations do not reach the desired result and Jones leaves in free agency, New England would get compensation for him; via the NFL's compensatory draft picks formula as high as a third round selection. Given that the defensive end is scheduled to enter free agency in 13 months, a team might not be inclined to give up a lot more at present.
Furthermore, moving Jones would considerably weaken the Patriots' defense, especially from a depth-perspective. Ninkovich and Sheard, whose contracts also expire after the 2016 season, are very good edge defenders but the depth options, while talented, lack experience. Therefore, keeping the defensive core intact for at least another year would arguably give the team the best chance to compete in the AFC next year.
Given all the points above, do you think the Patriots should trade Chandler Jones?