The New England Patriots have had a relatively quiet offseason so far. Other than releasing wide receiver Brandon LaFell and tight end Scott Chandler, the team did not make any major moves as the only other noteworthy development was the retirement of linebacker Jerod Mayo.
However, it all changed yesterday.
As you probably have heard by now, the Patriots traded Pro Bowl defensive end Chandler Jones to the Arizona Cardinals for a second round draft pick and offensive guard Jonathan Cooper. A few hours after the trade, the team announced the signing of free agent defensive end Chris Long.
While the moves and their consequences are still being analyzed, here are five follow-up thoughts that may have gotten lost in yesterday’s frenzy.
1) New England now has four top-100 draft selections.
The Patriots entered last week with only six draft picks. The team received four more when the NFL announced which teams received compensatory selections for their losses during the 2016 free agency. Among those picks was the second highest one awarded: pick number 96 near the end of the third round.
Because of yesterday’s trade, New England added yet another high draft pick, the 61st overall. This gives the Patriots four picks in the first 100 selections for the first time since 2013 and considerable draft capital to maneuver around the board.
2) The offensive guard position is still a question mark,…
Trading Chandler Jones to the Cardinals did not only yield a high draft pick, it also brought offensive guard Jonathan Cooper to New England. Cooper was a highly touted draft prospect out of North Carolina but failed to justify getting selected with the seventh overall pick in 2013. In his three years in Arizona, Cooper struggled with injuries and consistency and fell out of favor by the end of 2015.
In New England and under the tutelage of Dante Scarnecchia, the 26-year old will try to revive his career at a time the team needs to revive its interior offensive line. Cooper, who was one of the highest players on the Patriots’ board in 2013, could be a part of the solution but until the regular season is under way, we will not know for sure.
After all, the Patriots have invested two fourth round picks in Tre' Jackson and Shaq Mason last year, as well as a two-year contract extension in Josh Kline. Someone has to step up. Whether it is one of the returning players or Cooper remains to be seen – until then, the interior offensive line remains a major question mark on an otherwise talented roster.
3) …in part because we do not yet know where Cooper will line up.
Cooper was a left guard in college but switched sides in Arizona, which could have been another reason for his underwhelming performance. Therefore, a move back to the left side certainly would be intriguing given his athleticism and fluid moving skills.
Pairing Cooper with Shaq Mason, for instance, would give New England a fairly athletic pair of guards and a solid run-blocking interior. In the end, the question is where the three-year veteran is most comfortable – and which interior line combination is the best for the Patriots coaches to work with.
4) The defensive end rotation should be alive and well.
Chris Long is no Chandler Jones. He is an experienced player, though, who should be able to help the Patriots defense and the rotation it uses on its edges. With Jabaal Sheard and Rob Ninkovich the new starting duo, Long projects to be the number three option – the player used to take pressure off all layers of the defensive end depth chart.
For one, having a veteran like Long takes pressure to perform off young guys Geneo Grissom and Trey Flowers as the two grow into their respective roles on the team. It also takes pressure off Sheard and Ninkovich, who should be kept as fresh as possible throughout the year. Having Long as a reliable third option would do just that, as he should be able to substitute in without too big of a drop-off in production.
5) Chandler Jones has been a very good player for the Patriots.
Since the trade, numerous opinions about the defensive end have been voiced – not all of them good. Here is another, more positive one: Chandler Jones was a good draft pick and helped the Patriots both on and off the field. While his recent date with law enforcements prior to New England’s playoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs seems to be used to cast a shadow on his accomplishments and personality, it should not be taken as the sole representation of Jones: after all, he was a very good teammate by all accounts.
And, he was a very good player – at least at times. This inconsistency, paired with the ever-growing market value of edge rushers, was probably one of the main reasons why the Patriots were willing to trade the Pro Bowl defensive end. Once the chance presented itself, New England took it.
The fact that he was traded away, however, does not take away from another, more important one: Chandler Jones helped the Patriots defense immensely the last four years. He helped them reach and win a Super Bowl, and was a key member of the transformation process the unit went through after 2011. By all accounts, he was a successful draft pick.