I’ve been a staunch supporter of Chandler Jones since the beginning of his career. In the face of vocal opposition, I’ve stood by him and I’ve paid the political price. I’ve literally been shrieked at on the air by callers, shouted down on social media and been the subject of protests by cyberbullies on our text line who’ve double-clicked the shift button to tell us how much Jones “SUCKS!!!!” But I’ve stuck to my guns because he has been a solid and often spectacular defensive end. There are only three NFL players who’ve topped 200 tackles, 36 sacks and 10 forced fumbles since Jones came into the league in 2012: J.J. Watt, Ryan Kerrigan and him.
So on a scale of zero to the Lawyer Milloy trade, I’d say the surprise of the Patriots trading Jones on Tuesday for guard Jonathan Cooper and the Cardinals’ second-round pick was about a five. And yet, I love the trade. Not “like.” Love. Let me count the reasons why:
There was just no reasonable way the Pats were going to be able to sign Jones. If NFL GMs have been spending money like the proverbial drunken sailors this free agency period, then pass rushers have been their $10,000-a-night escorts. Oakland gave Bruce Irvin four years at $40 million, and Jones is appreciably better than he is. The Giants gave Olivier Vernon $85 million, with $52.5 million of that guaranteed. And he has seven fewer career sacks than Jones. It’s a seller’s market for edge rushers, and the prices are, to use the old cliche, innnsaaannne! The Patriots are too smart and disciplined to completely tip over their salary structure and make a defensive end by far the highest-paid player on the roster.
What’s the one area on this team every man, woman and child among us has said is the top priority this offseason? Don’t answer. I’ve got this. It’s protecting Tom Brady. By the time we got to the AFC championship game, he was taking so much abuse it looked like he had the title role in a Mel Gibson movie. Granted the offensive line had been decimated by that point. But we’ve learned the lesson that there’s no such thing as too much protection. (Note: that goes for on and off the field, Antonio Cromartie.)
3. The return on investment
I’m an educated man, but I’m afraid I can’t speak intelligently about the blocking habits of Jonathan Cooper. We do know he was the seventh overall pick in the draft three years ago. Nick Caserio confirms that the Patriots had him very highly rated on their board. Their track record on evaluating offensive line talent matches up with anyone’s. And while I’ll concede there’s some risk here because by all accounts it was a make-or-break year for Cooper in Arizona, there’s reward as well, and it’s not often you get a shot at guys with so much potential they were selected in the single digits. The second round pick speaks for itself, and it says, “Hello, New England. I’ve now given you four picks between the 6oth and 96th spots in the draft.”
I say again, I like Chandler Jones. But he is not irreplaceable. Jabaal Sheard proved he can give you a fair approximation of Jones’ performance, if not sometimes flash even more. They just added Chris Long, who, in the last four years he was healthy, averaged over 10 sacks a season. Add to that the fact they drafted Geneo Grissom and Trey Flowers in the third and early fourth rounds last year to doomsday prep for this very scenario. Not to mention the afterthoughts they’ve successfully coached up to good seasons, such as rush specialists Mark Anderson, Tully-Banta Cain and Andre Carter. Jones is a loss, no question. But not an insurmountable one.
1. In Bill We Trust
Sorry, but as a Patriots homer I’m morally and contractually obligated to say it. Also, it’s true.