The Patriots and Cardinals pulled off a blockbuster trade on Tuesday, with New England sending pass rusher Chandler Jones to the desert in exchange for Arizona's second-round pick and guard Jonathan Cooper. The trade drew varied reactions and snap judgments on who "won" the deal, but the more you study it, this transaction looks like a fair shake for both sides.
For the Cardinals, the benefits come immediately with the potential to put them on top of the standings in the NFC West again this season.
Jones is a dynamic and versatile athlete that grabbed a career-high 12.5 sacks in 2015, and provides Arizona something they'd been actively looking to add -- a pure pass rusher. The Cardinals had previously been linked in free agency to Jason Pierre-Paul, William Hayes, Mario Williams, Tamba Hali and Bruce Irvin, losing out on all of them, so they looked to the trade market to fill a need.
Arizona has had a top defense for a few years now but a truly dangerous pass rusher has been missing from their repertoire. Last year, their top pass rusher was 36-year-old Dwight Freeney, who grabbed eight sacks in just 11 games, but they reached the NFC Championship last year with just 36 sacks (20th in the NFL).
Instead, they rely on exotic and multiple blitz packages from a variety of angles to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks. As ESPN's Bill Barnwell so aptly put it, Arizona has "spent years manufacturing their pass rush out of spare parts and heavy blitz packages," sending five or more "on 46.1 percent of opposing dropbacks, a staggeringly high number given that the second-place Titans are only at 40.3 percent (and the league average is just 34.6 percent)."
Arizona may still lead the league in blitzing in 2016 -- it's part of their identity to take chances, the whole Bruce Arians "no risk it, no biscuit" motto -- but with Jones in the mix they won't have to work so hard to manufacture that pass rush. It's a huge boost, it's flexibility. It may help turn an already very good defense into an elite defense.
That's huge for a team whose championship window may be limited to the next couple of seasons. Carson Palmer is 36, Larry Fitzgerald is coming off a huge year but is no spring chicken and Arizona will soon have the good problem of having to lock up a bunch of their core talent like Tyrann Mathieu and John Brown, among others. The addition also comes at an opportune time for Arizona as a couple of their division rivals scramble to figure out how to protect their quarterbacks.
The Seahawks don't currently have a presumptive starting left tackle on their roster as Russell Okung explores free agency, and if they can't get a deal done there, Seattle may face the specter of protecting Russell Wilson with a rookie or retread veteran. Seattle was Pro Football Focus' 30th-ranked offensive line in 2015.
Same could be said for the Rams. Per Pro Football Focus, left tackle Greg Robinson ranked 74th out of 76 NFL tackles with a -26.6 cumulative pass-blocking grade last season, not exactly what they were looking for from the Auburn product.
It's not just Robinson -- PFF listed the Rams' starting offensive line as 28th-worst on the year -- but the former second overall pick was their "dud" of the group.
"Another year like this one," according to PFF, "and Greg Robinson will be well on the way to bust status. It's not just the penalties causing problems -- it's the consistent amount of pressure he's allowing."
Chandler Jones should be licking his chops.
It may be a short-term Band-Aid and the Cardinals do lose that second-round pick in May, but if Jones goes off for another 10-plus-sack season, it will be a worthwhile price. Plus, if Jones plays well and ends up leaving with a lucrative contract elsewhere, Arizona will get a third-round comp pick in 2017. Even if Jones is a one-year rental, in other words, it comes at a pretty reasonable price.
A New England trademark
The Patriots get some much-needed cap relief by dealing Jones, and they picked up another second-round pick this year. They also get Cooper, the seventh overall pick in 2013. He's an athletic guard whose development has been badly stunted by injuries thus far in his career.
Things never worked out for him in Arizona. He lost his rookie season to a broken leg in the third preseason game. He underperformed when he returned, so a change of scenery may help. New England loses Chandler a year earlier than they were due to (they most likely wouldn't have been able to keep him when he hits free agency next offseason), and instead of fetching a probable third-round compensatory pick in 2017, they get a second-rounder this year.
New England, without a first-round pick this year because of DeflateGate, now has the 60th and 61st picks in the second round.
The Patriots may have to wait a little while for this deal to pay dividends, but that's exactly what this is, a forward-thinking move that might sting at first but will help them down the road, something of a trademark under Bill Belichick.
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There's risk in every trade, and Jones comes with risks off the field as well -- but on the surface, this looks like a win-win trade for both sides. The Patriots' depth at the position means look like they'll be fine without him this year, and down the road it will pay dividends. Arizona loses the long-term benefit a 2016 second-round pick would give them (diluting that by pushing it out into 2017 with a potential comp pick), but in the short term, they pick up an explosive athlete that has the potential to be a disruptive menace to opposing quarterbacks, particularly in their division.
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