Sorry for the extended absence folks, like the Patriots I was taking a little time off after a Super Bowl victory. But, as Bill Belichick says, No Days Off! So let’s jump back in…
There’s been a lot of hype over the past few weeks about the future, with free agency getting underway and the NFL Combine last week, but I’d like to start by revisiting this period last season. New England sent DE/LB Chandler Jones to the Arizona Cardinals in exchange for the Cardinals second round pick, 61st overall, and offensive lineman Jonathan Cooper. With two second round picks at their disposal, the Patriots then flipped their own pick over to the New Orleans Saints for their third and fourth round selections. With these picks the Patriots landed guard Joe Thuney and receiver Malcolm Mitchell. So when all was finished, the Patriots sent Chandler Jones away for Jonathan Cooper, Joe Thuney, and Malcolm Mitchell.
In a contract year, Jones more than earned his money. He started all 16 games for the Cardinals, and was the dominating force on their defensive line. He finished the season with 38 tackles, and his 11 sacks gave him double digits in that category for the second year in a row. He has proven himself to be one of the top defensive lineman in football, which is why he received the franchise tag from the Cardinals this offseason.
There’s not way to easily replace a player who is going to give you 10+ sacks in a season. To say that the Patriots definitely could have used Jones is an understatement. Chris Long, Rob Ninkovich, and Jabaal Sheard combined were only able to produce two more sacks than Jones on his own. However, the Patriots were pleasantly surprised by the emergence of Trey Flowers, who finished with 7 sacks, many of which came from the defensive tackle position. His productivity allowed New England to still have a viable pass rush even in the absence of Jones.
When the Patriots brought Jonathan Cooper in, it was pretty evident that he was going to be a reclamation project. The former first-round pick had been inconsistent in his time in Arizona and had never really found his groove. That continued here in New England after a foot injury kept him out through most of the preseason. He was cut before the season began.
Joe Thuney came in and started all 19 games the Patriots played this season. As a rookie, he certainly was not perfect. As Boston sports radio host Tony Massarotti loved to point out, Thuney was one of the most flagged offensive linemen in the NFL this season, with seven holding calls and three false starts. Now those numbers certainly aren’t attractive, but I can accept them from a third round rookie offensive lineman starting 19 games in a new position. Thuney showed incredible potential, particularly in screen blocking where he consistently had great blocks in the second level. While he certainly needs to develop and improve in some areas, like moving his feet in pass protection, the Patriots locked up their guard position for the future with Thuney.
Malcolm Mitchell was a very positive highlight for the Patriots 2016 season. The fourth round pick emerged as a consistent and reliable target for Tom Brady. He impressed with his route running ability, his ability to catch the ball in traffic, and his toughness. He finished the season with 32 catches for 401 yards and four touchdowns through 14 games. He also made major contributions in Super Bowl 51, catching six passes for 70 yards. While he can certainly expand his route tree and ability to beat press coverage, Mitchell will have a bright future in the Patriots offense.
With a trade such as this, it’s hard to define who “won” and who “lost”. The Cardinals received a stellar defensive lineman who can anchor their defense, while the Patriots received two impressive rookies with high ceilings. In reality both teams won in this deal. I would give the edge to the Patriots for three reasons. The first is that they were able to still find production from other players in Jones absence. The second is that they were able to replace Jones with not one, but two great rookies to build on in the future. The third reason is that New England was able to free up cap space for the future, and can now focus on paying their other defensive free agents like Dont’a Hightower, Alan Branch, and Malcolm Butler.
With one year in the books, the Patriots seemed to make the right decision to trade Chandler Jones.
Until next time- B$