Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Patriots Deal Jones To Cards, Shed Cap Dollars, Late-Season Slumps

Chandler Jones has 36 sacks in 55 career games.

That's quite a feat these days, what with the National Football League playing in an era where offensive tackles are athletic and violent and can usually match good defensive ends punch for punch in the trenches, so what Jones was able to accomplish through the first four years of his career was nothing if not impressive.

But stats are so very deceiving. 36 sacks in 55 games is nothing to sneeze at, yet pro Football Focus rated him as the 25th best pass rusher in his rookie year, 70th in an injury-marred sophomore campaign, 29th in 2014 and just 40th last season despite receiving his first Pro Bowl nod. How could they have rated him so low?

The answer may lie in how he performed in the most tense of moments - late-season contests and in the playoffs - where the best of the best rise to the occasion.

It's called being clutch, coming up with the big play in the critical situation and in football, where clutch means being in the right place at the most opportune of moments, Jones has lousy timing.

Chandler Jones was traded to the Arizona Cardinals on Tuesday afternoon, and the reaction from the fan base was predictably terse, because most of what they see are those numbers 36 in 55, but a trip inside those numbers tells a story of how Jones disappeared off the face of the map in the most critical of times.

Jones started his career on the fast track, gathering up six sacks in the first eight games of his rookie season, only to get shut out of the final eight games of the regular season and both Patriots' playoff games.

2013 started out just as promising with 8.5 sacks in nine games, only to hit paydirt three more times that season. 2014 was a tough year for Jones as he played only 10 games - gathering 4.5 sacks in seven games before a hip injury kept him out of the next seven games, only to see 1.5 sacks in the final three regular season games, but did manage a sack against Seattle in the Super Bowl.

Last season was his best, though, as he raced out to the league lead with 10.5 sacks in his first nine games, then fell off a cliff in collecting just two more for the team down the stretch. For those keeping score, that means that Jones generated 29.5 sacks combined in the first halves of each of his four seasons of professional football, and only 6.5 in the second halves of those seasons. Combined.

Playoffs? In nine career playoff games, Jones has two sacks.

Now, this is not meant to disparage the legacy of Chandler Jones. He is a phenominal athlete and one of the best pure pass rushers in the game, statistically speaking - but that's all he is, and that's all Arizona gets and, fortunately for them, that's all they need out of Jones.

Jones goes from New England's 4-2-5 Big Nickle alignment to Arizona's traditional 3-4, where he is already listed as weakside linebacker on the Cardinals' depth chart, and all they will want him to do is to get after the quarterback - and probably just on pure passing downs as they attempt to break his habit of wearing down late in the season by not asking him to set the edge in the running game, something he is loathe to do in the first place.

No? When Jones is manning the weak side edge on running downs, the opponent is rushing for well over five yards per carry, while those numbers drop significantly for those same teams when they rush up the middle (3.4 ypc) and to the strong side (3.2ypc).

Look, Jones is a pure pass rusher, and that's what the Cardinals will focus him on. They found a way to make Dwight Freeny look like his old disruptive self last season, so perhaps with the way that Bruce Ariens' defense attacks in layers, Jones could have a huge year.

I hope so. We all hope so. Jones is well liked and forever a part of Patriots' lore, but he is gone and all that head ball coach Bill Belichick is left with is $5.5 Million in liquid cap space and a solid gold second round draft picks that could end up being the talisman for Trader Bill to move up the draft board and pick up an elite targeted athlete in an area of true need...

...and we're talking having the ability to move up to the top of the second round, where there is sure to be first round talent still on the board - say someone like a Derrick Henry, or a Will Fuller or a Noah Spence may still be in draft limbo.

Or they could just keep the draft picks as they are and go heavy in the middle rounds where the true value in any Belichick draft lies, as the Patriots now hold two picks in the second round, two in the third round, one fourth rounder, two sixth and two seventh rounders.

An example of how important this draft pick is lies in our own mock draft. At number 60 overall, we had the Patriots selecting Oklahoma wide receiver Sterling Shepard, then not picking again until the end of the third round where we projected them to take a running back (Jonathan Williams) and a linebacker (Scooby Wright) - but the additional second rounder changes things a bit in that names like Missouri linebacker Kentrell Brothers and Texas Tech offensive tackle Le'Raven Clark figure to still be available.

Not to mention that part of the Jones-to-Arizona deal involves the Patriots receiving a former top 10 draft selection of the Cardinals in offensive guard Jonathan Cooper, who has all of the physical tools to be an elite drive blocking load, but has been a colossal bust thus far in his time in the NFL. If a change of scenery turns out to be just what the doctor order for Cooper to realize his potential in New England, then the Patriots certainly got the best of this deal.

But that is what is known as future earnings. Right now all anyone needs to know is that Chandler Jones is gone, replaced on the roster by a tenured veteran who is looking for a ring in the twilight of his career, and that Belichick has five million additional dollars to work with along with much coveted high draft capital.

And if anyone can make those kinds of circumstances work, it is surely the Dark Master...

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