On Tuesday, the Patriots traded a star pass-rusher in the prime of his career for a backup offensive lineman and second-round draft pick.
In Belichick We Trust.
New England shipped Chandler Jones to the Arizona Cardinals in exchange for offensive guard Jonathan Cooper and the No. 60 overall pick. Jones, 26, finished fifth in the league in sacks last season. Meanwhile, Cooper has only started 11 games over the last two years despite being selected No. 7 overall in the 2013 draft.
While most NFL teams spend the offseason trying to improve for the upcoming year, the Patriots are never afraid to take a temporary step back if it means increasing flexibility for the future. That’s precisely the case here.
Make no mistake: the Patriots are worse on paper without Jones. He wasn’t a perfect player—his habit of disappearing in games wasn’t really weighing in his favor—but he did lead the team with 12.5 sacks last year. The Patriots may have a lot of depth at defensive end, but subtracting a Pro Bowler from the mix hurts any team.
The reason the Patriots traded Jones likely comes down to money, given the $8 million he would have earned next year, and the pending need to re-sign linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins, defensive end Jabaal Sheard, and cornerback Malcolm Butler. But it’s also important to remember that Bill Belichick seldom pays a premium price for talent.
When most teams ship away star players because they don’t want to pay them, fan bases riot. But in New England, it’s embraced. The Patriots have been perennial Super Bowl contenders for 15 years largely because of Tom Brady’s quarterbacking prowess, but Belichick’s willingness to evolve is a close second. Throughout the years, Patriots fans have seen heralded veterans let go. Last year it was Darrelle Revis, two years ago it was Logan Mankins, and the year before that it was Wes Welker. Lawyer Milloy, Ty Law, Richard Seymour, and Asante Samuel have all been disposed of as well.
There’s little correlation between spending lavishly and winning in the NFL. Last season, for example, only four players who changed teams were selected to the Pro Bowl. We know that around here. Patriots fans view every decision the team makes from a calculated distance, just like Belichick.
With Brady turning 39 prior to the start of next season, conventional wisdom says the Pats should try to maximize their championship window. Nearly every single other team in football would try to load up for as long as Brady is playing at a Hall of Fame level.
But not the Patriots. Belichick is trying to extend the championship window, not augment it. There’s no guarantee trading Jones for an underachieving offensive guard and mid-second-round pick will do that, but that’s the philosophy we’ve learned to accept from the Pats.
Patriots fans feel they’re in on the secret, while everybody else scrambles to sign big names. Four Super Bowl rings and 13 division titles in 15 years is a hell of an argument.
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