Chandler Jones will get his second crack at revenge against the team that originally drafted him when the Patriots host the Cardinals this season.
The New England Patriots under Bill Belichick have long made a habit of releasing or trading players they no longer deem valuable enough to retain — usually either for financial, age, or injury-related reasons.
It’s not that these players are no longer viewed as reliable or productive contributors — it’s just that Belichick determines “the juice is no longer worth the squeeze” with each of them for whatever reason.
Notable examples from the past include Mike Vrabel, Richard Seymour, Lawyer Milloy, Wes Welker, and — many might argue — Tom Brady.
Chandler Jones certainly falls under this category of player as well.
Selected by New England in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft, Jones was immediately productive for the Pats. He had six sacks, three forced fumbles, and 45 combined tackles — eight that went for a loss — as a rookie.
In his second season, Jones set a career high that still stands today in combined tackles with 79. He also had 11.5 sacks, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, and a defensive touchdown.
His production dipped a bit in his third season (2014) as Jones played in just 10 games that year, but he had another strong finish during his fourth season with the team in 2015. Jones’ 12.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, and one interception were enough to merit him Pro Bowl honors that year.
All told, Jones racked up 211 tackles, 36 sacks, 10 forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, one interception, and one defensive touchdown across his first four seasons with the Patriots. Any way you slice it, those are phenomenal numbers.
So phenomenal, in fact, that they probably priced Jones out of Belichick’s spending range.
Notoriously frugal, the New England head coach could’ve kept Jones one more season on the fifth year of his rookie deal, but he presumably saw the writing on the wall and decided to capitalize on Jones’ trade value at that time and recoup as much as he could get while he still could — rather than seeing him depart for nothing in free agency a season later.
Of course, the Patriots got nothing from the player they acquired for Jones in their 2016 trade with the Arizona Cardinals: offensive guard Jonathan Cooper. Cooper suffered a foot injury during training camp and ultimately got released after Shaq Mason passed him on the depth chart and held onto the job.
New England also got a second-round pick in the trade that they later sent to New Orleans.
History tells us that the trade was a “win-win” for New England and Arizona in at least one sense.
The Patriots won the Super Bowl that same season without Jones (and two more since), so clearly, they didn’t need the productive edge rusher to bring more Lombardis back to Foxborough.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, have gotten double-digit sacks from Jones in all four seasons he’s been with the team. Jones hasn’t missed a game for Arizona yet, and he’s since earned two more Pro Bowls as well as two First-team All-Pro nods.
Jones didn’t have to wait long after his trade to Arizona to get a shot at taking it to his former team. In his first game as a Cardinal, Arizona hosted New England during Week 1 of the 2016 season.
With Jimmy Garoppolo the starter in a narrow, thrilling 23-21 road win for the Patriots during Tom Brady’s Deflategate suspension, Jones had five tackles, one sack, and one fumble recovery in the game. He also led his new team in QB hits with two smacks on Jimmy G.
Chandler Jones will face the Patriots in New England this time around
Four years later, the Cards and Patriots will meet once again, this time in New England during Week 12 of the 2020 regular season.
Jones, still only 30 years old but with eight highly-productive seasons under his belt now, will get another chance to show Belichick and the Patriots in person that they made a huge mistake in letting him go … even if he understands the reasoning behind his trade and harbors no ill will against his old team.
And honestly, as much as the Pats haven’t needed Jones to be successful since 2016, it’s hard to pretend they didn’t make a mistake in trading him away all the same.
New England has let the likes of Richard Seymour, Trey Flowers, and other sack artists walk out the door in the past because they prioritize scheming defensive pressure through creative play packages over individual talent at the edge position.
That’s all fine and good, but Jones is on another level. He had a legitimate argument last season to be considered the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year.
While the honor ultimately went to New England’s own Stephon Gilmore (who was very deserving in his own right), Jones certainly deserved to be the runner-up — and he was — after logging 19 sacks, eight forced fumbles, three fumbles recoveries, and five passes defended during the year (all career highs).
Especially after the Patriots lost Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins in free agency this season — the two players who accounted for nearly a third of New England’s total sacks in 2019 — it would have been nice to still have a guy like Chandler Jones on the roster.
We’ll have to wait and see just what kind of game Jones has against the Patriots offensive line and second-year quarterback Jarrett Stidham later this year.