Chandler Jones to the Arizona Cardinals in 2016
A move that is still paining the Patriots now, nearly seven years later, has to be when Chandler Jones was shockingly traded to the Arizona Cardinals in 2016.
As a mainstay of the defense, since he was drafted in 2012, Jones quickly skyrocketed to the top of the league as one of the best pass rushers in the game. In his first three seasons, he racked up 23.5 sacks, 46 quarterback hits, six forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries, with one ending in a touchdown.
Then came the 2015 season when he earned his first Pro Bowl honors.
It would be his best season in New England, recording 44 combined tackles, 18 quarterback hits, four forced fumbles, and 12.5 sacks. His presence on the field made all the difference for a Patriots team amid another dominating leg of their dynasty, making it all the more shocking he was traded in the following offseason.
Given the unexpected nature of the trade, most assumed it was a cost-saving move by Belichick, who had historically let players walk or traded them when he felt they were most valuable and could provide the biggest return.
But Jones wasn't due much money in 2016.
It was the last year of his rookie contract, and he was set to be paid $7.79 million. So why move on from a guy developing into a pillar of a stellar defense?
Apparently, it's the tale as old as time with the Patriots. According to speculation, Belichick had no intention of paying Jones once his contract was up. Because his production warranted a hefty payday after the 2016 season, the head coach moved him when he could for the most profitable return.
Additionally, Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower were also playing on the last year of their contracts, and they were considered priorities over the young defensive end. In Belichick's opinion, both players were more valuable to the team than Jones; therefore, he should be moved as opposed to either of them.
Fortunately for the Patriots, their defense didn't become a total dude after Jones was traded. However, they did struggle to find a consistently dominant pass rusher until signing Matthew Judon in 2021.
And it wasn't the most fun to watch Jones thrive elsewhere, earning three more Pro Bowl honors, leading the league in sacks with 17 in 2017, and of course, being the biggest contributor to the heartbreaking loss to the Raiders last season.