It's not often in the NFL that you see a trade consummated that you can rightly call equitable. Usually one team pulls the wool over another's eyes, even if, at first blush, it doesn't really seem that way. But the deal the New England Patriots and Arizona Cardinals pulled off on Tuesday - a deal involving star Patriots defender Chandler Jones - looks to be a (mixed sports metaphors aside) homerun for both franchises.
Of course, you usually need a couple of years to know whether a trade was a net positive, hence the whole "at first blush" qualification, and with draft considerations headed back to New England and taking into account Jones' strange legal issues, that's doubly true here, but it looks from this vantage like the Patriots and Cardinals pulled off the rarest of NFL feats - a blockbuster trade that truly benefits both sides.
The deal, as reported, will see Jones headed to Arizona in exchange for offensive lineman Jonathan Cooper and a second-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Got all that? Great. Let's dive in.
What sticks out immediately for New England is that second-round pick. It wasn't all that long ago that they were stripped of their first-rounder as a result of the Deflategate mess, so Bill Belichick and Co. have seemingly gone on a mission to try and recoup that lost draft value via other, less traditional avenues.
As things stand today, the Patriots now have four picks in the top 100 selections of the 2016 NFL Draft - 60, 61, 91 and 96. All told, the Pats will head into the NFL's annual rookie meat market with 11 picks en tow. And while none of those picks come particularly early, that's plenty of ammo with which Belichick can do just about anything he wants come late April.
Fortunately, nabbing Cooper, a player who was looking likely at a move to center if he stuck around in Arizona, lessens the need for the Patriots to target offensive line in the draft or the remainder of the NFL's free agency period. Then again, considering his struggles in Arizona and his $11 million-plus contract option after next season, Cooper may not be much more than a throw-in.
Cooper, a former first-round pick like Jones, dealt with knee injuries in 2015. He missed two games in November and by the time he had returned, he had lost his starting job to veteran journeyman Ted Larsen.
When asked why Cooper, who brings so much talent and athleticism to the guard position, was essentially being Wally Pip'd by a limited guy like Larsen, Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians was blunt.
"Ted's playing better," Arians said at the time.
Already, talk had begun to mount that Cooper was likely for a move to center this offseason, but with his jump to New England, it remains to be seen what Belichick has in store for the former UNC product. Cooper's a guy they were said to "covet" as part of the deal, but there's no denying that he's been a disappointment thus far - in three NFL seasons, he has just nine starts to his name.
As for Jones, the crown jewel of the trade, the Patriots were simply faced with an impossible situation. With Jones, Jamie Collins, Jabaal Sheard, Dont'a Hightower and Malcolm Butler all in need of new contracts either after next season or shortly thereafter, someone was going to be left out in the cold.
Why not make it the guy who showed up shirtless and disheveled to a police station in Foxborough under strange, possibly synthetic marijuana-induced, circumstances and who also happens to be in the final year of his rookie deal?
Really, despite his off-field issues, Jones is a star, no if's, and's or but's about it. He's proven himself an elite playmaker, something which could very well become heightened by his joining a Cardinals defense that is annually among the best in the league.
Just last season, Jones collected 44 tackles, led the Patriots in sacks with 12.5 quarterback takedowns and added 4 forced fumbles and an interception to his production totals. Altogether, in four regular seasons in New England, Jones amassed 211 tackles, 36 sacks and 10 forced fumbles. In eight postseason contests, Jones added 18 tackles, 2 sacks and one forced fumble.
Jones, adept at playing with his hand in the dirt and from a two-point stance, will be a welcome and terrifying addition to the vaunted Cards "D," whether he slots in at defensive end with Calais Campbell and Cory Redding, or at linebacker with Lamarr Woodley and Markus Golden. But no matter where he winds up in Cardinals defensive coordinator James Bettcher's scheme, he'll surely help Arizona improve on their 36 sacks from a season ago, which was far and away the fewest of any team to reach the postseason dance.
As far as blockbuster NFL trade's good, this is a pretty darn good one. Watching the pieces take on now roles with their respective teams will be fun, as will revisiting this deal a couple of years down the line when Jones should be making big bucks as a feature piece in the Cards defense and Cooper will either be holding down the fort at one of the guard spots for a soon-to-retire Tom Brady or clinging to a fringe roster spot on NFL team No. 3, while that second-round pick works his way into the Patriots lineup.