The topic came up on last weekend’s Arizona Sports Saturday, as Jordan Byrd and I discussed the Chandler Jones-to-Arizona trade being ranked as the third-best move made this offseason by ESPN’s John Clayton.
In the piece, Clayton pointed to how it was good deal for the New England Patriots because they could not afford to keep Jones, while for the Cardinals, it was a no-brainer to send guard Jonathan Cooper and a second-round pick to the Pats.
They acquired Jones, an elite pass-rusher, for a second-round pick and Cooper, whose contract was expiring.
You’ll get little argument here, as Jones appears to be capable of shoring up the Cardinals’ biggest weakness. Last season, Arizona’s 36 sacks tied for 20th in the NFL, with Dwight Freeney’s eight leading the way. The Cardinals were able to apply adequate pressure by blitzing — often — and for the most part, experienced enough success.
But as everyone saw in the NFC Championship game loss to Carolina, when the blitz does not get home, the defense can be shredded.
That goes for any defense, mind you, not just Arizona’s. Because of that, the blitz is better served as a side dish than a main course. The less a team blitzes, the fewer opportunities there are to get burned.
Enter Jones, whose 12.5 sacks last season led the Patriots and earned him a spot in the Pro Bowl. If all goes according to plan, he will elevate Arizona’s pass rush to a point where defensive coordinator James Bettcher will call a blitz because he wants to, not because he has to, and thereby making the Cardinals’ defense one of the most feared units in all of football.
Pair that with Arizona’s already dynamic offense and you have the making of a Super Bowl champion, which is why while the Jones acquisition may be the third-biggest move this offseason, it is the No. 1 most exciting addition in Arizona Cardinals history.
This is not Edgerrin James, who was brought in to give the team a big name and maybe some credibility as it moved into a new stadium.
Jones is not Kevin Kolb, who the team paid a hefty price for in hopes he would be the young franchise quarterback the team so desperately needed.
He’s not a past-his-prime Emmitt Smith, who was signed to sell tickets, and he’s not a (presumed at the time) Kurt Warner. Jones will not remind anyone of Dexter Jackson or Duane Starks, who each parlayed big Super Bowl performances into sizeable contracts from the Cardinals.
In terms of buzz, the closest comparisons I can think of are when the team hired coaches Buddy Ryan and Dennis Green and back when it drafted Matt Leinart.
As we all know, those moves did not really work out.
The one common thread between all of those moves is that they were made during a time when the Cardinals were not particularly good and were searching for relevance. Big names were added in order to improve the perception of the team, and if wins followed, even better.
The trade for Jones is different. The Cardinals won 13 games last season and appeared in the NFC Championship Game. As of now they are rightfully viewed as one of the best teams in the NFL, one that could make its way to Super Bowl LI in Houston. Arizona did not need to acquire Jones to be relevant, nor are they hoping he will be the guy to turn their fortunes around.
No, the trade was made to make an already good team even better, and there’s no telling what kind of impact Jones, who is one of just three players in the NFL with at least 200 tackles, 36 sacks and 10 forced fumbles since 2012, will make. However, it’s fair to say the team’s defense will be better with him than without, and a better Arizona defense could be the catalyst for an even deeper playoff run.
Funny thing is, Jones does not even have to be great in order to be a monumental pickup; simply equaling his 2015 sack total would tie him for seventh in franchise history for most in a single season.
The Cardinals may be expecting even better from the 26-year-old, and on a defense with a talented secondary like Arizona’s along with other solid pass rushing options, he might very well deliver.
Jones was not brought in to make the Cardinals good or sell tickets; the team traded for him to get them over one last speed bump. It’s the kind of move the team has rarely been able to make, and one the franchise has never been able to pull off. Maybe it leads to the Super Bowl or maybe it doesn’t, but either way the Cardinals are closer now than they have ever been because he’s on the roster.
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