Patriots and Cardinals Make Big Trade

While there have been many trade rumors this offseason, today was our first one where the Patriots sent star defensive end Chandler Jones to the Arizona Cardinals in exchange for a 2nd round pick and guard Jonathan Cooper.

While many are going to point to Jones’ off the field issues this past year, Jones’ fate with the Patriots was likely sealed when they saw the contracts come in for Malik Jackson and Olivier Vernon in free agency. Jackson landed a $14.25 million contract off a 5.5 sack season while Vernon, who was generally the second pass rusher in Miami, scored $17 million a year. If those players are worth that it means Jones is worth close to $20 million a year.

That’s generally not a winning formula in the NFL and the Patriots have always avoided the big money game with their players. The Patriots see more value into turning those players into future draft capital and/or decent upside/low risk talent. They got both  this year with a late 2nd rounder and Cooper, who has talent but has been inconsistent and injury prone. He also plays a far lower cost position if he does play well.  While the Patriots do hold an option for him in 2017 don’t expect them to exercise that option as its well over $10 million and right now hes a $3 million player.

From the Cardinals side this trade is very intriguing. I felt last year based on moves that the Cardinals made that they were “all in” generally bypassing some long term logic for possible short term gain. They are one of the most leveraged teams in the NFL when it comes to deferring cap charges, in part because of their use of voidable contract years in some of their veteran players contracts. This move certainly plays into the win now mentality.

But where things get interesting for Arizona at this point is what is the long term plan. Right now I have the Cardinals with just 27 players under contract in 2017, 3rd least in the NFL. They only have around $93 million committed to the salary cap, which ranks in the top third of the NFL, but the free agent list is massive.

The players include Tyrann Mathieu, Chandler Jones, Michael Floyd, Calais Campbell, and Larry Fitzgerald. Those are three grade A contracts at the top, a pretty strong one for Campbell, and another tough decision on Fitzgerald who has the team over a barrel with a huge salary cap charge of $9.7 million if they don’t extend him. QB Carson Palmer is under contract through 2017.

Does Arizona wait until the season is over to evaluate things and then decide if they should be like Denver and pick and choose who they want to retain or go the ways of the Seahawks and sign a large number of mega contract players and hope that they can find a long term quarterback to make it work. Or do they just make the moves now to lock these players up?  They can probably get more favorable terms by extending now, but if the team does poorly do they really want to be stuck with these players for the next three or four years?  It’s a real difficult decision.

As for the cap impact of this trade in 2016 the Cardinals will take on a net total of $5.41 million in cap charges, while the Patriots will save that same amount. Cooper will leave behind $2.24 million in dead money on the Cardinals cap.