No one sacks the quarterback more than Cardinals defensive end Chandler Jones.
That’s true both this year — when Jones is leading the league with 12.5 sacks — and over his four-year career with the Cardinals. Since 2016, when the Patriots sent Jones to Arizona, he has 53.5 sacks. That’s the best mark in the NFL over these last four seasons, followed by Aaron Donald with 47.5 and Von Miller with 43.
What’s interesting about Jones’ tenure with the Cardinals is that even though he’s been a phenomenal player for four years, the Patriots likely don’t regret the trade at all. New England has, of course, gone to the Super Bowl every year since trading Jones, and is a favorite to go again this year. And the Patriots have the best defense in the NFL this season, so it’s not like they miss Jones very much.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick has a long track record of moving on from players before they get too expensive, and it’s telling that he kept Jones around for four inexpensive years on his rookie contract and then traded him away before he was about to cost significantly more against the salary cap.
The Patriots got a second-round pick from the Cardinals for Jones, then traded that pick for two picks, which they used on Joe Thuney, who has started every game at guard since the day he arrived in New England, as well as Malcolm Mitchell, who struggled to stay healthy and is now out of the league. Belichick likes trading down and acquiring additional picks in part because he understands that’s how the draft works: Sometimes you get a reliable offensive lineman like Thuney at a low price, other times you get a guy like Mitchell whose career is cut short. You’ll never hit on all your draft picks, but the more picks you have, the more you’ll hit.
Similarly, you’ll never hit on all your free agents, but the more money you have to spend, the more likely you’ll get some good contributors. Belichick figured that it’s better to add a lot of players with the cap space it would have taken to keep Jones, who signed a five-year, $82 million contract with the Cardinals.
So Jones, for as a great a player as he’s been in Arizona, hasn’t been missed in New England. He’s been everything the Cardinals hoped he would be, and the trade worked out pretty much how the Patriots hoped it would as well.