I’m a sucker for a great "wow" trade. You know, a swap that forces you to simply yell "Wow!" upon hearing the news.
The Patriots and Cardinals just swung a good old-fashioned "wow" trade, one that can truly be described as a win for everyone involved. Chandler Jones was shipped from New England to Arizona in exchange for interior offensive lineman Jonathan Cooper and a second-round pick in this year’s draft.
It’s a "wow" not just because of the pieces involved, but also the big-picture effect. We are talking about two of the best organizations in the NFL today. In fact, these are my two way-too-early favorites to hit Super Bowl LI next February.
That statement isn’t made for shock, awe, hyperbole, hot takeage or, well, the wow factor in the wake of a significant deal. That’s how I felt heading into the offseason — literally, like directly following Super Bowl 50. On a special Super Bowl Sunday edition of my CBS Sports Network show, "Time To Schein," I predicted an Arizona-New England showdown in Super Bowl LI.
And now? Wow!
Jones getting traded from the Patriots is a huge deal. He’s one of the best pass rushers in the sport. He’s the marquee topper in this trade, the guy who invokes the initial "wow" reaction. You don’t typically see defensive stars in their prime get shipped. This 26-year-old’s going to be dynamite in Arizona. Jones sacked the quarterback 12.5 times in 15 regular-season games last season, and added another takedown in the Divisional Round win over Kansas City. He will join Pro Bowler Calais Campbell to form a sensational 1-2 punch on the Cardinals’ defensive line. I bet Jones eclipses 12.5 sacks this year — he’s that good. Bruce Arians is going to love him. It was a genius move by GM Steve Keim.
The Cardinals really broke through in 2015, notching 13 wins in the regular season and a thrilling playoff victory over the Packers. But the campaign ended with a thud: Arizona was blown out by Carolina in the NFC Championship Game. Shortly after that contest, Keim did a radio spot on Arizona Sports 98.7. Asked about the team’s top offseason priority, the GM immediately responded: "Create a pass rush." Yes, Arizona finished 20th in the NFL with 36 sacks — and many of those were manufactured via the blitz. Keim didn’t look to address the issue — which could mean the difference between Arizona being in contention and in the Super Bowl — by taking a flier or drafting an unproven prospect. He got a bona fide star. Jones, who apologized in January for making a "stupid mistake" in an incident where he ended up hospitalized for a bad reaction to synthetic marijuana, is entering a contract year. He will be highly motivated to prove his worth in 2016. You know he saw what Olivier Vernon just made on the open market.
Arizona’s sack leader last season? Dwight Freeney, who utilized his legendary swim move to record eight sacks in 11 games. That was a fruitful veteran signing by Keim, but Freeney’s long in the tooth and is hardly a lock to even be in the league this year. This trade is how you upgrade a team. This is why Keim is fantastic. This is why the Keim/Arians combo is the best GM/coach duo in the NFL.
Keim has told me before on my SiriusXM Radio show, "Schein On Sports," that he’ll only view a season as a success when the Cardinals win a title. They are going for it. This Cardinals defense is going to be nasty. Arizona has great talent on offense, too, but core pieces Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald aren’t getting younger. The time is now. Keim and Co. know it.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the trade …
Jonathan Cooper’s Arizona tenure got off to a rough start, with a broken leg that caused the No. 7 overall pick to miss his entire rookie campaign in 2013. Then he went from left guard to right guard to left out of the rotation. It felt like Cooper could really benefit from just getting a change of scenery.
Enter Bill Belichick.
What was the Patriots’ weakness this past season? The offensive line, of course. Denver completely exposed the unit in the AFC title game, hitting Tom Brady a whopping 16 times. Heck, Miami battered the QB in Week 17. That was the game that really cost the Pats a trip to the Super Bowl because it cost them home-field advantage.
And now, with the great Dante Scarnecchia back out of retirement to coach New England’s O-line once again, this gives Cooper a great chance to maximize his potential. It’s an intelligent flier: Cooper provides raw talent at a major area of need for New England.
And let’s not forget about that high-value draft pick that also came New England’s way in the deal.
The Patriots — who lost their first-round pick in the fallout of "Deflategate," a punishment I have vehemently disagreed with from the outset — now hold back-to-back second-rounders, pick Nos. 60 and 61. Will they trade up and grab a stud offensive tackle? Address the back end of the defense? Trade back? There are options. And this complete team, built around one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, is going to be locked and loaded, again.
New England is back in business.
And while Jones was a stud for the Patriots, the business of football — combined with the O-line need and the (unfair) draft-pick forfeiture — necessitated a move. Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins, two other defensive stars, are both entering a contract year. Also, shutdown corner Malcolm Butler will be a restricted free agent in 2017. You can’t re-sign everyone.
After trading Jones, Belichick immediately signed veteran Chris Long to play end. I love the fit. Long is smart, versatile and tough — a football junkie who, when healthy, is an excellent player. He’s a good bet to bounce back after two injury-plagued seasons.
To top it off, Belichick followed this deal up by trading for the talented — albeit mouthy — Martellus Bennett, who will team with Gronk at tight end. That duo will give opposing defensive coordinators mismatch nightmares. I also liked the signing of former first-round pick Shea McClellin.
The Patriots are the Patriots. They kinda know what they’re doing.
Tom Brady is now signed through 2019. He’s winning at least one more Super Bowl. At least!
All in all, this was a genius move by Keim and Belichick. This is what they do.
And it’s hardly far-fetched to think both will be smiling when they face off in Houston next February.
Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.