After 2017, Logan Ryan, Malcolm Butler, Rob Ninkovich, Jamie Collins, Dont'a Hightower and Chandler Jones are free agents, just to name a few. If the New England Patriots do not address some of these issues NOW, then next offseason is going to be a whole world of hurt for the defending Super Bowl Champions (It makes me feel better to still be able to say that, so back off).
Obviously the Patriots cannot keep all of their highly touted soon-to-be free agents, so the question needs to be asked: Who's the odd man out?
For Chandler Jones, the 2015 season was an up and down one. Early-to-mid season, he was the NFL leader in sacks and looked to be poised for another breakout season. However, he cooled off in a major way as the season progressed, finishing with 12.5 sacks and a measly 44 tackles. Jones has always been labeled as a player than can sack the quarterback, but not necessarily eat a running back up behind the line of scrimmage. Well, we sure as hell saw that this offseason.
With an injury history and recent off-the-field incident, and the fact that the Patriots now have to address their "Big Three" on defense (Jamie Collins, Dont'a Hightower, Chandler Jones), any logical person would think that Jones is the short man on the proverbial totem pole.
In 2015, Jones was payed $1.504,568 (cap hit of ~$2.6 million), and, while that number does not seem high, his 2016 payment skyrockets to $7.8 million.
With Hightower and Collins assured to be cashing in as soon as possible, the Patriots need to figure out what they are going to do with their talented, yet streaky, defensive end.
If they cannot hammer out a deal this offseason, my suggestion would be to trade him.
For the immediate future, this move would sting. You are taking away one of the more talented players on the defensive side of the football, and, because he only has one year left on his contract, the return will most likely be far from stellar. However, lanky pass rushers, like Chandler Jones, make an absurd amount of money on the open market.
Based on market projections, and according to the Boston Herald's Jeff Howe, a contract extension for Chandler Jones could be in the neighborhood of five years, $57.5 million, with $23 million guaranteed. With Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins slated to cash in on similar deals, the Patriots would have to dish out close to $150 million to keep these three guys. Not happening.
While it is great that the Pats are able to draft and develop an entire defensive squad into being a championship contender, they have proven that they won't shy away from trading top-tier players if the right opportunity presents itself.
In 2009, the Patriots traded away a member of the NFL All-2000s team in Richard Seymour for a first-round pick to Oakland, which eventually became Nate Solder. However, the Patriots shuffled a lot of their draft picks around that year because they had the extra first rounder and were also able to grab Shane Vereen, Dont'a Hightower and Chandler Jones. Not bad for an aging superstar, right? Over the next 4 seasons, Seymour would collect over $40 million from the Raiders.
Alternatively, Logan Mankins was traded away from the Patriots to the Buccaneers just last season for TE Tim Wright and a fourth-round draft pick. While Mankins was definitely on the Back Nine for his career, the six-time, seven after this season, Pro Bowler signed a six-year, $51 million deal with the Patriots back in 2010 that made him one of the highest paid players on the team. The team definitely could have used him this season, but they were given some serious salary cap relief after trading the big guy away to Tampa Bay.
If the Pats can't hammer out a team-frendly deal with Jones before the start of the season, don't be surprised if he is traded for draft picks or lesser-quality players in an effort to get his money of the books.
By Pete Packowski