GLENDALE, Ariz. – If Chandler Jones was going to leave New England, there were a lot worse spots the talented pass rusher could’ve landed than with the rising Arizona Cardinals.
And Jones made sure his old boss, Patriots coach Bill Belichick, was aware of his appreciation shortly after the trade went down in March.
“I didn’t get a chance to speak to him (the day of the trade) – he was on a flight or something,” Jones told USA TODAY Sports on Wednesday. “But I called him the next day and said, ‘Hey, you could’ve traded me to any other team, so thank you for not trading me to a crappy team.’”
Jones said he actually used a more vulgar word than “crappy” – he was cleaning things up for print – but the message was the same.
“He laughed,” Jones said of Belichick, who in return received guard Jonathan Cooper and a second-round draft pick, later turned into a third-rounder (used on guard Joe Thuney) and a fourth (receiver Malcolm Mitchell).
Jones, 26, was entering the option year of his rookie contract, which he says he believed was a primary factor in the Patriots’ decision to deal him – not a strange incident in January in which Jones showed up shirtless to a police station seeking help. (The Boston Globe reported at the time he had a bad reaction to synthetic marijuana; Jones apologized then but offered no details.)
“They’re not known for really paying guys over there,” Jones said of the Patriots, who have more tough decisions ahead as several good players come up for second contracts. “There were rumors going around that I might be traded, but you never really read too much into rumors. When it happened, it was just a tad shocking. But I packed my bags and moved on.”
The Cardinals host the Patriots in a nationally televised season opener on Sunday, Sept. 11.
Two weeks into camp, the Patriots find themselves particularly thin up front after veteran Rob Ninkovich suffered a torn triceps that has his availability in doubt for the start of the regular season. (Jones, who considers Ninkovich a good friend, said he texted his former teammate to say he was praying for him.)
Meanwhile, the Cardinals are banking on Jones – who had a career-high 12 ½ sacks in 2015, bringing his four-year total to 36 – to upgrade a pass rush that ranked 20th in the NFL last season in sacks (36) on a team with high hopes after last year’s trip to the NFC title game.
After playing all over the line in New England, Jones is working as “a true outside linebacker” in the Cardinals’ scheme, and he said he considers the focus on one spot advantageous. He’s due about $7.8 million this season, and there’s a lot more money waiting for him in Arizona or someplace else if he performs well.
“Back of my head, yes, it’s my contract year, it’s my fifth season, on my fifth-year exercised option,” Jones said. “But I feel like if you get too much into that, that’s when you start worrying about, ‘Oh, I need this many sacks, I’ve got to do this, I’ve got to do that.’
“I really don’t have a lot of personal goals. I’m going to approach this year like another year, trying to do better, trying to be a better Chandler Jones, and I’ll let everything else take care of itself.”