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The Cardale Jones Trade Is a Clear Win for the Los Angeles Chargers

Buffalo Bills v New York Jets Photo by Ed Mulholland/Getty Images

At a time when most first-year head coaches would be looking to ease their way into their first training camp with a new team, first year Los Angeles Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn was hard at work rocking the boat for his backup quarterbacks. Lynn’s week began with a moderate squall when the team hosted free agent Robert Griffin III for a workout on Tuesday and ultimately culminated with a complete capsizing with the acquisition of former Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones from Buffalo.

For those who don’t know, the Chargers traded a conditional seventh round pick in 2018 to Buffalo for their second-year signal caller. Jones is one of three quarterbacks competing for the backup quarterback job in training camp, joining Kellen Clemens and Mike Bercovici in pursuit of the right to backup Philip Rivers.

The question is: how do we evaluate the Jones trade? Did the team give up too much, or steal Jones? What kind of player is Cardale? And how does he fit this team in 2017 and beyond? We’re going to answer all those questions and more in this article by examining the trade, the philosophy, the player and the fit. Let’s get started…

The Trade

As mentioned above, the Chargers acquired Jones for a conditional 7th round pick in 2018. While it hasn’t been reported what that conditional pick will be based upon, it’s probably safe to assume it will at least partially be dependent on whether or not Jones earns a roster spot in camp. In other words, if Jones wins a spot, which likely means he beats out Kellen Clemens for the QB2 spot in LA, the Bills get a seventh round pick. If he fails to win a spot, the Bills likely get nothing in return.

Seems pretty fair, right? What if I told you Buffalo was likely to cut Jones this offseason? With Tyrod Taylor, 2017 fifth round pick Nathan Peterman and TJ Yates all in camp, as well as a new regime running things, Cardale was going to have a hard very hard time making the 53 in Buffalo, which means the Chargers traded a seventh round pick for a player the Bills probably didn’t want.

Does that change how we evaluate the terms of the trade? Some will point out the team could have waited for Jones to get cut, but there is no guarantee it would have played out that way. That’s why I would still argue a conditional seventh round pick is a small price to pay if it means getting a player the team has reportedly coveted all offseason in camp from the jump. Overall, I’d say the Bolts engineered a solid trade for a potential backup with a promising physical tool set, and that’s a hard point to argue.

Author’s Note: If you throw in the speculation that the RGIII workout was a ruse aimed at leveraging Buffalo into a deal, this may be a great example of the Chargers front office finally graduating from checkers to chess in terms of how they negotiated this deal.

The Philosophy

I think what makes this deal encouraging is the obvious philosophical shift it brought about. That shift, of course, is the shift from handing the backup quarterback job to Kellen Clemens to not only bringing in legitimate competition for Kellen but what appears to be using that roster spot to develop a potential replacement for Philip Rivers. I think you can also add to that the very noticeable influence Anthony Lynn has over personnel decisions, which seems to indicate a commitment to getting Lynn the players he thinks he needs in order to succeed.

By bringing in Cardale Jones they’ve demonstrated an openness, if not a commitment, to addressing what is a looming need in planning for life without Philip Rivers by using the backup quarterback position to at least try to develop a potential replacement. This not only means potentially replacing Clemens as the backup, which could make things a little less comfortable for Rivers based on the relationship the two have; but it means they’re trying to get two or three years ahead of their needs at the position.

Whether you believe Jones will some day replace Rivers or not (I’m not convinced he will), you have to applaud a sincere focus on the future without overreacting in the draft. Also not to be overlooked is the clear influence Lynn had over this move because it means the coaches and front office have a plan, which is probably the most encouraging aspect of this move and of Lynn’s first offseason as the head coach.

The Player

Cardale Jones is an NFL offensive coordinator’s wet dream from a physical standpoint. He possesses the ideal frame for an NFL quarterback (6’5”, 250), a freakishly strong arm (hence the nickname 12-gauge), and surprising athleticism and mobility for a man his size. His ability to create and extend plays with his legs is intriguing, even if it is inconsistent, and he has the look of a runaway freight train in the open field.

The concern lies in the fact that he is not yet the sum of his parts. Cardale struggles with his footwork, has a hard time making simple reads and tends to be befuddled by zone defenses, as evidenced by a general indecisiveness. While he has the arm to push the ball down the field, his accuracy and timing on underneath routes are a concern and he doesn’t throw on the move as well as you’d expect from someone with his athletic profile. In other words, 12-gauge will require a complete mechanical rebuild from the ground up.

In short, the Chargers have acquired a physically gifted 24-year old quarterback with limited starting experience who in need of major refinement. He's raw and has a long way (a really long way) to go, but he has the advantage of being able to go about his work with minimal expectations or pressure for at least the next two seasons. Forgive the cheesy pun, but the Chargers are trying to catch lightning in a cost-effective bottle as opposed to overreacting and reaching with an early draft pick - and I'm ok with that.

The Fit

Philip Rivers has three years left on his contract and is all but guaranteed to be a Charger through at least 2018, so, assuming Jones makes the roster, his immediate fit is strictly as a backup. While there is an outside chance the team could carry him as its QB3, I think the fact that they traded for him combined with his relationship with Anthony Lynn suggests he is at least a safe even-money bet to win the QB2 job out of camp provided he doesn’t fall completely flat in the preseason.

If he does make the roster, he needs to make it his mission to shadow Philip as much as possible on and off the field. He’ll have to live in the film room and commit himself to refining his footwork and mechanics. In the meantime, he gives the coaching staff options they would not have otherwise had with Kellen Clemens on the roster should Philip Rivers miss any time and the coaches may even design a specialty package or two for him just to get his feet wet.

Having said that, Cardale Jones is not a threat to Philip Rivers for at least the next two years because he simply isn’t ready and it’s hard to see that changing if we accept the fact that Rivers probably won’t get hurt and Jones won’t get many snaps in 2017. Thinking/suggesting otherwise is nothing short of ridiculous and anyone spreading that nonsense regardless of his relationship with Lynn should probably stop thinking altogether to avoid hurting themselves.

To sum things up, I think the Chargers made another in a surprisingly long line of smart personnel moves this offseason. They recognized that Philip is playing on borrowed time, identified Cardale Jones as someone of interest, and were decisive in acquiring him for pennies on the dollar. It was a smart, calculated, big picture move we aren't accustomed to seeing from this organization and I applaud it. While we don’t know if Cardale will develop into Philip Rivers’ replacement, we do know he gives the team a physically gifted, 24-year old option at a position at which they were set to roll with Kellen Clemens. That, ladies and gentlemen, is what I call winning.

Having said that, the real intrigue lies in how his presence on the roster affects the way in which the team evaluates the quarterback position over the next two years. Will they draft a QB in the next two years, or will his presence on the roster deter them from adding talent at the position, should the opportunity present its self? This move will likely serve as an excellent barometer for how Lynn and the front office evaluate what’s happening in-house, and I look forward to seeing how it unfolds.