A quick look at the 2013 NFL Franchise Tag values will tell you a few things about the current state of football and how it has transitioned permanently into a pass driven league.
The top five valued tags (in millions) are quarterbacks at $14.642, followed by defensive ends at $10.984, cornerbacks at $10.668, wide receivers at $10.357, and offensive line at $9.660. Each of those position groups has a direct impact on the passing game.
A more in-depth look at the offensive line franchise tag reveals that left tackle is the highest paid position along the offensive line, being home to the six top paid linemen. Owners have placed a premium on players who have a direct effect on the passing game: The passer, the pass rusher, the receiver, the cover corner, and the player who has the ability to stop the pass rusher from disrupting the flow of the offense. These are the types of players that have the most value in today’s NFL.
Injuries have plagued the defense this season worse than in recent years, but the New England Patriots can thank 2012 first-round picks Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower for maintaining a high level of play. With Jerod Mayo out for the year due to a torn pectoral muscle, Hightower is now going to be calling the plays, which is no small task in a Belichick-style defense. While Hightower handles his new duties, Jones only needs to worry about continuing to do what he was drafted to do: get to the quarterback.
With 6.5 sacks through the first eight games, Jones is well on his way to a breakout season. On pace for the highest sack total in the Belichick era since Mike Vrabel finished the 2007 season with 12.5 sacks, he continues to earn respect throughout the league as a force off the edge.
The luxury of a pure pass rusher changes the way a defense can attack. Jones, who plays mainly at right defensive end, can attack the quarterback and collapse the pocket with good consistency. Nearly any NFL caliber quarterback can read a defense and make the right throw when sitting comfortably in the pocket.
For a defensive line that was built from the inside with Vince Wilfork as the anchor, things quickly changed. Jones must be expected to command respect on the outside to make life easier for rookie defensive tackles Chris Jones and Joe Vellano. At the midway point of the season Jones is showing how he can change a game through his presence alone.
In week eight against the division rival Miami Dolphins the defensive unit brought an attitude and energy that has been festering underneath the surface all season. In a game where Jones did not manage a sack, he did block a field goal. Just another example of the different ways he can change a game.
With a record of 6-2 and heading into the second half of an NFL season that is a physical and mental grind it is hard to define this Patriots team. In a way, that is comforting.