When I first heard that Ellis Hobbs was traded to the Eagles and for "just" two 5th round picks, I was surprised. But looking at the deal more closely, it now seems to me that this trade makes even more sense and shows--yet again--why the Patriots are miles ahead of most other NFL teams when it comes to managing their roster.
It seems pretty clear now that the Patriots coaches don't see Hobbs figuring into their plans in 2009. Leigh Bodden and Shawn Springs were clearly signed to be starters at cornerback and the team seems to expect big things from second year men Terrance Wheatley and Jonathan Wilhite. When the Pats got the corner they apparently coveted in this year's draft, Darius Butler, there was just no room for Hobbs and his $2.54 million cap charge. With those five expected to handle the corners this year, Hobbs projected as a backup and a kick returner. And $2.54 mil is a little pricey for a backup corner, especially when there are others around to return kicks. So, exit Hobbs, to the Eagles for two 5th round picks which were swapped to Baltimore for the 4th rounder that became offensive lineman Rich Orhnberger.
But there is likely more behind the deal than simply a look at the depth chart and the economics of the salary cap. Hobbs was one of the many Patriots whose contract was up at the end of 2009. With so many other priorities to re-sign, the Patriots would not have been able to keep Hobbs and he would have gone to another team as a free agent.
This would have meant that New England would get a compensatory pick in the 2011 draft---but almost certainly not a 3rd rounder like they got for Asante Samuel. Probably, Hobbs would have fetched a 4th or, more likely, a 5th round compensatory pick.
So, here's what Bill Belichick did: figuring that Hobbs would no longer be a starter and was not a player New England had to have for 2009, and figuring that the Pats would lose Hobbs at the end of 2009 anyway, and figuring that they would likely get only a single 5th round compensatory pick--he traded him away for TWO 5th rounders which--unlike NFL-assigned compensatory picks--can be and were traded away. 2 > 1.
In essence. Belichick traded a player he didn't need and wouldn't be able to keep beyond 2009 for two 5th round picks instead of the single 5th round compensatory pick he wouldn't have gotten until 2011. Two draft picks are better than one, 2009 picks are better than a 2011 pick, and the draft choice that resulted from trading the 5th rounders is a solid interior offensive line product to be developed by the best offensive line coach in the league, Dante Scarnecchia.
Smart, smart, smart. And further proof that Belichick and the Patriots are just plain better at what they do than anybody else in the NFL.