What's that? Your best wide receiver is recovering from surgery and the quarterback you gambled your entire season on is struggling without him? You need a premium deep threat to stretch the field and allow your All-Pro running back more room to operate? Well we just so happen to have one in stock, and guess what? He's on sale.
Now that the dust has settled on the Randy Moss trade, it is time to consider how unique an opportunity his acquisition was for the Vikings. How often does a team get the chance to add the exact type of player they are missing after the season has already started?
Imagine if the Patriots had the same opportunity....
The Patriots biggest needs are currently on defense. Scoring points has not been a problem. Only the Chargers, Colts, Jets and Titans have put up more total points than the Patriots so far, and all of them have played an additional game. New England however has allowed an average of 24 points per game, and ranks near the bottom of the NFL in most defensive categories, including yards per game (29th), yards per play (30th), first downs per game (29th), third down percentage (32nd), and opponents TD percentage in the red zone (tied for 28th).
The run defense could use improvement as they are allowing an average of 112.2 rushing yards per game, with a 4.4 average per carry. This places them in the lower half of the NFL, but there are bright spots as well. New England's defense has only given up one rushing touchdown (Cedric Benson in Week 1), and allowed only one ground gain of over 20 yards (LaDainian Tomlinson for 31 yards in Week 2). Through the air the Patriots have given up 9 TDs, and are allowing an average of more than 272 passing yards per game. Opponents have completed 12 passes of 20 yards or more, with a long of 51 going to Jordan Shipley in Week 1.
This would suggest the problem is in the secondary, but the secondary and pass rush have to work together to prevent completions, and both are culpable. The Patriots have only 7 sacks thus far, with Gerard Warren's two sacks leading the way. The team has often called blitzes to help pressure the quarterback, and this has brought some success, but a more consistent pass rush using four players would be a huge boost. A top notch defensive end or outside linebacker could have this effect, but that pressure would be wasted without a secondary that can hold up too. Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty have seen a lot of playing time and performed well, especially considering their lack of experience. Brandon Meriweather and James Sanders have had their ups and downs, but the main problem has been at the right cornerback position where Darius Butler and Kyle Arrington have struggled. This leaves us with three possible positions to upgrade:
When Richard Seymour was in his prime he was able to generate a lot of push from the defensive end position, while still playing strong against the run. These players are rare, and Seymour himself became less effective toward the end of his time in New England. The loss of Ty Warren for the season was a big blow for the defensive line, yet veteran Gerard Warren has stepped up and done a nice job in replacement. Mike Wright has manned the other DE position. He is considered one of the better interior rushers on the team, but not especially stout against the run. Against the Dolphins the Patriots experimented with using Vince Wilfork at end and Mike Wright at nose tackle. This was somewhat successful, but not ideal. Gerard Warren, Vince Wilfork and a third lineman who can stop the run and is capable of fighting through blocks to get at the QB would be a huge boost to the team.
Rob Ninkovich, Tully Banta-Cain and Jermaine Cunningham have all manned this position with some success, but none of them are the complete package. Ninkovich struggles to set the edge in the rushing game, but has some pass rushing moves, and provided two clutch interceptions against Miami in Week 4. Cunningham is still learning the position, but has experience attacking the quarterback as well as dropping into coverage. He has shown the occasional ability to set the edge and has made a couple nice plays against the run, but needs to become more consistent. Banta-Cain is the best pass-rusher of the three and a decent run defender, but has not shown he can hold down the position for an entire game. Outside linebackers who have the quickness and agility to cover, the strength and technique to stop the run and the speed and finesse to get to the quarterback are few and far between. This type of player would allow the Patriots much more versatility in their blitzing schemes, and make opposing QBs get rid of the ball faster to avoid the outside pressure.
Imagine what the New England defense would look like with Leigh Bodden. Last season he played with a physical style and allowed receivers little room to operate. He is a decent tackler, and came up with five interceptions. His presence in the lineup would have made Devin McCourty the cornerback that opponents targeted, allowing Darius Butler more time to develop his ball skills. McCourty and Bodden could have given the New England secondary a more physical approach, jamming receivers at the line and possibly limiting the number of long passing gains. A tough cornerback with the speed to stay with receivers and strong tackling skills would help the Patriots both against the pass and the run.
To replicate the Moss scenario we have to assume the player acquired would only be signed with the team through this season. Age is not a factor and since it is an uncapped year, salary would not be an issue. We will however take injuries into account because we are imagining adding this player before the October 19th trade deadline.
Defensive End: Justin Tuck
Since so few ideal 3-4 rushing defensive ends exist in the NFL, I decided to go with a player who has the diverse skills necessary to succeed even though experience in the system is lacking. Justin Tuck is a bit undersized for the role at 274 pounds, but his smarts and strength make up for it. He plays both DT and DE for the Giants, and is equally skilled at stopping the run and getting to the quarterback. Last season he had 59 tackles, six sacks (down from 12 in 2008), five forced fumbles and 8 passes defended. This year Tuck is tied for the NFL lead among defensive linemen with 32 tackles. In five games he has 4 sacks, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. Tuck’s presence would give the Patriots a more consistent upfield push, and draw attention away from other defenders. He may not be the ideal player for the position, but is smart enough to catch on quickly. Tuck could also play end in sub packages with Banta-Cain, Wilfork and Wright, or form a ‘jumbo’ package with G. Warren, Wilfork and Wright.
Outside Linebacker: DeMarcus Ware
In the Cowboys four games Ware already has six sacks to go along with five tackles for a loss and one pass defended. Last season he finished with 11 sacks, five forced fumbles and 6 passes defended. In 2008 he had 20 sacks and six forced fumbles. Ware has the size, strength and speed necessary. He is the total package. DeMarcus is capable of beating even the best offensive linemen off the edge, forcing most teams to provide help to his side. For the Patriots this would mean that Wilfork, G. Warren and Wright would face fewer double teams, allowing them to get to the quarterback easier. Since Ware is so fast, quarterbacks "hear the footsteps," and know they don’t have long to scan downfield before releasing the ball. This can cause poor decisions and bad throws, making the job of the secondary easier and possibly resulting in more interceptions.
Cornerback: Charles Woodson
Green Bay’s Charles Woodson was the Defensive Player of the Year last season with 74 tackles, 18 passes defended, nine interceptions, four forced fumbles, three touchdowns and two sacks. Already this year he has 34 tackles, 5 passes defended, one interception, two forced fumbles and a TD. Woodson plays with a physical mindset and is not afraid to sacrifice his body to make a play. He may not have high-end speed, but in his 13th season he has the experience to make up for it. He is a leader for the Packers, and his presence would bring confidence and attitude to a young Patriot defense that needs to learn how to play aggressively while still doing all the little things each position requires.
No cut-rate deals based on extenuating circumstances here. This is the ‘realistic’ amount of compensation required for the player.
Justin Tuck: Just 27, Tuck would probably command a first and second round pick, or possibly two first round picks. The Giants have a lot of defensive line talent, so that may lower the price slightly.
DeMarcus Ware: Ware is such a gifted athlete and rare find that he likely would require two first round picks, a second round pick and possibly a replacement player such as Cunningham or Banta-Cain. Even that may not be enough.
Charles Woodson: Since Woodson is 34, his price would be lower. However, he is such an important part of the Packers team that he would require at least a first round pick.
Who would be your dream mid-season acquisition for the Patriots? What would you be willing to give up for them?
I have more confidence in the front seven as a whole than Darius Butler and Kyle Arrington. Since it would only be for one season I would go with Charles Woodson. His fierce competitiveness, leadership, and knack for the big play would be the biggest asset to the team at the moment. Over the long term DeMarcus Ware is the player the Patriots would like to have most, but Woodson is battle-tested, and could help lead a playoff charge. Green Bay would never agree, and it would foolishly shortsighted, but I would offer a second round pick for his services the rest of the season.