In a surprising move, the New England Patriots have traded running back Laurence Maroney and their 2011 6th round pick to the Denver Broncos for their 2011 4th round draft selection. The news was first reported by Adam Schefter of ESPN.
Laurence Maroney was the 21st selection in the 2006 NFL draft. His rookie season, he split time with the now-retired Corey Dillon. At times Maroney looked brilliant, on the way to 745 yards and six touchdowns on a 4.3 yards per carry average. In 2007, Maroney continued to show flashes of brilliance, racking up 835 yards and six touchdowns on 4.5 yards per carry in 13 games. In the post-season, Maroney ran for 280 yards including touchdowns in all three games. Primed to have a breakout season in 2008, Maroney just couldn't stay healthy. He played only three games before landing on injured reserve with a shoulder injury. In 2009, just when most Patriots fans thought Maroney was done, he capitalized on an injury to starter Fred Taylor by rushing for 636 yards and nine touchdowns over an eight game stretch. He finally got rid of his "dancing" issue, and was hitting the whole with a previously unseen tenacity. However, a fumbling issue ultimately cost him playing time down the stretch, despite remaining healthy the entire season.
The problem with Maroney was that he was never able to put it all together. Early in his career, it was the injury issue. He could never stay on the field long enough to be an every-down, every-game back. Then there was the "dancing issue." Maroney would often get in trouble by not hitting the hole on running plays. He would often "dance" in the backfield, and not picking his lanes. When he finally solved these two issues in 2009, he began fumbling the ball at key areas and at key times in games. Suddenly, despite his hard work ethic, Maroney was back in Bill Belichick's dog house.
But did the Patriots make the best possible move by trading Maroney?
To answer that question, you have to look at the Patriots' running backs with two things in mind: the current state of the group and the future.
Full analysis of the trade after the jump!
Currently, the Patriots have Fred Taylor, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Sammy Morris, and Kevin Faulk at running back. Fred Taylor is the team's starter. In limited opportunities last year, Taylor played relatively well. In 2010, he seems to have a renewed energy. Taylor rushed for 71 yards on 14 carries in the opener, and also looked solid in the preseason. However, with Taylor, it's important to point out that the veteran played in only six games last season, and hasn't played a full 16 since 2003. 2003. It's not unreasonable to think that the 34-year-old Taylor may miss a game or two this season.
That being said, what do the Patriots have behind Taylor? First up, the Patriots have another 34 year old back in veteran Kevin Faulk. Faulk is one of the most talented and most reliable 3rd down backs in the league, but an every down back he is not. Therefore, the Maroney trade has little effect on Faulk's status with the team. There's also the 33 year old Sammy Morris. While Morris can handle the every-down load in a pinch, the Patriots may use him more as a fullback this season. Either way, like Taylor, Morris has struggled to stay healthy as of late, missing 17 games in his first three years with the Patriots. With all of this said, the traditional "back-up" role will go to third year back BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Green-Ellis essentially takes Maroney's role. While I've made it clear that Green-Ellis is one of my favorite Patriots, there's no question that Laurence Maroney is the more talented back.
Overall, I don't want to say that the Patriots are worse off without Laurence Maroney. I would just say that the depth of the running backs, considering the group's age, is much thinner without Maroney. Therefore, in the short term, this move certainly does not help the Patriots.
Looking towards the future, however, this trade does seem like a good one. The thing to consider with this group is that no matter how well it performs, the Patriots are likely going to be rebuilding their running back corps. Every back currently on the roster will be a free agent in 2011. BenJarvus Green-Ellis will be a restricted free agent, and has a good chance at returning. However, it is unlikely he will be the starter for the Patriots. I also expect Faulk to be back, although at some point, even though he seemingly gets better with age, Faulk will have to retire. Sammy Morris and Fred Taylor are more likely to leave the team. Back when Fred Taylor signed his contract in spring 2009, it was widely believed it would be his last before retirement. Laurence Maroney was likely on the way out as well. No matter how you spin it, there is no question that this group of backs is going to undergo major changes next year. If Maroney wasn't part of these plans (which he likely wasn't), it would make sense for cut their losses and get something in return for Maroney now.
When all is said and done, I really have mixed feeling about the Maroney deal. I like the fact that the Patriots have cut their losses and guaranteed something in return for Maroney. However, I don't like the depth the Patriots have at the running back position (considering the group's injury history). I'll take a wait and see approach on this one, although there's no question the Patriots will have to address the running back position next offseason.