Bill Belichick has never been shy about trading any of his more established veterans either before, during or after the draft. In the last few years, the Patriots have enjoyed a plethora of draft selections in the premier rounds of the draft, in part due to this strategy. Many factors come into play when deciding whether or not to execute the trade of a veteran player - contract, age, production, attitude, etc. When analysing the makeup of the current Patriots roster and how it may take shape before the players take the field for the 2011 regular season (which may be a way off yet) I wanted to see which, if any, viable trade options the Patriots have with regards to players on their own roster, and what compensation they could receive for such trades. For the purposes of this article, I am assuming of course a CBA is signed in time to have the usual draft, free agency, OTAs and training camp as scheduled.
Lets see which Patriots could be primed for a trade this offseason...
As we all know, Mankins' contract will expire after the 2010 season and he is scheduled for unrestricted free agency, should a new CBA be signed in time. It is difficult to know what the Patriots will do with Logan Mankins, since both sides are currently mute and given the murky waters of trying to determine how the franchise tag could be used (The Boston Herald recently reported the Patriots will use the franchise tag on Mankins, however, the NFLPA recently told all players any franchise tag issued before a CBA is in place might as well be used for toilet paper). Robert Kraft has recently expressed his wish to keep Mankins on the team for a long time, but as we know, if Kraft doesn't give Mankins what Mankins sees as a fair deal, the Patriot's No. 70 will want out. That being the case, I can't see the Patriots allowing Mankins to leave for nothing. He is easily a top 3 guard in the league, in his prime (will be 29 at the start of the 2011 season) and has never missed a start he has been available to play.
Likelihood of Trade: Medium/High
Compensation: 1st Round Draft Pick OR two 2nd Round Picks
Conclusion: The Patriots should expect high compensation for Mankins, given the calibre of player in his prime years. I would not be surprised if the Patriots sought compensation for the 2012 draft, similar to the Richard Seymour trade where the Patriots accept future choices, given they have lots of early picks this year.
Warren has always been a solid contributor for the Patriots, primarily as a run stuffer but he's also shown some pass rushing prowess. He is the ideal 3-4 DE and with more teams making the switch to that system, proven 5-technique DE's are a prized commodity. Warren did not play a down last year due to season ending hip surgery and given the nature of his injury, it is not clear cut how effective Warren will remain, given hip injuries can significantly reduce lower-body power. He is signed through 2013 and is scheduled to earn $3.1 million in base salary in 2011. His age is not too much of a concern since 30 is relatively young for a defensive lineman, but the Patriots do have somewhat of a log jam of left defensive ends on the roster (Brace, Gerard Warren should he be brought back) and the common consensus is the Patriots will look to draft a DE in the 2011 draft.
Likelihood of Trade: Low
Compensation: 2nd Round Draft Pick
Conclusion: The Patriots defense ranked 11th in the NFL in stopping the run at 108.0 yards per game. Whilst it is not the biggest weakness on the team, particularly at LDE, the 3-4 needs good run stoppers. Effective 3-4 Des are not easy to find, and one who is proven and relatively young, despite the season spent on IR, should not be allowed to leave the Patriots if they want to improve defensively to take the next step to the Super Bowl. Ron Brace has yet to show he can stay healthy, so I think it's close to certain that Ty Warren stays and a veteran like Gerard Warren is not retained.
Banta-Cain has developed somewhat of a reputation for putting up his stats on weaker opponents. In 2009, Banta-Cain had 5 of his 10 sacks against the Bills sieve like Offensive Line. In 2010, he had 1.5 against the Steelers, whose line consisted of primarily backups, and a sack against the Packers, a line which prior to the playoffs did not play particularly well. Banta-Cain doesn't play the run well enough to be an every down OLB and he's a bit undersized to be a DE in sub packages at only 6-2 and around 250lbs. He relies too heavily on his speed to get to the quarterback and as such, is a bit of a ‘one-trick pony.' Early in 2010, he signed a three year contract extension worth $13.5 million and his remaining base salaries for 2011 and 2012 are $2.3 million $3.8 million respectively.
Likelihood of Trade: Medium
Compensation: Late 3rd / 4th Round Draft Pick
Conclusion: Of all the players on this list, I would prefer to see Banta-Cain traded. The Patriots already have the promising Jermaine Cunningham, underrated Rob Ninkovic & Eric Moore who made plays when he came in late in the year and is physically ideal for both base and sub packages. The Patriots seem primed to draft an OLB in the upcoming draft, making Banta-Cain the potential odd one out, should the Patriots decide to go with four OLBs. In my opinion, TBC just doesn't constitute good value for the Patriots anymore. He is not consistent enough to justify the contract he signed back in March of 2010. Ironically, it may be his contract which prevents any trade, since he will only just be 31 come the start of the 2011 season and has had 15 sacks the past two seasons.
Arguably the most frustrating player on the Patriot team. Good safety play in the NFL is a prized commodity and on his day, Meriweather IS one of the best. In the past three years, when Meriweather has seen the bulk of his playing time, he's amassed 229 tackles, 12 interceptions and 4 forced fumbles and been voted to 2 Pro Bowls. He has a nose for the ball and is someone who the Patriots could pair with Patrick Chung to form one of the best safety combinations in the league for years to come. However, Meriweather regressed somewhat in 2010, not so much due to any stagnation or exposure of limited ability, but an intermittent casual attitude to preparing for games, whether it was being late for team meetings or his famous attempt at "freelancing!" I can live with the occasional dangerous hit over the middle (don't turn this into a debate!) although I don't condone it. It's the superstar attitude that Mariweather needs to adjust and going to the Pro Bowl in 2010 was probably the worst thing for his development. Meriweather has just one year remaining on his deal before he becomes a free agent (if a new CBA includes the same rules he will be an exclusive rights free agent).
Likelihood of Trade: Low
Compensation: Late 1st / 2nd Round Draft Pick
Conclusion: I personally don't think Meriweather gets traded this offseason. High level safety play in this league is just too valuable and Meriweather undoubtedly has the ability. He definitely needs to grow up and understand not just the definition of his role, but also its limitations. I am perhaps in the minority in saying Meriweather deserves another chance to prove his worth to the team long term as his talent in my opinion dictates such a chance and he is not a Moss-like distraction at the moment and seems a well liked guy on the team. Ultimately, down the line, I can see an Asanthe Samuel-esque fall out once Meriweather's contract expires, particularly if he doesn't improve his attitude. However, this offseason, Meriweather stays.