Bill Belichick might be at it again. A year after shipping off a fourth round pick for a half-year rental in cornerback Aqib Talib, the rumor mills are swirling that they might be looking at New York Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks. Nicks is in the final year of his rookie contract and, unlike Talib, will probably be a half-year rental and nothing more.
Like every other Patriots receiver, Nicks has a huge history of injuries and hasn't put together a full 16 game season in his career. When he's on the field, he's an extremely productive receiver with two 1000 yard seasons under his belt. At his best, he's a dominant outside figure. Standing at 6'1, 210 lbs, Nicks isn't as physically imposing as other #1 receivers, but he can definitely get the job done. Through six games this seasons, he's averaging a shade under 75 yards a game, although he hasn't sniffed the end zone.
The Giants are sitting at 0-6 and while they're still in striking distance of the NFC East crown, Nicks is likely to walk at the end of this season so GM Jerry Reese could be looking to recuperate whatever value he can before Nicks walks off.
Among the interested lie the San Francisco 49ers (who would love to group Nicks with Anquan Boldin, Vernon Davis, and a returning Michael Crabtree), the Atlanta Falcons (who are down Julio Jones, but still have Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez), and the Baltimore Ravens (Torrey Smith has emerged as one of the game's elite receivers, but there's not much behind him). All teams led by some of the savviest GMs in the game and all teams that should be contenders not just this season, but into the future.
And then there's the Patriots. Aaron Dobson has already developed into a legitimate #2 receiver, while Kenbrell Thompkins is a dream at the #3 spot. With Danny Amendola gone for an undetermined amount of time with a concussion (I'd say at least through the bye week. Let his groin heal while he's at it), the Patriots are without a true #1 wide receiver. There will be the return and growth of Rob Gronkowski, but Belichick knows that he can't rely on one player to carry the entire offense in the red zone. Nicks could allow them to spread defenses a little more thin.
That's the give-and-take. What type of value from Nicks would the Patriots need to see in order to make the trade worth it? The Giants are looking for a 3rd round pick for Nicks, which is more than what the Patriots deemed worth giving up for Aqib Talib- and they needed help at cornerback last season slightly more than they need help at wide receiver right now.
We've mentioned the return of Gronk, and there's also Shane Vereen to look forward to, although he'll likely poke his head out at the same time as Amendola. And Julian Edelman, while almost the goat last game, still provides reliable snaps on offense (but one reception on five targets in crunch time ain't going to cut it). An immediate offense of the re-emerged Stevan Ridley, Gronkowski, the versatile Michael Hoomanawanui, Dobson, Thompkins, and Edelman? A future offense including an up-to-speed Gronk, Vereen, and Amendola?
What value does Nicks add? And at what cost?
If we're expecting a half-season rental from Nicks, I wouldn't expect the Patriots to offer any more than a 4th, just like they offered for Talib last season. Could that deal be beaten by the others? Likely, especially due to records and aggression. I don't see the Ravens outbidding a 4th because their franchise doesn't operate that way- they never forfeit the future for the sake of the now. The Falcons could, since their GM absolutely will go after the players he thinks can help his team- but at 1-4, what chance do they really have at making the playoffs? Roughly 5%, according to history. It just might not be in their cards to mortgage the future for half a season at wide receiver.
And that leaves the 49ers. If any team were to top the Patriots offer, it would be the 49ers. They would love to boost their offense match their top 10 defense. And in a war for the NFC West, it would definitely give them a leg up on the Seattle Seahawks as San Fran desperately tries to prevent the Seahawks from having homefield advantage in the NFC and essentially waltzing into the Super Bowl.
The 49ers have been connected to almost ever WR that's been placed on the trading block this year. The only issue? Cap space. The 49ers could reorganize some of their contracts to make space for Nicks, but with a $2.675mm cap hit, which will be prorated down to under $1.5mm due to time already accrued in New York, the 49ers are a little squeezed for space, with just over $1.2mm in space available.
And that leaves the Patriots with their wide open cap situation (thanks GM Belichick). Is Nicks worth it?
That depends on the price and his production.
Harvard Sports Analysis ran the data of estimated draft pick value compared to future player production. In short, they've determined the expected value of a career based upon the draft pick. First overall pick is expected to be five times more successful than the end of the 3rd round selection. (It's really interesting and worth a read.)
If the Patriots were to offer their third round pick, that would be the equivalent of 15 AV (which is Pro-Football-Reference's approximate value [AV]). That means that whoever the Patriots were thinking of taking in next year's 3rd round, could expect to have a career value similar to Pat Chung (as of this point in his career). If they were to offer their fourth round pick, it would be around 12 AV, or the value of Julian Edelman (as of this point in his career).
So as a GM, you have to wonder: Is half a season of Hakeem Nicks worth roughly equal to the career production of Pat Chung or Julian Edelman? And if you factor in the Patriots offense, Brady in the final five+ seasons of his career, the health and reliability of the rest of the offense, maybe Nicks could be worth it?
Well, what are some seasons by Patriots wide receivers that have fallen into the 10-15 AV range? As a sandwich, last season's Brandon Lloyd was a 10. Last season's Wes Welker was a 15.
And keep in mind that Nicks would have one half of a season to produce the same value that Lloyd took a full year to produce, in order to beat out the estimated value of keeping the draft pick. Nicks would have to post approximately 900 yards and 7 touchdowns in the final half of the season to make his mark.
Could he do it? Possibly. And combine him with Gronkowski, Dobson, Thompkins, and the Patriots rushing attack and it might seem likely. Just keep in mind that only Edelman and Thompkins are on pace to surpass 900 receiving yards and that adding Nicks into the offense would likely water down the expected production even further.
As the offense currently stands, they're on a growth projection for next season, with some additional upside for the now. Nicks would be brought in for only the now. If the Patriots believe he could be the focal point of the offense, and he could be acquired for a fourth round pick, or less, then the trade might make sense. If they think he'd just be an additional piece for Brady to play with, then the trade for a rental might not make the most sense.
What do you think? What would you be willing to trade, if anything, for Nicks?