The New England Patriots are stacked at the pass rusher position. They have Jabaal Sheard, Rob Ninkovich, Chris Long, Shea McClellin, Trey Flowers, Geneo Grissom, and Rufus Johnson all competing for roughly three spots in the defensive rotation. Ninkovich and McClellin have played strongside linebacker so the Patriots can get more of these talented players can see the field.
And yet the Patriots traded a 2017 5th round pick to the Cleveland Browns for edge defender Barkevious Mingo, for yet another body in the rotation.
While a brilliant analyst would like to note that a 2017 5th round pick has the same value as a 2016 6th round pick, and wants everyone to know that he called this shot, the trade begs the simple question: Why?
Patriots should try to get Mingo for a 6th or something https://t.co/vYqKcusQoT— Rich Hill (@PP_Rich_Hill) March 31, 2016
Mingo is in the 4th year of his rookie contract after coming out as the 6th overall pick- he was selected one place ahead of fellow offseason acquisition Jonathan Cooper. The Patriots will give Mingo a test spin in 2016 to see whether or not they want to pick up his 5th year option for 2017.
The 6’4, 240 pound Mingo is a hyperathlete that runs a 4.58 40 yard dash and a 6.84 three cone, with a 10’8 broad jump. He is an athlete on par with Jamie Collins (who posted 4.64/7.10/11’7 in the same events in the combine) that has been unable to find a position in Cleveland.
While he was an elite pass rusher coming out of Louisiana State, playing alongside Patriots surprise pick-up Anthony Johnson, the Browns decided to use him in coverage too often as an outside linebacker in their 3-4 defensive front. He had some success, but not enough to warrant his 6th overall status.
A Browns beat writer summed up Mingo as a player by saying, “he was not strong enough to play every down, not talented enough to rush the passer, not skilled enough to play in coverage.” The Patriots are making a bet that Mingo will fit into the defense like Jabaal Sheard did last season.
Mingo toiled away on special teams and let the Browns in special teams snaps in 2015, but that seems to be a gross misuse of his physical talents. He bulked up 20 pounds this offseason to reach 260 pounds, which is exactly the weight the Patriots like their edge defenders. If he has retained his athleticism, he could be a force in New England.
But all of these factors don’t necessarily answer the question why. There are a couple reasons.
1. Sheard, Ninkovich, and Long will all be free agents after this season. Sheard will likely receive a mega-deal, while Ninkovich will be 33 years old and has declined in ability over the past three years. Long has battled injuries over the past two seasons and isn’t a sure thing to full recover, even though signs are looking good.
The Patriots would have control over Mingo in 2017 if he turns his career around and becomes a contributing member of the defense. Mingo will join Flowers and Grissom as the core of the defense in 2017, along with McClellin as the SAM linebacker.
Edit: Since Mingo was a top 10 pick, his contract would be the average of the top 10 linebacker contracts in the NFL. The Patriots are never, ever, ever, ever going to do that. But this is a tryout and he could opt to return to New England in 2017 if he feels like the team can resurrect his career.
The Browns declined to pick up Mingo’s 5th year option, but the Patriots could still forge a mid-season extension if they two sides can agree to terms.
2. The Patriots have wanted Mingo for years. They wanted him in 2013, the team tried to acquire him over the years, and sources tell me that they wanted him again last year before the trade deadline. He is just 25 years old and, at the very least, he can contribute on special teams this year.
He, along with Ninkovich and McClellin, can play on the edge and at linebacker. It would seem that Bill Belichick has been actively trying to acquire these hybrid players due to the roster flexibility they provide. He can act as a super-sub and based on the constant injuries to the players in the defensive front seven, he’ll likely be needed.
The big losers from this trade would be Grissom and Johnson. Grissom is likely safe as a 2015 3rd round pick that contributes on special teams, but Johnson looks like he will be a numbers casualty this season.
If Mingo can turn his career around, it will be by the teaching of head coach Bill Belichick. Belichick will find a place for him to succeed. If not, then the Patriots can move on without much of a loss.