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Why the Patriots traded for Eagles DB Eric Rowe, and how it makes the defense better

The Patriots have acquired a 2015 2nd round pick and he will make the defense better.

The New England Patriots acquired defensive back Eric Rowe from the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for guard Josh Kline and a 2018 4th round pick that can turn into a 2018 3rd round pick if Rowe plays a certain amount of snaps. This is a trade that makes sense for both sides since Rowe wasn’t a great fit under new Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, and because the Patriots are the perfect team to tap into Rowe’s potential.

The 6’1, 205 pound Rowe was the 47th overall selection in the 2015 draft after starting for three years at safety and one year at cornerback. Rowe is a fantastic athlete that would be an ideal safety in the Patriots flexible system.

Rowe struggled with the zone-heavy concepts that the Eagles utilized under Schwartz, but he should do well within the Patriots secondary that requires a good amount of man coverage. He will have to develop his zone ability because the Patriots require it, but he should be able to earn more time on the field with the Patriots than with the Eagles.

The Patriots will have Rowe under contract for three more seasons, which will help ease the transition if and when Duron Harmon departs in free agency after this season. Rowe could fit into the Patriots secondary in multiple roles, including both the pivot safety that Devin McCourty plays at times, and the pure free safety role. He can also line up at cornerback in a pinch.

Head coach Bill Belichick was intrigued by Rowe’s versatility and showed similar interest in a similar player in the 2016 draft, Maryland’s Sean Davis. Belichick’s infatuation with Rowe reminds me of his interest and ultimate follow through to acquire Barkevious Mingo from the Browns.

Belichick also witnessed Rowe put together an excellent performance against the Patriots last season, which we all know is an important factor in Belichick’s acquisition trends.

Belichick likely envisions Rowe as a younger version of Devin McCourty, who can just add to the defensive versatility.

I think the acquisition points to question marks around 2015 2nd round safety Jordan Richards, who hasn’t had the easiest transition into the NFL. My prior expectation after Harmon’s departure would place Patrick Chung as the moneybacker/safety inside the box, with Richards at the pivot in coverage of tight ends, and McCourty as the deep free safety. This line-up is far less certain thanks to the addition of Rowe.

I also think Belichick watched Cowboys defensive back Byron Jones in coverage of tight end Rob Gronkowski last season and wanted to find a defensive back capable of a similar role.

Ultimately, Rowe seems like a more natural pivot safety than Richards, who seems to have question marks in coverage and is better off in the box.

As for trading Josh Kline, the Patriots have to think that Shaq Mason or Jonathan Cooper is close to a return, or that Ted Karras will be able to hold down the fort for the week or two before the aforementioned guards return.

Kline has been an adequate guard for the Patriots, but his upside was limited and the Patriots clearly were uncertain about his future with the team as they played him deep into the final preseason games. It seems like the team believes Karras offers greater potential.

Trading Kline also frees up $1.1 million in cap space in 2016, and $1.8 million in cap space in 2017, per PatsCap. This will certainly help the Patriots retain their priority free agents.

The 2018 4th round draft pick, with possible escalation to a 2018 3rd round pick, is interesting because the Patriots are not allowed to trade their 2017 4th round picks until the draft order is finalized due to the DeflateGate penalty.

The Patriots made this move because Rowe is a 23 year old with great upside that was forced into a difficult situation. The thought process is not unlike the acquisitions of Mingo, or 2015’s trade for Akiem Hicks, or 2014’s move for Akeem Ayers: Rowe has had success in the league, but a scheme change altered his trajectory.

The only difference is that the Patriots will have control of Rowe for three more years, which is why the draft pick was so expensive. Rowe will be up for a new deal when Devin McCourty turns 32 years old, so a possible transition is also in play. If Rowe develops into the player the Patriots believe he can be, the move will strengthen the Patriots secondary both now and in the long term.