The New England Patriots under head coach Bill Belichick have never shied away from making a trade. Franchise greats Drew Bledsoe, Richard Seymour and Logan Mankins were all traded away, while others like wide receivers Randy Moss and Wes Welker were acquired via trade.
During the 2016 league year alone, the Patriots have pulled the trigger eight times; not counting draft-day trades only involving picks (New England would have made a ninth trade – center Bryan Stork to the Washington Redskins – but it fell through due to a failed physical):
03/15/2016: DE Chandler Jones traded to the Arizona Cardinals for OG Jonathan Cooper and a 2016 2nd round draft pick
03/17/2016: TE Martellus Bennett and a 2016 6th round draft pick acquired from the Chicago Bears for a 2016 4th round draft pick
09/05/2016: LB Jonathan Bostic traded to the Detroit Lions for a conditional 2017 7th round draft pick
08/25/2016: DE Barkevious Mingo acquired from the Cleveland Browns for a 2017 5th round draft pick
09/07/2016: CB Eric Rowe acquired from the Philadelphia Eagles for a conditional 2018 3rd or 4th round draft pick
10/25/2016: LB Kyle Van Noy and a 2017 7th round draft pick acquired from the Detroit Lions for a 2017 6th round draft pick
10/25/2016: TE A.J. Derby traded to the Denver Broncos for a 2017 5th round draft pick
10/31/2016: LB Jamie Collins traded to the Cleveland Browns for a conditional 2017 3rd round draft pick
Some of the trades – most notably the ones involving Jones and Collins – were controversial. However, they obviously did not hurt the Patriots over the long run as the team went on to win its fifth Super Bowl by the end of the 2016 season. According to former New England executive and current media analyst Michael Lombardi this focus on the long-term is no surprise – it is how the Patriots under Belichick work.
Lombardi joined The Ringer’s NFL podcast on Wednesday, and among other topics, talked about how New England’s head coach and de-facto general manager approaches the trading market. One key aspect, according to Lombardi, is the distinction between sustainable values and situational values:
Belichick makes every decision based on sustainable values. How am I going to look in the years 2017 and ‘18? Most teams in the NFL operate under situational values, which means ‘what’s the best thing we can do right now?’ And that’s where he takes advantage of the market place. He’s one of the few traders in the market who is sustainable values and everyone else is situational. That’s what makes him so good.
The Patriots’ long-term approach to building a team, also via the help of trades, has been well documented in the past. Trades like the ones listed in the first paragraph – apparent cornerstones of the franchise being shipped away – are perfect examples for a team willing to take a potential short-term hit in order to position itself well for the future.
2016’s trades were no different. Soon-to-become free agents Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins, for example, were converted into draft capital, which in turn was or will be converted into players on rookie contracts. Instead of watching them command top dollar in free agency, New England took a proactive approach and secured additional draft choices (as well as a depth player and financial gains, in Jones’ case).
Little-risk acquisitions like Kyle Van Noy and Eric Rowe, who are both still on their rookie contracts, fall under a similar category as the team holds their rights until after the 2017 and 2018 seasons, respectively. And while not all of the Patriots’ trades fall under the "sustainable value"-category – Martellus Bennet and Barkevious Mingo, for instance – Lombardi’s assessment of the Belichick approach to trading can be seen time and again.
This offseason will be no different: No matter what the Patriots ultimately elect to do with backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, the long-term impact of either trading or keeping him will be the driving factor in New England’s decision-making process. It all comes down to whether or not Garoppolo or draft capital is seen as the more sustainable of the values available.