The New England Patriots acquired former Carolina Panthers DE Kony Ealy and the 72nd overall pick in exchange for the 64th overall pick. Ealy led the Panthers defensive ends with 623 snaps; Charles Johnson (543 snaps) was the only other pass rusher that played more than 450 snaps.
According to Panthers GM Dave Gettleman, getting rid of a player like Ealy for eight draft spots was a move he couldn’t afford to miss.
“It’s a heavy draft and it was an opportunity for us to move up,” Gettleman said via the Charlotte Observer. “To you guys, eight spots doesn’t seem like much. But to me it’s gold.”
Gettleman has been a part of some incredible teams, including the Bills during their four-straight Super Bowls from 1990-93, the Broncos in 1997, and the Giants in 2000, 2007, and 2011. He brought the Panthers to the Super Bowl in 2015, so he has a long track record of success. If he calls a move “gold” it’s worth noting.
Of course, when someone claims that Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is the one giving away that gold, then that deserves additional scrutiny. Gettleman is originally from Boston, where he attended Boston Latin and went to Springfield College. He’s a Boston-boy, so perhaps he threw his childhood team a bone (editor’s note: this is a joke...right?).
Ealy has been underwhelming and streaky in his time with the Panthers, starting just 16 games and registering 17 sacks over 52 regular and postseason games. He chipped in 2 interceptions, 7 forced fumbles, and 3 fumble recoveries over that span of time. He will look like a world beater at times and then vanish for the next half of the season.
The Panthers say that Ealy might not have made the 2017 roster after re-signing Charles Johnson, Mario Addison, and Wes Horton and bringing back Julius Peppers during the free agency period, and that’s valid. Signing four pass rushers to new contracts would make it difficult for any other pass rusher to make the roster.
But Ealy ranks second for Panthers edge defenders in sacks (17) and tackles for loss (11) over the past two years behind Addison, leads the team lead in forced fumbles (7), and he’s played 1,271 snaps over that time (Johnson ranks second with 931) so while he’s not the technical “starter”, he’s playing more than any other pass rusher and is still one of the biggest contributors. He’s just been maddeningly inconsistent.
Still, even if Ealy is nothing more than the third or fourth pass rusher on the Patriots, trading down 8 spots for a player with starting experience and serious potential seems like a boon for New England.
This is a case of a win-win deal for both teams. The Panthers had already made the decision to move on from Ealy when they signed four defensive ends to new contracts, so they had to be thrilled to get value in return for Ealy. The Patriots give up some draft capital moving from the second to the third round, but manage to retain their total number of draft picks while adding a rotational player with starting upside.
That sounds like gold to me.