Most NFL teams would be high-fiving more than the first season of Entourage if a pair of their undrafted free agents logged a climbing-the-ladder touchdown grab, had hands like a certain other tight end on the roster and hauled in 7 of 9 passes for 116 yards, and took home top honors as Pro Football Focus’s top tight end of Week 1. In New England, it’s more than likely going to make at least one personnel guy reach for an extra cup of coffee, because wideout Austin Carr and tight end Jacob Hollister are already trying to crash the roster party at two positions where the Patriots are already full of roster locks.
And you’ve probably already heard that this year, roster cut day is going to be doubly brutal, because instead of two rounds of roster cuts like we’ve always done, this season, the NFL is letting teams hang on to all 90 members of their roster until after the fourth preseason game, at which point they have to get from 90 men all the way down to 53. Up until last year, teams had until right before the fourth preseason game to cut the roster to 75 players.
One more thing, to get us all in the right mindset for this admittedly tenuous premise: just last week, the Buffalo Bills traded a pair of guys they drafted in round 1 and round two for...more draft picks and depth players (no offense, Jordan Matthews). Here’s the trade summed up neatly by The Ringer:
On Friday, the Bills spun a shocking series of trades, sending Sammy Watkins and their 2018 sixth-round pick to the Rams for cornerback E.J. Gaines and the Rams’ 2018 second-round pick. The Bills immediately turned around and dealt their own cornerback, Ronald Darby, to the Eagles for wide receiver Jordan Matthews and a 2018 third-round pick.
Enter, Trader Bill.
With teams able to keep their 90-man rosters together for an extra week and a half or so, would it really be that surprising if the Patriots traded one of their red-hot preseason players to help stack a position that they need more depth at? Like, oh, I don’t know, edge rusher or linebacker?
There’s already been some speculation about Dion Lewis’s future after he ended up rushing for 32 yards on 7 carries against the Jags. And really, you could take a look at anyone that caught a pass from Jimmy Garoppolo or Jacoby Brissett last week, like KJ Maye or DJ Foster, and realize that A) their odds to make the roster are uphill at best, and B) there are very few other teams that are stacked with this kind of roster depth, whether it’s due to bad drafting, salary cap issues, retirements, free agency, or whatever combination of all those things.
So given that the Patriots have had OTAs, training camp, joint practices with two other teams, and two preseason games after this Saturday, why wouldn’t the Patriots - knowing Bill Belichick’s love for making something out of nothing - try to dangle some of the players they know they’re not keeping anyway as trade bait?
Based on the new rules, that’d give a player that gets traded two weeks to work with their new team, instead of just one like in years past, and that’s obviously nowhere near enough time to master a playbook - just ask Kyle Van Noy - it’s certainly enough time for a team to make an educated choice on whether you’re worth keeping around or not.
And let’s not forget injuries (knock on wood) can force a team to look for help even when their roster was stacked going into training camp. By my math, just for a couple division examples, Jordan Matthews almost lasted through one practice with the Bills before hurting his sternum, and we all saw (ugh) what happened to Ryan Tannehill on a non-contact play. If the injuries keep piling up as the preseason goes on, and teams keep rolling the dice on playing their starters, it’s not THAT hard to see a situation where a team that’s had awful injury luck would be willing to make a deal with New England for a player that the Patriots may have a feeling would be cut anyway.
And while it’s great to just figure that the Patriots could take all of our favorite preseason stars and stash them on the practice squad, let’s not forget that in order for that to happen, they’d have to clear waivers first. Remember Cre’Von LeBlanc getting poached by the Bears last summer when everyone was hoping he’d make it to New England’s practice squad? That’s the risk.
If the Patriots weren’t so absurdly deep with talent this year, this probably wouldn’t even be a conversation worth having (and hey, maybe it still isn’t). That said, though, looking up and down this roster, it seems like almost every roster projection we do here at the Pulpit or come across somewhere else looks pretty darn close to each other - and that’s a direct result of the team having talent ranging from starter to star at almost every position ever since this year’s draft - where Bill saw it fit to trade New England’s first two picks in the draft for players the Patriots otherwise wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance at ever getting.
Finally, nobody in New England needs a reminder about how many deals the team has swung right before the NFL Trade Deadline. With this new roster cut situation giving teams more time to evaluate players, if the Patriots have a player (or players) that they know probably won’t make the 53-man roster, but probably make it through waivers without getting claimed either, which is more likely: Bill at least trying to get something for a player he knows he’s almost certainly going to lose, or just going “Sorry, kid, you’re a good player, we’ll keep your number in case someone gets hurt”?
Either way, the new roster cut situation will be fascinating to watch for those of us that like to make our picks for who makes the team - and, if for no other reason, then just because it’s something new, don’t be too surprised if Bill’s just looking for another market inefficiency to exploit before everyone else does.