Going into trade deadline season, I think that we can all agree that the Patriots could use a few bodies on defense and some depth in the backfield or at tight end. Last year, the Patriots’ only deadline move was trading away Jimmy Garoppolo, although they did add midseason talent in other ways by signing Eric Lee off the Bills practice squad and adding veterans Ricky Jean Francois and James Harrison to the defensive line rotation.
With their recent restructure of Stephon Gilmore’s contract, the Patriots have about $5.3 million in cap space to work with. Let’s identify which guys the Pats should be looking at with that money, starting first on the offensive side of the ball.
System guys: Brandon Bolden, LeGarrette Blount
With Sony Michel sidelined with MCL damage on a knee that was red flagged throughout the draft process, the Patriots are awfully thin at the position. They’re left with James White and Kenjon Barner on the active roster, and Kenneth Farrow on the practice squad. The Patriots need a between-the-tackles back; James White was handling those duties last Sunday strictly out of necessity.
Naturally, the first couple of guys that come to mind are the system guys that have had experience in New England. Bolden hasn’t played an offensive snap this year for the Dolphins, buried behind Kenyon Drake and Frank Gore, but has been active for every game because of his special teams value. Bolden isn’t a long-term solution, but he’s a guy that can perform all running back duties and continue his role on special teams until Michel and Rex Burkhead are healthy. Toss the Dolphins a late round swap of picks and Bolden is back on the Pats without costing any significant cap space.
LeGarrette Blount is a different type of option. I thought he was mostly done last offseason, but he clearly had some left in the tank during his year with the Eagles. Up in Detroit, Kerryon Johnson has emerged as the running back of the future and Theo Riddick earns a lot of playing time in his James White-esque role. Blount’s base salary is just $1.0 million this year, making him a cheap target that could fit. Both Michel and Burkhead’s availability for the rest of the season is up in the air and having a workhorse big back, even if he’s past his prime, could be an option.
Underachieving rookie contract guys: Ameer Abdullah, Samaje Perine, Wayne Gallman Jr.
These three guys all share the same attributes: running backs on their rookie contract that have been squeezed because of uninspiring play or better options. There’s a solid chance that they are nothing more than scrubs, but a change of scene could revitalize their careers.
Starting with Abdullah, he’s a fourth year player, former second-round pick by the Lions who has become lost in the shuffle – half because of injuries and half because of pure ineffectiveness. He’s behind Blount on the depth chart as the RB4 and has just a single carry and five healthy scratches this year. Abdullah was electric at Nebraska, but his shiftiness hasn’t consistently translated to the NFL. He’s not a burner, but his change of direction drills are off the charts. As a 2015 draft pick, he wasn’t picked by Bob Quinn and has no ties to the current Lions front office. He should be available for the same price of a seventh-rounder or a swap of late round picks.
Perine, the Redskins’s fourth-round pick in 2017 out of Oklahoma, was quite honestly terrible as a rookie. The guy that many clamored for more carries in college – as Joe Mixon punched his ticket to a featured role – showed limited burst against NFL speed, his main knock coming out of school. However, Perine is still only 23 and his 5’11, 235 lbs frame and ability to make tough yards after contact fits what Bill Belichick wants in a big back. Perine has only been active for two games this year and he is under contract for very little through 2020. Trading for him would be betting that his terrible rookie performance was largely because of the terrible play of the Redskins in general, and I would be okay with the Patriots giving up a late rounder on that bet.
The best of the trio, second-year player Wayne Gallman, is a perfectly fine player that has had the misfortune of playing in a four-player running back timeshare his rookie year and behind Saquon Barkley his sophomore season. Gallman hasn’t played more than 17 snaps in a game this year and is coming off a 5-snap game in Atlanta. And on a team with Saquon, that’s one Giants coaching decision that I can’t argue with.
Gallman is a tall running back with good vision, but he has also had experience as a third down and receiving back (34 catches in 13 games last year) and plays special teams (46.6% in 2017, 27% in 2018). Like Perrine, Gallman isn’t a free agent until after 2020.
My opinion: No on Blount, why not on Bolden if he’s available. Pass on Abdullah and Perine, yes on Gallman.
TE Cameron Brate
Brate, a former undrafted tight end out of Harvard, signed a massive six-year extension with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in March. But when you look at the details of the contract, the Bucs really didn’t commit to him long-term. Only his 2018 salary is guaranteed, with all future money only guaranteed for injury. His salary in 2018 consists of mostly a $6.0 million roster bonus, meaning that his base salary – and the amount the Patriots would have to pick up in a trade – is just $1.0 million. Tampa Bay intentionally made his contract very tradable; this would really be a one-year commitment for the Patriots.
With the continued integration of 2017 first-rounder O.J. Howard into the offense, Brate’s snaps (53% to 40%) and targets (77 to on pace for 40) have both significantly decreased. Never known for his blocking, it has become harder to justify increasing his playing time now or in the future. Where Brate’s usage hasn’t decreased is in the red zone. Brate has three red zone touchdowns this year on just four targets and his 6’5 frame makes him an attractive option near the goal line. With Jacob Hollister seemingly headed for the Foxborough Flu IR because of nagging injuries, Brate would function as a dangerous red zone option and extra insurance for Rob Gronkowski.
TE Jared Cook
Similar to Brate, Cook provides a reliable option as a Gronk insurance move tight end at a reasonable cost ($2.5 million base salary) with no future guaranteed money past this year. Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden has been in the midst of a fire sale as he tries to reinvent the identity of his team so Cook should definitely be available.
OTs Cedric Ogbuehi/Jake Fisher
1st and 2nd round picks in 2015 respectively, these Cincinnati Bengals tackles have held down starting jobs during parts of their careers, but were too inconsistent to keep the job for long. Both are free agents after the year and likely aren’t a part of the Bengals’ future. Bringing in one of these guys would represent a chance for Dante Scarnecchia to coach them up and offer insurance against Trent Brown leaving in free agency. In addition, both guys will probably get offers in next year’s free agency just based on draft pedigree and potential alone so the Patriots can expect them to factor into compensatory pick calculations.
With Cannon’s health a consistent mystery, both of these guys would represent an upgrade over Cole Croston as the third-string tackle, with the opportunity to compete with LaAdrian Waddle as Cannon’s primary backup.
My opinion: I like Brate over Cook. Ogbuehi over Fisher based on ceiling.
RB Tevin Coleman
Let’s get weird! With all due respect to the hard working people of Atlanta, the Falcons’ season is over, and quite frankly it’s been over since week one when Deion Jones and Keanu Neal were lost for the year with injuries. Having already committed to Devonta Freeman long-term, it’s extremely unlikely that they will pay Coleman market value after the season. Of course the Patriots won’t either, but as a rental, Coleman is clearly the best option available. He’s a big upgrade over a healthy Rex Burkhead and the trio of Coleman, Michel, and White quickly becomes one of the best depth charts in the NFL.
Coleman will probably fetch at least a fourth-round pick in return, but when factoring in his compensatory pick contributions, it seems like a price worth paying. With the Patriots on track for three third-round selections in 2019 (the Lions’, their own, the Nate Solder pick), I would gladly pay the price that they paid for Trent Brown and Danny Shelton by swapping one of those picks for a late round pick. And for the Falcons, that’s a better outcome than keeping Coleman in a lost season and then losing him in the offseason for at best a 2020 compensatory fourth-round pick.
OT Joe Staley
The Patriots traded the 28th overall pick that became Joe Staley in 2007, but were probably okay with the outcome. The picks that they got in return turned into Jerod Mayo and the draft pick they traded to Oakland for Randy Moss. Eleven years later, Staley is still starting at left tackle and playing at a high level. While Trent Brown and the offensive line as a whole has been far from a weakness for the Patriots, bringing in Staley to play left tackle and moving Brown back to his natural right tackle position makes them undoubtably better. If acquired by the Patriots, Staley would be under contract for just $8.05 million against the cap in 2019, a huge bargain by left tackle contract standards.
Acquiring Staley would come at a steep cost. His trade value is probably a second-round pick (and the Patriots own two of them), similar to Duane Brown’s cost for Seattle last year. And his hefty 2018 base salary likely means that the Patriots wouldn’t have enough cap space to also acquire an impact defensive player at the deadline. However, I can understand the line of thought that controlling Staley for the rest of 2018 and 2019 at below market value is worth the draft capital and financial commitment.
My opinion: Coleman is a hard yes for me, acquiring Staley would be a move that I would hate in the moment but talk myself into liking because I trust the coaching staff.
I’m sure many fans skimmed through this article and wondered what the hell I was thinking suggesting offensive additions to a team that has scored 40 points/game since the return of Julian Edelman but struggles to get off the field defensively. Not to worry, later in the week I’ll be breaking down the defensive targets as well.
While the Patriots offense is on a roll, there’s always room for improvement. Bill Belichick is never afraid of creating an embarrassment of riches on the offensive side of the ball, and this statement has never been more true as Tom Brady ages and the Patriots’ championship window shrinks.