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Putting on my Belichick hoodie: How the Patriots should approach the 2018 NFL trade deadline

The Patriots are usually active around the trade deadline. Here’s what I would do.

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New England Patriots v Chicago Bears Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

The New England Patriots are usually active around the NFL trade deadline because it’s perfect timing for Bill Belichick and company to add some valuable players to the roster. Former quality starters will have settled into back-up roles under new coaching staffs and Belichick is always interested in getting them back into the line-up, while bad teams are willing to trade good players as they turn their focus towards 2019 and adding draft capital.

Over the years, the Patriots have acquired players like Aqib Talib, Akeem Ayers, Jonathan Casillas, Akiem Hicks, and Kyle Van Noy. All played crucial roles on the Patriots quest for Super Bowl titles and all were worth the late-round picks or players given up to add them to the team.

It’s worth noting that the vast majority of Bill Belichick’s pre-deadline trades have been for defensive players- and I don’t expect that to change this year. When looking at the Patriots roster, there are some clear opportunities for improvement and most openings are on the defensive side of the ball.

The only possible offensive position that I could see getting an upgrade would be at the running back position as the Patriots have three injured running backs- Jeremy Hill, Rex Burkhead, and Sony Michel- and only James White and Kenjon Barner for the coming weeks. But if the reports of Michel’s potential return in a couple weeks are true, then it wouldn’t make sense to trade for a running back; the Patriots don’t add a player for a couple-week band-aid.

White and Barner should be able to hold down the fort for a couple weeks until Michel’s return, and practice squad running back Kenneth Farrow could be added for depth. There’s no need to trade for a running back that wouldn’t see the field once Michel returned.

Instead, the real help needed is on the defensive side of the ball- and I think defensive tackle and linebacker are two areas of interest because I don’t think edge defender or defensive backs are really positions of need.

The Patriots have an elite defensive end in Trey Flowers and a pair of fine rotational players in Adrian Clayborn and Deatrich Wise. The team also has a deep bench of fringe players at the position in Derek Rivers, Keionta Davis, John Simon, and Geneo Grissom. Perhaps a veteran pass rusher will become available and the team would have no qualms about moving on from Davis, Simon, or Grissom, but I think the team is holding all of them on the roster for a reason- and adding another pass rusher to the mix wouldn’t make sense.

As for the secondary, I think the team’s interest in Patrick Peterson was simply due diligence. Stephon Gilmore is playing at an All Pro level, while Jason McCourty is playing at a Pro Bowl level. Jonathan Jones, Eric Rowe, and J.C. Jackson form a solid depth chart at cornerback, with Keion Crossen as a fringe player and Duke Dawson expected to return from the injured reserve in the next couple of weeks.

Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, and Duron Harmon are as good of a safety trio that you’ll ever find in the league.

So in my mind, the Patriots would be interested in adding players at defensive tackle or at linebacker.

On the defensive line, Lawrence Guy is fantastic and Danny Shelton has been playing well, but Malcom Brown has been entirely underwhelming and Adam Butler isn’t good enough to deter the Patriots from adding another player at the position. The Patriots previously tried to claim Bills defensive tackle Jordan Phillips off waivers, so it’s certainly a position of interest for New England to upgrade.

With Brown in the final year of his contract, I actually wouldn’t be shocked if he were traded away, although I don’t expect that to happen. Brown had been one of the most consistent defensive tackles in the league until this year and I expect the Patriots to trust that version of Brown to return by the end of the year- and there wouldn’t be a defensive tackle available that would be better than Brown.

But if the Patriots were to make a call to add some talent, they might be interested in Giants defensive lineman Mario Edwards, who could be an upgrade over Butler on passing downs, or 49ers defensive linemen Ronald Blair or Earl Mitchell. The Raiders have made it known that every player is available via trade, while both Blair and Mitchell are pretty far down the depth chart in San Francisco.

At linebacker, the Patriots have two quality starters in Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy, while Elandon Roberts shows up in flashes. He’s been better about not over-pursuing in recent weeks, but there’s honestly no depth behind him with Nicholas Grigsby and Brandon King both pure special teams players.

Adding a player like Cardinals linebacker Haason Reddick or Giants linebacker B.J. Goodson could really help the Patriots depth at the position. Reddick considered available for trade, while Goodson has fallen down the depth chart this year.

If I’m Belichick and the Patriots, I would bank on Malcom Brown bouncing back in the second half of the season with the understanding that no defensive lineman would represent an improvement (especially with Damon Harrison in Detroit).

I would definitely be interested in adding Reddick, the 13th overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft, from the Cardinals. Reddick is under contract through the 2020 season and would have a fifth-year option. While he hasn’t been able to pick up the Cardinals defense as they’ve transitioned from a 3-4 to a 4-3, he would be an ideal addition to the Patriots defense.

Reddick is a former running back and safety that moved to the pass rusher position in college and played 3-4 inside linebacker, 3-4 outside linebacker, and 4-3 outside linebacker in Arizona. He sounds oddly familiar to Jamie Collins, except slightly smaller, faster, and less explosive; Collins was Reddick’s comparable coming out of college.

I see Reddick having a similar role as Kyle Van Noy in the Patriots defense, which would be a good thing to have. Dont’a Hightower could move to the middle with Reddick and Van Noy on the edges, allowing Hightower to plug the run up the gut and also more effectively blitz the quarterback.

Will the Patriots make the trade? I could see it happening, especially with Belichick’s recent love of acquiring former first round busts. But that might be a “next year” trade instead of a “this year” trade- unless the Patriots would be willing to swap a defender or two in a player-for-player deal.

So where does this leave us? Reddick or bust? I think the Patriots could acquire a veteran linebacker that could plug into the line-up, but I won’t hold my breath. We might just watch the Patriots sit tight this year with wide receiver Josh Gordon as the “only” acquisition.