With Earl Thomas getting hurt for the season, it got me thinking about how the Patriots handle players at the end of their deal. The Patriots have been highly criticized for the treatment of players on expiring deals, including this year with people saying they should’ve kept Brandin Cooks instead of trading him away. There were 3 teams in similar situations to the Patriots this offseason, they handled things much differently, let’s take a look at how that worked for them.
The biggest news of the offseason was the Raiders trading away the former Defensive Player of the Year, Khalil Mack, to the Bears. The Raiders got back 2 first round picks and a 3rd rounder, in exchange for Mack and a 2nd rounder. The media and fans have been killing the Raiders for this move, but I don’t think it was a bad decision. I do think they should’ve tried to hold onto the 2nd rounder they traded away, but their thinking was sound. They decided they didn’t want to pay Mack, and maximized their asset instead of letting him walk for a compensatory pick. Disagree if you want, but it’s better than what the next two teams did this year.
First is the Steelers. They LeVeon Bell situation is an absolute disaster this year. He doesn’t want to play under the franchise tag, and is refusing to show up. The Steelers obviously thought he was bluffing and didn’t take his threats seriously. Turns out he wasn’t bluffing. Now the Steelers are stuck with him because no one is going to give up anything of significance for a guy whose contract runs out at the end of the year. Because it’s a franchise tag, Bell can’t negotiate a new contract until next season. What the Steelers should’ve done is traded him during the offseason. The team that acquired him would’ve been able to negotiate a new contract with him, and the Steelers would’ve gotten a haul back for him. Yes, it looks like they’re getting him back in week 8, but what kind of shape is he going to be in? And how long can he go without getting injured? I’m not sure I want to roll the dice on that I would’ve traded him in the offseason
This brings us back to the Seahawks and Earl Thomas. Thomas, who is on the last year of his current deal, had been holding out because he wanted a new contract. He was clearly unhappy with the team, but decided that he should show up and play so he didn’t get fined game checks. Thomas broke his leg this weekend, and now not only does Thomas lose the opportunity to cash in with a big deal, the Seahawks lose the chance to trade their asset and get a good return for him.
The Patriots have no problem trading players on the final year of their deal. They did it with Richard Seymour (1st rounder; turned into Nate Solder), Chandler Jones (2nd rounder; Malcolm Mitchell and Joe Thuney), Brandin Cooks (1st rounder; Isaiah Wynn), Logan Mankins (Tim Wright and 4th rounder; Trey Flowers, ever heard of him?). And that’s just in the past few years. They haven’t hesitated in trading away players a year or two earlier, and, for the most part, it’s paid off for them.
When a team refuses to trade a player who is unhappy with their contract situation, it often ends up being a negative for both the player and the team. In the Thomas situation, both the team and player lose out because he got injured. In the Bell situation, the Steelers have started 1-2-1, and it’s clearly been a distraction for them. Bell is going to have to come back and play for a team he has been vocal about being upset at, and go into a locker room that has been vocal about their unhappiness with him. It’s a toxic situation to say the least, and one that could’ve easily been avoided. No matter how bad you think the Mack trade was, there’s no doubt both the Seahawks and Steelers would rather be in their position right now(other than the fact that they’re team is awful).
The one memorable time the Patriots have put themselves in that position is with Malcolm Butler last year. He was never right all year, playing poorly all year long, and was unfocused enough the week of the Super Bowl that Belichick felt the need to bench him for the entire game. Something tells me the Patriots won’t be making that mistake again any time soon. Like it or not, based on the results, it seems that what the Patriots have been doing might be the best way to handle players with expiring contracts.
Pat is the host of the Weekend Warrior Podcast
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