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2018 NFL trade deadline: Breaking down the Patriots’ targets on defense

The Patriots’ defense has looked out of sorts for going on two years. Will they address it today?

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Pittsburgh Steelers v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Earlier in the week, I broke down some possible trade deadline acquisitions that the the Patriots could make on offense. I wrote about the pros and cons of adding to the offense, but I think that we can all agree that adding to the defense should be a higher priority. After a 2017 season that saw an inconsistent and slow defensive group finally get exposed in the Super Bowl, not many of the major questions have been answered. The 2018 Patriots still lack speed and their edge rushers remain inconsistent. I expect them to look for front seven upgrades today, and there are plenty of trade candidates.

Edge Defenders

Markus Golden

Golden, a 3-4 linebacker turned 4-3 defensive end in Arizona’s new scheme, has underwhelmed since he broke out with 12.5 sacks in 2016. After tearing his ACL and missing the final twelve games in 2017, Golden has returned as a part-time player in the last year of his rookie contract, playing 46.7% of defensive snaps. Golden has been hot over his last three games, recording 1.5 sacks, four quarterback hits, and one pass defended.

While Golden will likely never be the double-digit sack guy (and Marcus Cannon annihilator) he was in 2016 – and PFF suggested that he was a regression candidate – he is a guy that will add needed depth to the Patriots edge players at a minimal draft pick and financial cost. As a former second round pick at a premium defensive position, the Patriots can expect Golden to factor into compensatory pick calculations with his next contract.

Shane Ray/Shaquil Barrett

Shane Ray and Shaquil Barrett are edge defenders that have had experience playing both 3-4 outside linebacker and 4-3 defensive end. On a non-contending team like the Broncos, they should both be available as free-agents to be.

Ray was a hyped prospect at Missouri playing alongside Michael Sam. Despite being issued a misdemeanor citation for marijuana possession three days before the draft, Ray was traded up for and selected 23rd overall back in 2015. After showing promise in limited snaps behind Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware his first two seasons in the league, many though that he was going to shine in a full-time role. Instead, Ray has struggled with a nagging wrist injury and has been ineffective when healthy. Denver declined to pick up his 5th year option.

Shaquil Barrett fought his way onto the Denver roster as an UDFA, and quickly became a regular. While Ray has a much higher ceiling and has arguably better utility on the Patriots as a pure sub-rusher, Barrett has a much more well-rounded game. Barrett has been active for every game dating back to week 1 in 2015 and has been a major contributor on special teams every year of his career. He also has a knack for forcing turnovers with seven forced fumbles in his career.

Vinny Curry

Curry was a part of the Eagles’ fearsome edge defender rotation last year with Brandon Graham, Chris Long, and Derek Barnett, before he became too expensive to keep this offseason. He cashed in with Tampa Bay on a three-year deal worth $23 million, but his contract really only consists of a one-year guarantee. All money after 2018 is only guaranteed for injury, so the Patriots could clear Curry’s $8 million dollar cap hit for 2019 with no dead money after the season.

Curry is currently nursing an ankle injury that has sidelined him since week six, and he’s probably out for another couple of weeks. Contingent on his injury not threatening the rest of his season, Curry is a solid option as a 3rd down sub rusher and his 2018 base salary is $3 million, so trading for him would not put the Patriots over the cap.

My opinion: Yes on Golden and Barrett, no on Ray; Curry is too risky with his ankle injury


Jamie Collins Sr.

The “Jamie Collins to the Pats” rumblings began with an innocuous suggestion by ESPN’s Bill Barnwell in a trade idea column three weeks ago. While Collins’ prorated base salary is more than the Patriots can afford with their cap space, Barnwell introduces the idea of Cleveland converting some of it to a bonus to lower the cost for the Patriots. Whether or not Barnwell’s conclusion that Cleveland would dump Collins for nothing but a 7th round pick to save $2.5 million is realistic is another story, but that’s the framework of what the potential deal would look like.

As one of the only Jamie Collins truthers left, I would more than welcome the return of Collins, who in my opinion should have never been traded in the first place. The acquisition of Collins would help address the biggest issue with the Patriots’ linebackers, their lack of speed. He would push Hightower and Van Noy to the edge more where they can better utilize their skill sets. Jeff Howe reported this weekend that the Patriots did in fact inquire about Collins.

Todd Davis

Davis has long been an underrated linebacker, and he’s under contract through 2020 on very reasonable cap hits. He isn’t a guy that Denver has any obligation to trade, so we’re probably looking at an offer of at least a 4th round pick. To me, Davis strikes me as a linebacker that Belichick likes. He represents an upgrade over Elandon Roberts as an early down run stuffer and can push Hightower and Van Noy to the edge as well.

Haason Reddick

Reddick was an athletic freak coming out of Temple and the Cardinals pounced on him with the 13th overall pick in 2017, knowing that he was heading for a position change from defensive end to linebacker at the next level. Midway through the second year of his career, Reddick is trying hard to avoid bust status. It’s way too early to declare it right now, especially when considering all of the coaching, scheme and multi-position work he’s had to go through early in his career, but his name has already been floated in trade talks.

After playing no more than 18% of defensive snaps in weeks 1-4, Reddick hasn’t left the field over his last four, playing almost exclusively 4-3 OLB. PFF thinks that he’s OK but Ian Rapaport insinuated last week that Reddick may have played his way off of the trading block in the eyes of the Arizona front office. Perhaps that is the case, but the theory that the Cardinals used the last four weeks to showcase him for a trade could also hold true. At this point, Reddick’s trade value is at least a 3rd round pick. The Patriots make a lot of sense as a suitor, as they have a need for an athletic linebacker and are projected for four 3rd round picks.

My opinion: Yes on Collins if they can make the money work. I wouldn’t pay the Broncos’ asking price for Davis. If the Cardinals will accept the Lions’ 2019 3rd rounder and another piece (Eric Rowe?) for Reddick then I’m in.

All-in trades

Patrick Peterson/Chris Harris Jr.

Patrick Peterson is the guy that many have been clamoring for since he made a declaration that he wanted out of Arizona. GM Steve Keim publicly rebuffed the request, likely in an attempt to save his job. That being said, I could see the Patriots giving out an offer the Cardinals can’t refuse like a 2019 1st round pick, Eric Rowe, and a conditional 2020 3rd rounder. If the Patriots are really serious about going all-in on Brady’s final years, controlling Peterson alongside Stephon Gilmore through 2020 would be one hell of a way to do it.

The same concept would be true if the Patriots made a similar offer for Chris Harris Jr. who is controlled for one fewer year, but at a much cheaper price. Elway would hate to deal CHJ to someone in his conference, let alone the Patriots, but a 1st round pick offer could be too good to resist.

Bobby Wagner

Seattle is dead. They might now want to hear it, but that team isn’t winning anything with their current core, their championship window is closed for now. The cost for arguably the best linebacker in the game will be steep, at least a 1st round pick. And hell, John Schneider and Pete Carroll might just hang up the phone. But this kind of aggressive acquisition would inject new life into a defense that has struggled in the middle for most of the last two years. Wagner is controlled through 2019 and space for his $11.5 million cap hit next year can be made by the release of Hightower and Dwayne Allen.

My opinion: I would trade a future 1st round pick (or more) for Peterson and Wagner if available. I would probably balk at Elway’s price for Chris Harris Jr.

If someone asked a room full of Patriots fans “have you ever been personally victimized by the Patriots’ defense in last two years”, every hand in the room would go up. Once a team that was known for its tenacious defense and opportunistic and scrappy defenders, the Patriots’ defensive unit has been out of character for going on two years now.

Will it take a blockbuster move for them to fix it? Can the Patriots afford to only add marginal talent to their front 7 when the window for a championship could shut at any moment? Those are questions that I am throughly unqualified to answer, but I’m sure they have been thought about for hours and hours in the Patriots’ front office. The deadline is today at 4:00 PM EST and I’m looking forward to seeing how they address them.