After improving their record to 7-0 on Monday night, the New England Patriots added depth to their offense on Tuesday morning: the team reportedly acquired veteran wide receiver Mohamed Sanu from the Atlanta Falcons via trade, sending a second-round draft pick to the 1-6 NFC South team. The move adds another piece to the Patriots’ offensive puzzle, so let’s take a closer look at what it means for the unit and the club as a whole.
Sanu is not a short-term rental
The Falcons signed Sanu to a five-year, $32.5 million contract in 2016, when he hit free agency after four years with the Cincinnati Bengals. This means that he is not just under contract for the 2019 season, but also in 2020 when the veteran receiver is scheduled to hit New England’s books with a salary cap number of $6.0 million — a comparatively hefty number that might get addressed in the upcoming weeks and months.
Ultimately, however, the contract shows that the Patriots did not rent Sanu and his $3.53 million cap hit this year for the short term but that he rather will be in the team’s plans beyond the 2019 season as well.
New England adds a versatile and reliable player...
Even though the Patriots already had Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon and Phillip Dorsett II in the fold alongside some developmental youngsters, they apparently felt the need to add more depth to their wide receiver position. Sanu will provide just that, and a lot more considering that he is a versatile and reliable receiver as Dave Choate, editor in chief at The Falcoholic, told Pats Pulpit shortly after the trade was initially reported.
“Sanu was a great addition to this Falcons team because he’s so versatile and because his excellent hands made him a reliable chain mover,” Dave said about the 30-year-old. “He has a 70%-plus catch rate in Atlanta, saw time throwing the ball, running the ball, and on returns, and was one of the team’s most reliable and fearless third down options. Simply put, he can do whatever you need him to do and at a high level.”
“Sanu is not a deep threat, but he’ll give Brady a hyper-reliable option and will be an asset for the ground game because of his blocking ability. It’s a good get for the Patriots, even if I’m surprised by the price,” continued Dave when speaking about Sanu — a player that has worn numerous hats for Atlanta so far this season as a look at his alignment distribution shows (via Pro Football Focus):
Split wide: 77 snaps
Slot: 296 snaps
On top of it all, Sanu also has experience as a quarterback after having played the position in high school. In his seven-and-a-half seasons in the NFL, the former third-round draft pick completed seven of eight pass attempts for 233 yards and four touchdowns. In this sense, he fits in well alongside Patriots wide receivers Julian Edelman (college quarterback) and Jakobi Meyers (college quarterback commit).
...and a proven commodity at wide receiver
As noted above, Sanu is in his third season in the league and brings considerable experience to the table: he has appeared in a combined 118 regular season and playoff games for the Falcons and the Bengals, and has 402 career receptions on his résumé for 4,607 yards as well as 27 touchdowns — all while regularly being handed the football off as well. In short, he has seen a lot in the NFL.
In New England, it would not be a surprise if the Patriots opted to regularly use the 6-foot-2 wideout from the slot. This, in turn, would allow Julian Edelman to see more time split out wide as a Z-receiver as opposed to the pure slot role he increasingly played over the last two seasons when compared to his pre-ACL injury usage.
The Patriots finally get their man
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Patriots have been trying to get Sanu since before the draft and with the Falcons’ season pretty much unsalvageable at 1-6 they finally were able to bring him in. Seeing the team add the veteran is therefore not surprising — especially when also considering how highly New England head coach Bill Belichick spoke about the Rutgers product ahead of Super Bowl 51.
“He’s big, he’s tough, he’s got great hands; tremendous hands. He has a great catch radius. He catches everything. He’s a tough blocker. He’s hard to tackle. He’s an explosive player,” said Belichick back in early 2017. Now all the attributes the future Hall of Famer listed will be added to an offense that has seen plenty of turnover at the wide receiver position going back all the way back to the 2018 offseason.
The team will need to make a subsequent roster move
Adding Sanu to the 53-man roster means that the team will need to part ways with one of the players currently on it. Depth options such as offensive lineman Korey Cunningham or tight end Eric Tomlinson are obvious candidates, as is defensive lineman Michael Bennett who is just coming off a one-week suspension for contract detrimental to the team. Of course, the Patriots could also opt to place a player on injured reserve.
Heading into Monday night’s game against the New York Jets, the following players were declared inactive because of medical issues:
WR Josh Gordon (knee/ankle)
TE Matt LaCosse (knee)
TE Ryan Izzo (concussion)
RB Rex Burkhead (foot)
SS Patrick Chung (chest/heel)
Could the Patriots move one of the five men to IR, a move that is likely season-ending with starting left tackle Isaiah Wynn (toe) the odds-on favorite to be reactivated in a few weeks? It certainly seems possible at this point, especially with the added depth at wide receiver and the recent acquisitions at tight end.
New England is still scheduled to have a lot of draft picks next year
While the Patriots traded away a second-round pick to bring Sanu on board, they still are projected to own considerable capital heading into next year’s college player selection meeting. Including the compensatory picks the team is expected to receive according to Over The Cap, it currently owns 12 selections:
3rd round: compensatory pick (OT Trent Brown)
3rd round: compensatory pick (DE Trey Flowers)
4th round: from Chicago Bears
6th round: from Houston Texans
6th round: from Denver Broncos
6th round: compensatory pick (DT Malcom Brown)
6th round: compensatory pick (WR Cordarrelle Patterson)
7th round: from Seattle Seahawks
7th round: from Atlanta Falcons
7th round: from Philadelphia Eagles
While the vast majority of picks is currently scheduled for day three of the draft, New England still owns plenty of selections and should be in a position to move around the board if it sees fit.