The New England Patriots have never shied away from pulling the trigger around the NFL trade deadline because the timing is perfect for Bill Belichick and company to add valuable players to the team’s roster. Teams, after all, have already settled down eight weeks into the season as player roles are clearly distributed while some bad organizations have turned their focus to the future and towards adding some draft capital.
The Patriots have made contact with both this year heading into the final few hours before the league’s deadline. Just last week, they acquired wide receiver Mohamed Sanu from the 1-7 Atlanta Falcons in exchange for a second-round selection in the 2020 draft. Two days later, the team sent disgruntled rotational defensive lineman Michael Bennett to the Dallas Cowboys for a conditional seventh-round pick in 2021.
The team has generally never been afraid of swinging a trade at the last possible moment. In recent memory, for example, they acquired players such as Aqib Talib, Akeem Ayers, Jonathan Casillas, Akiem Hicks, Kyle Van Noy, and now Mohamed Sanu. Furthermore, the Patriots also traded away the likes of Jimmy Garoppolo and the aforementioned Michael Bennett. New England being involved in the trade market would not be out of the ordinary.
The question, of course, is whether or not the a trade would make sense from the team’s perspective — and there are two factors to consider:
1.) Capital, either in return for a player traded away or to bring a player on board.
2.) Available options if a player is targeted to be acquired via trade.
The first is pretty straight forward: the Patriots currently have only $2.3 million in salary cap space available, and any potentially incoming players would need to fit under this number. The team has therefore essentially two options when it comes to the financial aspect of trading: targeting players that have a lower cap number than that and restructuring any incoming contracts/making follow-up moves to clear more cap space.
This, for example, makes trading for Washington Redskins left tackle Trent Williams unlikely: New England simply does not have the financial resources at the moment to fit the 31-year-old and his $5.7 million cap number onto its books. Could something be worked out with Williams to reduce his cap hit after a trade? Certainly, especially considering that Williams actively wants to leave Washington, but it makes the entire operation more difficult.
On top of this all, it always takes two to tango which leads to the second point mentioned above: available options to be acquired via trade.
While every team in the NFL is likely open to move on from players for the right price, only a select few would make sense to be targeted from the Patriots’ perspective — simply because of the fact that the 8-0 team has a deep overall roster across the board, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. Realistically, there are only three positions New England might be after today: tight end, the offensive line, and place kicker.
Kicker is the least realistic of the three, because why would a team send away its kicker unless there are obvious performance issues? Even teams who are already on to the next season and acquiring as much draft capital as possible virtually never trade away players at the position. This, in turn, leaves the tight end position and the offensive line as potential target areas for the Patriots’ front office before today’s deadline.
One of the big names that has been mentioned in regards to the Patriots is Trent Williams, who is reportedly available for trade. As noted above, however, New England would need to make some additional moves in order to fit the veteran under its cap — let alone trade a high draft pick to Washington to get him aboard. There is another factor to consider as well: starting left tackle Isaiah Wynn is now eligible to return to practice. The second-year man would add significant depth along the offensive line if he indeed returns from injured reserve.
Other offensive tackles to possibly keep an eye on are the Cleveland Browns’ Greg Robinson, the Tennessee Titans’ Dennis Kelly, or the Seattle Seahawks’ George Fant — all players whose teams might be willing to move on from them if the right chance presented itself. The expected return of Isaiah Wynn drastically alters the picture, however, as the Patriots’ need for depth at the position would be reduced quite a bit.
This leaves the tight end position, and three players have been singled out as prominent targets for the Patriots: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ O.J. Howard, the Cincinnati Bengals’ Tyler Eifert, and the Atlanta Falcons’ Austin Hooper. All three would add significant depth and upside to a spot that has seen its fair share of personnel turnover ever since the offseason retirement of future Hall of Famer Rob Gronkowski.
Eifert and Hooper, however, are reportedly not available at this point in time which leaves Howard as the only target out of the “big three” the Patriots might be after. Financially speaking, the soon-to-be 25-year-old would make sense for the Patriots: his cap hit at this point of the season is under $1.0 million, so he would fit onto the team’s books even without a potential restructure. Furthermore, Howard is under contract through 2020 as well.
Getting him on board will not be easy, however, considering that the Buccaneers are reportedly looking for a “substantial offer”. How such an offer would look like is anybody’s guess, but it might involve a first-round pick considering that this is what Tampa Bay invested in him in the first place back in 2017. As said above, it always takes two to tango and the Patriots might be hesitant to give up this much after already investing in Sanu.
Beyond Howard as well as Eifert and Hooper, the market for tight ends appears to be comparatively barren. After all, New England already has four tight ends under contract at the moment — Ryan Izzo and Matt LaCosse, who are currently both nursing injuries, as well as Benjamin Watson and Eric Tomlinson — and with the exception of the three men listed above it is hard to see any upgrades become available at a reasonable price.
With that all being said, let’s get back to the question posted above: Would a trade today make sense from the Patriots’ perspective? The answer is yes, but putting all the factors into account — from the current composition of the roster, to wide receiver N’Keal Harry and left tackle Isaiah Wynn being expected to return from injured reserve, to the players who might be available — the best course of action might be to just sit this year’s trade deadline out.