The NFL’s 2020 trade deadline was a relatively quiet one compared to years past, with questions about the future salary cap development creating an unrealistic market for big-name players to be moved. That said, the New England Patriots were still among those actively participating when they sent a conditional sixth-round selection in the 2022 draft to the Miami Dolphins to bring wide receiver Isaiah Ford in.
Shortly after the transaction, we asked Kevin Nogle from The Phinsider about Ford why he believes the 24-year-old was traded. The main reason behind the move apparently was Miami’s overall depth at wide receiver ahead of him.
“Ford is a player who has hung around the Dolphins’ roster since being a seventh-round pick in 2017, spending time on the practice squad and active roster,” Kevin said. “He is someone who has developed into a solid receiver — nothing spectacular but nothing horrible either. He has 41 career catches for 428 yards, including 18 receptions for 184 yards this year. He is a good depth receiver who is somewhere around a possession receiver, who probably still needs some development time.
“The Dolphins were ready to move on from him simply because they have a backlog of receivers coming up, including rookies Malcolm Perry and Lynn Bowden Jr, and third-year receiver Antonio Callaway, who comes off suspension this week.”
With that out of the way, let’s take a closer look at what the transaction means from New England’s perspective.
Ford could be more than a half-season rental
After moving on and off the Dolphins’ active roster somewhat regularly over the first three seasons of his career, Ford is now in the final year of this contract and set to count a bit under $400,000 against the Patriots’ salary cap after his arrival. Nevertheless, he does not necessarily have to be a half-season rental: the fourth-year man is scheduled to become a restricted free agent next spring, meaning New England could tag him to keep him around.
Essentially, the Patriots have four options: they could tag him at the first-, the second- or the original seventh-round level, or not tag him at all. Compensation if he leaves for another team would be relative to his tag level, while each of them comes with a certain cost that will be dependent on 2021’s salary cap number. That said, unless Ford absolutely tears it up after his arrival and exceeds his career production so far, it is hard to see him get tagged at any other than the original-round level.
Nevertheless, New England is in a position to keep its trade investment beyond this year if it does want to do so.
New England adds much-needed depth to its slot
During last week’s game against the Buffalo Bills, the Patriots used both Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski to man a slot position that was opened up when Julian Edelman was placed on injured reserve. While Edelman’s status remains up the air — there is a theoretic choice that he misses the remainder of the season after undergoing a procedure on his injured knee — the two men filling in for him had some ups and downs.
While Jakobi Meyers caught three of his six passes against the Bills from the slot, Olszewski did not register a single catch. Both of them are better suited to play the Z-receiver position rather than the slot, with Olszewski in particular being predominately used on the perimeter before his 2019 rookie campaign ended due to injury.
Adding Ford to the mix, however, changes the composition of the position and allows Meyers and Olszewski to move to their more natural positions outside the slot again. In turn, the ex-Dolphin is expected to fill Edelman’s former role as the number one option inside the formation: 92 percent of his offensive snaps so far this season (207 of 225) came with him aligned in the slot, and he caught 17 of his 18 passes when playing there.
Patriots are getting a smart player, per his former head coach
Not even four weeks before parting ways with him, Dolphins head coach Brian Flores was asked about Isaiah Ford during a media conference call. The two men had worked together since Flores took over the position ahead of the 2019 season, with Ford producing the best two seasons of his three-and-a-half-year professional career under New England’s former defensive play caller.
“Isaiah, he’s smart, he knows multiple positions,” said Flores when speaking about Ford in early October. “He’s where he’s supposed to be. The majority of the time he’s dependable, he’s accountable, and he’s gotten open and made some plays in critical situations. I think he’s earned playing time for sure, and I think that would be kind of the key term: he’s earned the playing time, we’re not giving it to anybody.”
A follow-up move will have to be made
For the time being, Ford does not count against the Patriots’ 53-man squad: just like waiver wire pickup Isaiah Mack, he has been granted a roster exception until his Covid-19 testing process is in the books. This means that New England enters Wednesday with one open spot on its roster after sending rookie tight end Devin Asiasi to injured reserve and two players waiting in the pipeline. Accordingly, a move will have to be made.
While the Patriots simply could release on of their players, there is also a chance they move another to the injured reserve list. Looking at their inactives from Sunday’s game in Buffalo, some candidates stand out (not including Asiasi and healthy scratch Brian Hoyer):
DT Carl Davis (concussion)
S Kyle Dugger (ankle)
CB Stephon Gilmore (knee)
WR N’Keal Harry (concussion)
TE Dalton Keene (knee)
While New England could theoretically send each of those five players to IR, it seems unlikely that Stephon Gilmore or Dalton Keene are the choices: Gilmore’s knee ailment is considered to be minor in nature, while Keene did make the trip to Buffalo but was ruled out after warmups. Both seem to be close to a return, which leaves Carl Davis, Kyle Dugger and N’Keal Harry.
Both Dugger and Harry played valuable roles for the Patriots over the first seven games of their season, and the team would likely want them back if their injury status allows it. This leaves Carl Davis as the primary candidate if New England wants to create its final roster opening by sending a player to injured reserve. Head coach Bill Belichick’s statements during his Tuesday media conference call only add to this belief.
“We’ll just have to see. I mean we brought him in so that we could look at him, but that’s been very, very brief,” Belichick said. “Would we like to be able to do that? Yes. Will we be able to do that? I don’t know.”
Don’t expect Ford to take the field on Monday night
As mentioned above, Ford and fellow Tuesday pickup Isaiah Mack will have to undergo Coronavirus testing before being allowed into the facility. That process takes some time, though: a player being brought in from another team must test negative on five consecutive days and then produce a negative point-of-care test on the morning of Day Six. Only then would he be allowed into the facility.
Assuming that Ford’s first test takes place Wednesday, Monday would be the sixth day of this cycle. The Patriots do play a game against the New York Jets that day, which means that the new wideout (and the new defensive tackle) could theoretically participate. However, given that he is not allowed to practice beforehand, and that the team travels on Sunday, it seems highly unlikely that either Ford or Mack will take the field.
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