Bill Belichick has made a lot of fantastic trades through the years — trades that have helped the New England Patriots become and stay the most consistently dominant team in football for 20 years. When you do it for as long as Belichick has, you’re bound to have some misses, though.
The Mohamed Sanu trade might be the biggest miss of Belichick’s Patriots tenure. Let’s take a closer look at why.
Before we start, it should be noted that I am not including any trades of just draft picks. It would be easy to point to the Patriots trading down with the Green Bay Packers and missing out on Clay Matthews, or the Patriots trading up with the Packers and taking Chad Jackson while the Pack took Greg Jennings. Draft picks are tough to judge, so, unless an established player is coming or going, I didn’t consider those trades. Back to the article.
First of all, in order for a trade to be considered really bad, you have to give up something substantial. That’s why a trade like the one for Prescott Burgess (I had to google him too, don’t worry) doesn’t qualify. The Patriots literally gave up nothing for him, and he never played for them.
But this also eliminates trades like the one that briefly brought Kony Ealy aboard. A certain midday show would try to make you believe the Patriots gave up a ton for Eagly, but, in reality, they simply moved back eight spots in the draft. The player didn’t stick, obviously, but the price tag was so low that it can’t be deemed a big loss.
Doug Gabriel belongs here too, because, even though he struggled as well, New England gave up only a fifth-round pick to get him, so it didn’t kill them in the future.
Next, a player has to underperform, or overperform, in order for the trade to be a bust. Dwayne Allen comes to mind, and, although fans didn’t get exactly what they wanted from him, he ended up being a pretty serviceable blocking tight end for the team. Not terrible for a fourth-rounder, especially when they got a seventh along with the former Colt.
Jacoby Brissett falls into this category as well, since, even though he’s proven to be a decent player, the Patriots wouldn’t have been able to use him, and they got a decent return for him: Phillip Dorsett had at least some impact in key moments for a championship team.
Lastly, eliminating a trade will be a situation where you give up a lot, but the return is pretty good, even if it may seem like not quite enough. This is the case with the Richard Seymour trade. The Patriots moved on from the soon-to-be (hopefully) Hall of Famer, and got a first-round pick back from the Raiders in exchange for him. Seymour would play well for them, making two Pro Bowls, and even being a second-team All-Pro in 2011, but the Patriots would use that pick to draft Nate Solder, who was their starting left tackle for six years and won two Super Bowls. The cost was high, but so was the return.
Drew Bledsoe falls in this category too, because, although I love Drew, the fact that they got a first-round pick after winning the Super Bowl with a different quarterback, is astonishing.
Also, the Deion Branch trade falls in here, because they got a first-rounder for Branch as well, and they didn’t lose the 2006 AFC title game because they didn’t have him — no matter what people tell you.
So, with all of these trades eliminated, what are the worst of Belichick’s tenure with the Patriots?
Let’s take a a look.
The Patriots gave up a third- and a fifth-round pick for Starks and a fifth-rounder in 2005. Starks started six games for the Patriots, doing absolutely nothing spectacular, and most things not even very well. The Patriots put him on injured reserve, and he was never heard from again (at least in New England).
Two trades in 2011 could fall into this category, the ones that brought Chad Johnson and Albert Haynesworth to New England. A relatively small price, Johnson was acquired for a fifth and a sixth, Haynesworth for a fifth, is the only thing that keeps these two from being closer to the top of the worst Belichick has ever made.
Haynesworth didn’t finish the season in New England, and was a complete non-factor while he was in town, but Johnson was more about what he didn’t do than what he did. The Patriots were going to rely on him to be a huge part of their offense in 2011, and instead he ended the season with 15 receptions. Rob Gronkowski was fantastic, but maybe if Tom Brady had more weapons than him and Wes Welker, they would have survived Gronk getting injured in the AFC Championship Game. Still, just simply not enough of a price tag for one of these trades to be considered the worst Belichick has made in New England.
Mankins was still one of the best guards in the game when Belichick shipped him off to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Patriots got back Tim Wright and a fourth-round pick. The fourth-rounder became Trey Flowers, which worked out quite okay. Combine that with Wright, who played pretty good for a championship team, and the return ended up being fine. You can still make a strong, and probably correct, case that the Bucs won the trade, but it wasn’t a complete dud for the Patriots.
Jones was traded after he engaged in some questionable activity during the 2015 playoffs. He was traded to Arizona for Jonathan Cooper and a second-rounder. Although Cooper never played, that second-round pick ended up turning into Joe Thuney and Malcolm Mitchell, which is the only reason this isn’t number one on my personal list. All Jones has done in the four seasons since being traded is rack up 60 sacks and force 17 fumbles. He’s turned into one of the best pass rushers in the game, and the Patriots certainly should have, and possibly could have gotten more for him.
This is it, the moment you’ve all been waiting for. Jimmy Garoppolo has far outperformed his expectations, and the Patriots were only able to get a second-round pick in return for a guy who is now a top-15 quarterback in this league. The problem is that the Patriots had their backs against the wall. They had to decide between him and Tom Brady, with Brady coming off the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history and in the midst of an MVP campaign that ended with him throwing for over 500 yards in Super Bowl 52.
Should New England have gotten more from the San Francisco 49ers in return for Garoppolo? Probably. Could they have gotten more? Maybe, but we’ll never know. Ultimately, if you have this as Bill Belichick’s worst move, I understand. I just can’t do it when Brady was playing at the level he was, and they had to get rid of Garoppolo after not signing him to a long-term contract.
I saved the best, and worst, for last. The Patriots sent a second-round pick for the Atlanta Falcons for Mohamed Sanu. The Patriots needed more help at the receiver position in 2019 after N’Keal Harry was injured, and Antonio Brown’s tenure ended just one game in. The depth was necessary, but there were other options out there, like Emmanuel Sanders, who was traded to San Francisco for a third and a fourth. Also, Sanu, who had never eclipsed 70 catches or 850 yards in his eight-year career — he simply wasn’t going to be a viable number or number two option at wide receiver, even before he got hurt.
With him not making the team to start his second season in New England, there is little doubt that this is the worst trade in Belichick‘s tenure.
I would like to say, before I finish, that I like Sanu as a player and as a leader in the locker room. The reason why this was the worst trade of Belichick’s tenure was more about value and what they gave up relative to what they received in return. Had they sent a fourth-round pick to Atlanta, it would’ve been fine, but a second-rounder was far too high a price to pay for a receiver who is, at best, a third option in an offense.
I’m sure not everyone is going to agree, so put your pick for the worst trade of the Belichick era in the comments below.
Pat is a host of The Patriot Nation Podcast
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