The New England Patriots have never shied away from making a trade before the annual deadline. They have done so in four of the last five years, even though not all of the moves have eventually worked out (hello, Isaiah Ford).
Nonetheless, if an opportunity for the Patriots to improve either their roster or their long-term draft outlook comes up they are not afraid to take advantage.
With the team now at 4-4 and just outside the AFC playoff picture, it would be a surprise if any big-name contributors are being moved on Tuesday. Sure, former first-round wide receiver N’Keal Harry could be sent elsewhere following his agent’s trade request and quiet start into the season, but in the grand scheme of things it appears the team would rather see itself as a “buyer” than a “seller.”
The question is this: If the Patriots were to buy, who would make sense?
How the team plans to answer it we do not know, but a few years back head coach/general manager Bill Belichick gave some insight into what New England is looking for in its in-season trade acquisitions. Those guidelines can still be applied today, and give us an idea who may or may not be a realistic target.
“A guy that comes in here after missing all spring, all training camp and a few weeks of regular season game plans and adjustments and everything, I mean, there’s no way he can compete with players who have been through all that,” Belichick said back in 2017.
“Usually you bring a guy in if you have a role for him. I mean, otherwise, why would you bring a guy in if you already have two guys that can do this job? You don’t really need a third guy to come in and do that. Look, depth is always good to have, but you know what I mean. Realistically, how many guys do you need in a certain role? There’s probably going to be other things on your team that you need more.”
With that statement in mind, let’s take a look at four potential targets that would actually make some sense for the Patriots.
CB Kyle Fuller
What would be his role? Starter-level perimeter cornerback
Who would he replace? Jalen Mills, Joejuan Williams
What would it take? A mid-round draft pick plus a contract negotiation
A former first-round draft pick and two-time Pro Bowler, Fuller joined the Denver Broncos earlier this offseason. The 29-year-old appeared to be locked into a starting spot opposite first-round rookie Patrick Surtain II, and he actually did start the team’s first five games of the season. Since then, however, he was relegated to bench duty.
Playing on a fully-guaranteed salary of $9 million, the Broncos are now attempting to part ways with their big-money offseason acquisition. Nothing has materialized as of yet, and for the Patriots to be interested a major restructure would need to happen: New England has only $2.66 million in salary cap space available, which is not enough to fit Fuller in.
From a pure roster construction perspective, however, bringing him aboard would make sense. Adding him to a secondary that lost both Stephon Gilmore (traded to Carolina) and Jonathan Jones (sent to season-ending injured reserve) would allow the team to insert him into the starting spot opposite CB1 J.C. Jackson — a spot currently held by Jalen Mills, who has struggled the last three weeks.
Mills appears to be better suited in the slot or as a rotational safety, and adding Fuller to the mix might allow the team to use him in a role better suited for his skills. Likewise, cornerback Joejuan Williams would move back to a less prominent role again.
CB Desmond King II
What would be his role? Rotational slot cornerback
Who would he replace? Myles Bryant
What would it take? A late-round draft pick
If the Patriots want to keep moving forward with Jackson, Mills and Williams as their top three outside cornerbacks, adding another body to Jonathan Jones’ former spot in the slot might be smart business. If that were to happen, Desmond King II is a name to watch.
A former All-Pro in his fifth season in the league, King has seen inconsistent playing time on a bad Houston Texans defense. Houston general manager Nick Caserio might be willing to part ways with him in a deal beneficial for both parties: the Patriots would add another experienced body to the slot position currently held by former undrafted free agent Myles Bryant, while the Texans would recoup a late-round draft choice.
WR Andy Isabella
What would be his role? Fourth wide receiver/Slot receiver
Who would he replace? N’Keal Harry
What would it take? A mid-round draft pick
The top three wide receiver spots on the Patriots’ roster are set in stone, with Jakobi Meyers, Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne all seeing regular action on a week-to-week basis. The same cannot be said for the fourth guy on the depth chart: the aforementioned N’Keal Harry has been quiet so far, and has yet to live up to his status as a first-round draft selection back in 2019.
If the Patriots want to upgrade his spot — maybe send him elsewhere along the way as part of a package deal or a separate transaction — Andy Isabella is a player to watch. The former second-round draft pick has played only six snaps so far this season, is still on his rookie contract through 2022, and has proven production in the league. Maybe a mid-round selection would be enough to bring him on board.
Sure, Isabella is a different type of receiver compared to Harry, but he would give New England a possible slot option to work alongside an otherwise big skill position group. He would be a package-specific weapon, but as such fit what Belichick and the Patriots want from their in-season acquisitions.
DE Lorenzo Carter
What would be his role? Rotational edge defender
Who would he replace? Ronnie Perkins, Jamie Collins Sr, Chase Winovich*
What would it take? A late-round draft pick
The Patriots have a deep front seven, so adding more players to the mix would seem like a curious move. That being said, New England trading for Carter as a rotational pass rush option would not be entirely unrealistic.
The 25-year-old could take over a depth spot on the edge, which in turn would allow the team to a) have better depth even with Ronnie Perkins on a de facto redshirt year, b) keep Jamie Collins in more of an off-the-ball role, and c) be cautious with Chase Winovich (who is currently on injured reserve). He would be a role-specific player, but one that might have value both on defense and in the kicking game.
As for Carter, he has been solid but unspectacular ever since joining the New York Giants in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft. A change of scenery might benefit the Georgia product, and would allow the Giants to get something back for him before a likely departure in free agency next offseason.
So, what will happen?
The Patriots are tight against the cap, but would have means to get more flexible from a financial perspective: they could part ways with some of their players via trade (again: N’Keal Harry) or simply work out cost-effective structures with their trade partners. That all being said, New England bringing somebody in from the outside still seems like a long-shot at this point in time.
Why? Besides the salary cap considerations, the Patriots are also in a relatively comfortable position at their supposed positions of need. Sure, the fourth wide receiver spot could be upgraded but N’Keal Harry has had some moments over the last few weeks as a part-time pass catcher and blocker. Likewise, both Myles Bryant and Joejuan Williams have had some encouraging moments since the departures of Jonathan Jones and Stephon Gilmore.
Considering that the Patriots would have to give up assets to bring any of the players listed above on board — or anybody else — they might decide the investment is not worth it. After already swinging a number of trades since March, making any more should not be expected even if the players listed here do make sense in a vacuum.