One of the storylines that flies under the radar during the draft is NFL teams soon thereafter having to exercise the fifth-year option on former first-round selections. They have to choose whether or not the 32 players taken in the first round of the draft three years prior are worth giving that option to and keep them under contract for an additional fifth season.
Players whose options are not exercised are eligible to hit free agency after one year instead of two, which could create opportunities for other clubs to take advantage of in the trade market. Enter Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots.
In years past, we have repeatedly seen the Patriots go after players at the tail-end of their rookie contracts as a means to get value. Examples of such trades include Akeem Ayers in 2014, Akiem Hicks in 2015, and Kyle Van Noy in 2016. Earlier this offseason, they made a similar move, acquiring linebacker Mack Wilson from the Cleveland Browns for edge rusher Chase Winovich in a player-for-player swap.
Whether it involves 2023 draft picks or could be another player for player deal, the Patriots could be in line to make a deal for any of these players and see if they respond better in New England. And with 11 of 32 players this year having those fifth-year options declined — including the Patriots’ own N’Keal Harry — there is potential for more moves.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the 10 non-Harry players to see whether or not they are realistic candidates to be acquired via trade.e
Kick the Tires
These players are guys the Patriots should take a look at if they can get a good deal for positions that could use more depth at.
DE Clelin Ferrell, Las Vegas Raiders: Farrell was drafted fourth overall by the Raiders’ previous front office and has provided very little production in three years with the team. He may be a guy who could prove to be a serviceable depth option with the right coaching staff and a change of scenery. Ferrell was productive as an edge-setting defensive end at Clemson although his pass rush production has been lacking with eight sacks in three years. Perhaps the Patriots can find a role for him as the fourth/fifth edge guy on the depth chart. His $4.77 million salary could be a problem in a potential deal, as that’s too high for such a depth option, but if they can negotiate that number down or the Raiders keep some of that salary I could see a move happening.
OT Andre Dillard, Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles thought they were getting good value in Andre Dillard, who was considered a top-20 pick that fell to Philly at 23. He hasn’t been able to hold down a starting spot, however, and just last year failed to win the starting left tackle gig in training camp. The Patriots could swoop in and see if he can provide some depth at the position behind Isaiah Wynn and Trent Brown for a late-round pick swap. Dillard is set to make $2.18 million in 2022, which shouldn’t be too cost-prohibitive for a third tackle.
In this tier, the Patriots should not even consider adding these players over who they currently roster, whether it’s because of salary concerns or lack of spots at the position they play.
C Garrett Bradbury, Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings were hoping that Bradbury would be a mainstay for them at the center spot, but he has struggled against NFL defensive tackles. The older and athletic Bradbury tested well, which caused the Vikings to jump on him at No. 18 overall, but the lack of production at the center spot has hurt the team. It’s unlikely the Patriots consider him at all after drafting three players on the offensive line, with their first-round pick being having the ability to start at either left guard or center.
RB Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders: Jacobs has put together solid production when healthy, with no fewer than 1,200 yards from scrimmage in his three years in the NFL. After a stellar rookie year, however, his production has declined; his yards per touch dropped from 5.0 in 2019 to 4.3 and 4.5 in the next two years while he was also dealing with injuries. With the heavy amount of usage the position involves, the Raiders are likely starting to look at future replacements. The Patriots’ RB room is likely full with the draft selection of Pierre Strong in the fourth round; they could also carry a fifth running back if sixth-round rookie Kevin Harris has a good training camp.
S Johnathan Abram, Las Vegas Raiders: Abram is a guy who simply hasn’t panned out in the NFL after the Raiders took him. He typically plays in the box, but whiffs frequently when trying to make the tackle as well as being a liability in coverage. Abram would sit behind Adrian Phillips and Jabrill Peppers on the box safety depth chart, with the latter already more or less in the same situation as a former first-round draft pick.
DL L.J. Collier, Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks drafted Collier at the end of the first round, looking to bolster their pass rush on the interior. It did not happen: Collier only recorded three sacks, all of which came in 2020 (although he did have a game-sealing stop against the Patriots that year). At 6-foot-2, 290 pounds he is undersized for an interior D-lineman and his lack of pass rushing chops wouldn’t make him a fit on passing downs either. The Patriots would prefer to see if sixth-rounder Sam Roberts can fill such a role.
Not Likely to be Available
QB Daniel Jones, New York Giants: Jones has been up and down for the Giants, and has never taken the step forward necessary to become a franchise quarterback. I’ve seen more promise in one year out of Mac Jones than three from Daniel Jones, who’s been very streaky as a passer with great physical gifts but struggles processing what he sees on the field to make the right reads. That being said, the Giants aren’t necessarily going to put Jones on the market in the first place, as he’ll be in a “prove-it” year in 2022.
LB Devin Bush, Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers traded up 10 spots in the 2019 draft to take Bush, who hasn’t been that impressive for them. Between injuries and uneven play, they still have issues with their off-ball linebacker group three years later. The Patriots feel pretty confident in their current linebacker room, with second-year player Cameron McGrone, veteran Raekwon McMillan and trade acquisition Mack Wilson the prime candidates to play next to Ja’Whaun Bentley in 2022. Salary obligations wouldn’t be too problematic for the Patriots with Bush set to earn just $3.06 million, but the likelihood the Steelers trade him to a conference rival set to play them this year is very low.
DL Jerry Tillery, Los Angeles Chargers: The Chargers took Tillery 29th overall and while they elected to not give him the fifth-year option he still projects to be a part of their defensive line rotation. I think this is a case where L.A. like the player but not for the price the fifth-year option would have come at. Based on the Patriots’ actions in the draft, they feel fine rolling with their current interior defensive line group after the draft, and will more likely make another free agency move at the position than go after Tillery.
OT Kaleb McGary, Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons traded back up in the first round and took the former Washington Huskies right tackle with the intent of making him their starter at the position. McGary has been inconsistent with the Falcons and has really struggled in pass protection — a big issue since the NFC South features the likes of Cameron Jordan, Brian Burns, and Shaq Barrett lining up across from him. McGary allowed nine sacks in 2021, which obviously doesn’t cut the mustard in pass protection, and could benefit from a change of scenery. Given the current state of the Falcons’ roster, however, I think they just have him earn the job at RT and hope for the best. Now if he were to lose that job, I could see the Patriots swooping in, but until then it’s unlikely they bring him aboard.