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Sunday Patriots Notes: Josh Uche headlines list of potential trade candidates

Notes and thoughts on the Patriots and the NFL on Oct. 29.

New England Patriots v Tennessee Titans Photo by Silas Walker/Getty Images

Fresh off an impressive victory over the Buffalo Bills, the New England Patriots will stay in the division in Week 8: they have traveled to Miami to take on a 5-2 Dolphins team that is among the most potent in the NFL on the offensive side of the ball. Needless to say, the challenge will be significant for a surging Patriots squad trying to keep building momentum and improving to 3-5 on the year.

Naturally, our attention this week was on that game. For anything else not covered elsewhere on Pats Pulpit over the last few days, please make sure to check out our Sunday Patriots Notes.

1. Josh Uche headlines list of potential trade candidates: The NFL trade deadline is less than 60 hours away, meaning that activity might start to ramp up soon. The Patriots have, of course, already made one trade this season when they (re)acquired cornerback J.C. Jackson from the Los Angeles Chargers.

They might not be done yet. Depending on their game against Miami, they might be looking into additional moves both from the perspective of acquiring talent and moving on from players. If they opt to go the latter route, there are several candidates on the team.

Here is our rundown of the most realistic trade options, starting with fourth-year edge Josh Uche.

ED Josh Uche: Not only has the fourth-year man “garnered trade interest,” according to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, he also did not make the trip to Miami. Would a trade make sense for New England, though? To a degree, yes. Uche is in a contract year, has not developed into a three-down player, and the Patriots’ pass rush had one of its best performances of the year last week without him. Ultimately, though, it will all depend on the return — and it might have to be substantial considering a) Uche’s potential as a bona fide pass rusher, and b) Matthew Judon still being out at least until December. Unless the Patriots move to a definitive “sellers” mindset over the coming 48 hours, parting ways with Uche might not be in their best interest unless the compensation looks the part (e.g. a Day 2 draft pick).

WR Tyquan Thornton: Thornton was a second-round draft pick a year ago, but his career in New England has been a challenging one. After again starting the season on injured reserve, and playing only three snaps against Buffalo last week, his outlook does not appear to be overly encouraging. Add the fact that the Patriots currently have seven wideouts on their 53-man roster, and they might be willing to move on from the Baylor product in case the right offer comes along.

S Adrian Phillips: A core defender for the first three seasons after his arrival as a free agent in 2020, Phillips’ playing time has taken a hit this year: he has played only 20.2 percent of defensive snaps through seven weeks. While some of that might have had to do with a prominent special teams role, the fact that Cody Davis’ return cut into his workload last week leaves him in an even more uncertain position. The 31-year-old likely has limited trade value, but if a team makes an offer New England might be all ears.

WR Kendrick Bourne: Bourne’s name has come up in trade speculation repeatedly since last summer, but he remains on the team for now. And if his performance this year is any indication, removing him would be a blow to the offense — and a clear indication the Patriots would be sellers this year. Unless they do not feel good about their ability to compete in 2023 following the game against the Dolphins, trading him would be a bold move.

DB Jalen Mills: After rarely leaving the field during his first two seasons in New England, at least when healthy, Mills has played only one fourth of defensive snaps through the first seven games this year. He does have value due to his experience, leadership and versatility, but one has to wonder whether that would trump a trade offer even for a late-round draft choice or rotational player.

OL Michael Onwenu: Like Uche, Onwenu is in the final year of his rookie deal and it appears the Patriots prepared for his departure when they drafted the likes of Sidy Sow and Atonio Mafi earlier this year. That being said, his importance to the current offensive line cannot be understated: he is one of its top five players regardless if lining up at right guard or — as was the case last week against Buffalo — right tackle. Given the question surrounding Mafi and/or the right tackle depth, parting ways with the 25-year-old would further weaken the group.

Other players have been speculated as possible candidates as well. Somewhat plausible players such as safety Kyle Dugger (final year of his rookie deal) or wide receivers DeVante Parker (playing time decrease after quiet performances) and JuJu Smith-Schuster (seemingly surpassed as a top receiver by the more explosive Demario Douglas) have been part of this, as have been rather outlandish options like starting quarterback Mac Jones.

The Patriots have never been afraid of making the shocking move, but from our point of view those are not really realistic trades the club would entertain at this point. In general, it appears New England will play things slowly and not actively try to unload talent just for the sake of getting something in return.

2. Fans want Patriots to be sellers at the trade deadline: While their trade deadline strategy remains in the dark for now, Patriots fans want to see the team part ways with some of its talent. 50 percent of participants in this week’s SB Nation Reacts survey picked “selling” as their preferred approach to the upcoming deadline.

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In other survey results, Patriots fan confidence has increased significantly following the win over the Bills: the graph spiked from just 7 percent a week ago to 34 this week. For comparison, Buffalo’s fan confidence dropped from 40 to just 15 percent in Week 7.

Meanwhile, fans believe that Tyquan Thornton is the most likely among the relatively quiet members of New England’s wide receiver depth chart to make an impact on the team this season. Half of the polled fans picked him over DeVante Parker (28%) and JuJu Smith-Schuster (22%).

3. Mike McDaniel is not surprised to see the Patriots improving: The Patriots started the season in disappointing fashion, losing five of their first six games — including a 24-17 home loss to the Dolphins. However, coming off an impressive victory over the Bills they appear to be trending up again.

For Miami head coach Mike McDaniel, that does neither come out of nowhere nor as a surprise.

“Every year they get better during the course of the season,” he said earlier this week. “I can’t remember how many times since Coach Belichick has been there — I think he got his start when I was going to prom? — how many of the scenarios have been like what’s happening here with the team after four weeks or whatever, and it’s like a created adversity. And sure enough, they get better as the season progresses.

“I think that is the formula. I think that’s the end-all for NFL football and I see a better version of themselves — because my eyes and ears are wide open — as I would expect from historical, just my observations since I’ve been an adult. They focus on fundamentals. They do a good job tuning out the noise. I see a team that just last week was an example. I’m sure there were some people that lost money but not anybody within the team. I’ve learned not to be surprised at their team development and growth during the course of the season.”

4. Patriots trying their best to prepare for the Miami heat: With temperatures expected to be in the 80s on Sunday afternoon, New England tried its best to prepare for the conditions in practice. Quarterback Mac Jones, for example, was one of several players to wear additional layers under his jersey in an attempt to ready himself.

5. Davon Godchaux is a ‘key part’ of the Patriots defense: When thinking about the core guys on the Patriots’ defense, Davon Godchaux’s name will likely not come up right away. According to defensive line coach DeMarcus Covington, however, it should.

“When you think about nose tackles especially in today’s football, a lot of them don’t get that much recognition,” he said this week. “It’s more the outside edge rushers, it’s more the OLB, it’s more the defensive ends who can rush the passer who get the most recognition on all teams. But when you think about Davon, he’s a guy that means so much to our defense.

“People outside of this building might not know that. To us, he’s a key part of our defense. He does a good job of controlling the middle of the defense in the run game and the pass game, and he’s just such an effective guy for us that does a good job of doing his job consistently. He doesn’t get bored with the consistent plays, doing the routine plays — doesn’t get bored at all doing that for us. We’re glad we have him on our defense.”

Godchaux joined the Patriots as part of their free agency spending spree in 2021, and has been a steady contributor at his defensive tackle position. He signed a two-year contract extension last summer and is now locked up through 2024.

6. Kicking game group wants Week 7 to be a building block: The Patriots’ kicking game unit played arguably its best game of the season against Buffalo, gaining some much-needed momentum after a handful of disappointing outings. Accordingly, captain Matthew Slater hopes to see that performance as the start of something greater.

“I thought, across the board, it was probably one of the best if not the best outing’s we’ve had. And I think it was a small sample of what we can be when we do it right and we do it with consistency,” he said.

“We have a lot of belief in the players that we have, the coaches that we have, and for us it’s just about translating that to the field to game day. I though we did a good job of that [Sunday]. We’re excited about it, but we’re hoping to build upon it. We’ve got a lot of football left to play and we want to be a big part of, hopefully, what is our team’s success moving forward.”

7. Ezekiel Elliott is in some elite company: Running back Ezekiel Elliott has not lit the world on fire through his first seven games as a Patriot, but he has been a steady performer. In total, he has touched the ball 73 times for 283 yards and a pair of touchdowns — an average of just 3.9 yards per combined run and reception.

That said, Elliott is among the league-leaders in success rate on early downs as the following chart shared by NFL analyst Nate Tice shows:

Elliott’s success rate of 43.6 percent on first and second downs trails only Philadelphia’s D’Andre Swift (51.6%), Miami’s Raheem Mostert (48.8%) and San Francisco’s Christian McCaffrey (43.9%).

8. Two teams capable of limiting big plays will match up on Sunday: On paper, Patriots-Dolphins is a strength-vs-strength and weakness-vs-weakness matchup: New England’s defense and Miami’s offense are the better units within their respective teams. That being said, the Dolphins defense — which will have star cornerback Jalen Ramsey available for the first time this season — has also had its moments.

One of the positive stats for the team is its ability to limit big plays. Through seven Ramsey-less games this year, the team has surrendered an average of 4.7 such plays (i.e. runs of 10+ yards and passes of 20+ yards) per game, according to Arjun Menon of Pro Football Focus.

That number ranks 12th best in the NFL. The Patriots, for comparison, are tied for third at 4.1.

9. Could a change in kickoff strategy be on the horizon? When winning the coin toss, the Patriots traditionally decide to defer receiving the ball to the second half. That way, they could have the opportunity to create some big momentum swings right around intermission.

With the way the team has played so far this year, however, one has to wonder whether they might re-think that plan moving forward. One of the team’s biggest issues, after all, have been slow starts. That was decidedly not the problem on Sunday against Buffalo, with the team receiving the opening kickoff after losing the coin toss, marching right down for a field goal, and putting the pressure right on the opponent to answer.

It seems unlikely one game will change the belief system in New England as far as coin tosses are concerned. Bill Belichick might factor it into his decision making, however.

Last season, almost 92 percent of teams deferred to the second half after winning the coin toss.

10. Setting up the week ahead: Before turning the attention to the upcoming Week 9 game against the Washington Commanders, the Patriots will have to maneuver the NFL trade deadline. By Tuesday, Oct. 31, 4 p.m. ET, all trading will be suspended for the remainder of the league year (i.e. until mid-March 2024).

Once that hurdle is taken, the Patriots will then start preparing for their home game against the Commanders — a 1 p.m. ET kickoff on Nov. 5.

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