The NFL trade deadline is coming up later on Tuesday, and there is plenty of intrigue surrounding the New England Patriots. Their current 2-6 record is among the worst in the NFL, and they are facing a major uphill climb if they want to return to the playoff conversation.
Given how the team has performed so far in 2023, and how hard it has been bitten by injuries lately, such a rally seems unlikely. As a consequence, the Patriots might want to start looking toward the future: if they are planning to go full rebuild next offseason, trying to add more capital makes perfect sense.
New England does not have a ton of players who qualify as realistic trade candidates, whether it is because of positional value, injury, draft status, or importance to the operation. Neither a 38-year-old Matthew Slater will be moved, nor will an injured first-round rookie Christian Gonzalez or long-time team captain David Andrews.
There are a few players who appear to be able to fall into the sweet spot of having trade value and other circumstances also working in the favor of a move — be they tied to contract status, usage, performance, or all of them. We have identified 12 such players, and ranked them from most to least likely to get moved.
Realistic trade candidates
ED Josh Uche: Knee and ankle injuries complicate the situation, but the former second-round draft pick is still the most realistic trade candidate on New England’s roster. Uche is in a contract year, has not developed into a three-down player, and the Patriots have other players capable of lining up on the edge. All that being said, it would depend on the eventual return: trading Uche just for the sake of trading him will not happen, and given the team’s problems in the pass rush department — in part due to Uche’s injuries and Matthew Judon also being out at the moment — it might take a Day 2 selection or comparable player to pick him up.
WR Tyquan Thornton: At 1 p.m. ET on Sunday, Thornton probably might have been the top player in this ranking. Then, the Patriots lost Kendrick Bourne to a torn ACL and DeVante Parker to a concussion to put major pressure on their wide receiver depth — including the former second-round draft pick. The fact that he still appears to be a top candidate to be traded speaks for how disappointing his tenure has been so far.
Plausible trade candidates
S Adrian Phillips: Phillips’ playing time has taken a substantial hit this year: after playing 72.3 percent of defensive snaps between 2020 and 2022, that number has decreased to only 20.5 percent so far this season. An increased special teams output might be part of that, but the return of Cody Davis cutting into his role in the kicking game might prompt the team to let go of him. The 31-year-old likely has limited trade value, but if a call comes New England might be willing to pick up the phone.
DB Jalen Mills: Mills was a starting outside cornerback for the Patriots in 2021 and early 2022, but he has been relegated to rotational duty as a safety/cornerback hybrid in 2023. Like Adrian Phillips, he would likely not fetch a massive return in a trade but if the right offer came along New England would probably entertain the idea of making a trade.
Unlikely trade candidates
TE Mike Gesicki: Gesicki played a team-low 15 offensive snaps against the Dolphins on Sunday, with fellow tight ends Hunter Henry and Pharaoh Brown overtaking him on the depth chart. Merely a result of the game plan, or a sign of things to come? We will see, but his contract status, decreased role and Brown’s emergence at least make him a somewhat realistic if still unlikely option to be moved ahead of the deadline.
CB Myles Bryant: Bryant is the member of the Patriots’ original top five at the cornerback position to play in every game this season and ranks first at the position in defensive snaps. So, why is he a trade candidate? Mainly his contract status — he is a free agent next year — and the fact that he appeared to be the No. 4 option behind J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones and Jack Jones last Sunday. As with Mike Gesicki and every player from here on down, though, a trade is not considered likely.
RB Ezekiel Elliott: The Patriots’ running back depth is shallow behind Rhamondre Stevenson, but Elliott might still be a candidate for a trade given his contract status: he too will be a free agent in 2024. The return would likely be a late-round draft pick or a rotational player, but it all depends on how the team feels about Stevenson, Ty Montgomery and practice squad backs Kevin Harris and Patrick Taylor.
OL Michael Onwenu: The Patriots appeared to prepare for Onwenu’s departure when they drafted the likes of Sidy Sow and Atonio Mafi earlier this year. But even though they added those two youngsters, he is not likely to get traded. The fourth-year man is simply too important to the offensive line, either as a right guard or right tackle. Unless the team feels supremely confident in starting both Sow and Mafi along their O-line — and based on the season thus far they shouldn’t be — Onwenu will play out his rookie contract in New England this season.
WR DeVante Parker and WR JuJu Smith-Schuster: Similar to Tyquan Thornton, Parker and Smith-Schuster likely would have been higher up on this list had it not been for the injuries suffered against the Dolphins. Now, it seems unlikely that one of the two will be moved ahead of the deadline: Parker’s head injury complicates matters, while Smith-Schuster is back in the starting lineup with Kendrick Bourne out for the year.
ED Anfernee Jennings: Like Uche and Onwenu, Jennings also is the final season of his rookie pact. However, he is less likely to be traded than both of them given his superb play the last few weeks and the fact that he is a three-down performer at a position that has seen its depth get challenged. A late-round draft pick or lower-level player would not be enough to persuade the Patriots to make a trade.
TE Hunter Henry: Henry is on this list solely due to his status as a 2024 free agent. However, trading him seems highly unlikely given the circumstances: he is a team captain, one of Mac Jones’ most trusted receivers, and would still leave behind $5 million in dead money. Considering all of that, plus what would likely be a minimal return, and trading him would just not be worth it.
S Kyle Dugger: Dugger is on this list due to his contract status and his trade value, but make no mistake: the Patriots moving him would be one of the most shocking decisions of the Bill Belichick era. The fourth-year man is a building-block player, one of the best safeties in football, and somebody the team holds in very high regard. We can say with a high level of confidence that Kyle Dugger will be a Patriot for the rest of 2023.
There are other players on the roster who might be traded either because they are in the final year of their contracts. These include offensive tackle Trent Brown, running back Ty Montgomery, wide receiver Jalen Reagor, tight end Pharaoh Brown, quarterback Will Grier, linebacker Mack Wilson, and special teamers Matthew Slater and Cody Davis. None of them seem to have any trade value.
Other players are worth mentioning as well. An argument can be made that the Patriots should look into trading a trio of sophomores — guard Cole Strange, cornerback Jack Jones, quarterback Bailey Zappe — but those moves do not look overly realistic given either the player’s value, developmental status, or the depth at the position they are playing.
Then, there is quarterback Mac Jones. Despite the problems he has had in his third season, the Patriots trading him will not happen for a variety of reasons: he is still on a rookie contract, he has still not had a stable offense around him, he would be sold at an all-time low in terms of his value, and the move would not be a positive sign for the locker room.