The New England Patriots are currently linked to several players around the league who might be available to trade… but do they really need any of them?
At present, there seem to be three major news storylines surrounding the New England Patriots.
One revolves around how unexpectedly dominant the defense has been through the first five weeks of the season. The second is a question of whether or not this team – which currently sits at 5-0 – has a strong enough squad and an easy enough remaining schedule to go 16-0 this year. And the third concerns whether the Patriots figure to be active at all on the trade market before the 4 pm EST deadline hits on Tuesday, October 29.
New England, under the direction of head coach and general manager Bill Belichick, has historically never been afraid to do some big-time wheeling-and-dealing this time of year. And with just three weeks left until the trade window officially closes, there are many reports out there that indicate the Pats should be buyers in 2019.
ProFootball Talk’s Peter King suggested in his “Football Morning in America” column on Monday that a trade between New England and Minnesota for Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs “makes sense.” Diggs has so far refused to issue a public demand to be traded, but he also hasn’t shot down rumors and speculation that he wants out of the Twin Cities, either.
The Vikings are 3-2 this year, but the offense has looked abysmal at times… largely due to poor quarterbacking by highly-paid signal-caller Kirk Cousins.
On Sunday, CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora reported that the Patriots “are expected to push for players like Bengals receiver A.J. Green and/or tight end Tyler Eifert.” Cincinnati currently sits at 0-5 on the season, and the Bengals are still searching for their first win under rookie head coach Zac Taylor.
Green has yet to suit up for the Bengals this season after undoing ankle surgery at the end of July. According to the initial projection for his recovery timetable, he could begin practicing any day now… which means he should be returning to game action soon. Eifert has been active in all five games this season for the Bengals, though he’s largely been an ineffective weapon on what has been a pedestrian offense.
So which of these three players – Diggs, Green, or Eifert – seems most likely to end up wearing a Patriots uniform by Halloween?
Perhaps none of them.
When examining the New England roster, it’s clear as day which areas could potentially be fortified and which ones should be left alone. Everything on the defensive side is obviously set… the Pats are so loaded there that they have exceptional talent just waiting in the wings as healthy scratches; talent that could start right now on many other teams. The special teams unit for the Patriots seems pretty secure as well, with veteran kicker Mike Nugent having a nice debut for the defending champs outside of an initial missed PAT.
It’s definitely the offense that has the most question marks attached to it currently… but the key word here might just be “currently.”
New England is obviously set at quarterback as long as Tom Brady remains healthy. While the Patriots’ rushing attack has been unexpectedly meager this season, there were encouraging signs from Sony Michel against the Redskins in Week 5. Even aside from Michel, this team has incredible depth at RB in James White, Rex Burkhead, Brandon Bolden, and rookie Damien Harris, so that position is also fine.
The Patriots’ three major “problem” areas are at wide receiver, tight end, and offensive line… although it’s debatable just how much of a problem any one of those three positions really is for New England.
The offensive line should be fine in the long run.
Shaq Mason, Joe Thuney, and Ted Karras make up one of the better interior tandems in all the NFL – despite Mason’s occasional struggles this year, and despite the fact that Karras is only starting at center because of David Andrews’ blood clots. Marcus Cannon has been fine when he’s been healthy, and new addition Marshall Newhouse – while not quite as sturdy as last year’s left tackle Trent Brown – has at least done a decent job of protecting Brady’s blindside, despite having missed the entire offseason program in New England (he didn’t join the team until September 11).
Wide receiver might also be an overblown weak spot for this team.
Phillip Dorsett came down with a bad hamstring on Sunday, but the injury is considered minor; before he was forced out of action, he’d been somewhat of a revelation for this team through the first quarter of the season. Julian Edelman is already on pace for what could be a career year. Josh Gordon is still out there working the perimeter, and he’s getting more and more comfortable with every week he stays healthy and active in Josh McDaniels’ offense.
Yes, having Antonio Brown out alongside these three would have made the Patriots’ passing attack near-unstoppable. But Brown obviously wasn’t worth all the trouble he brought with him.
Could the Pats benefit by trading for Diggs or Green and adding them to the receiver depth chart? Obviously. No team in the NFL gets worse by adding either one of those talents. They’re both two of the more elite receivers in the league today, and they’d instantly upgrade any offense they joined.
Maybe if the price is right – and either Minnesota or Cincinnati seems desperate enough to move on – then it’s a smart move by New England. But Belichick shouldn’t move mountains for either player… especially not considering Green’s extensive injury history and Diggs’ occasional stretches of streakiness and tendency to disappear for periods of time.
Similar to Green, Eifert would come to New England with some serious injury concerns and baggage attached to him. The upside is certainly there for a former first-round draft pick who made the Pro Bowl just four years ago, and who still checks in at 6’6 and 255 pounds. But it’s also important to recognize the downside with Eifert too, and the fact of the matter is that he’s never played a full 16-game season despite having been in the league for six years now.
The Patriots probably aren’t thrilled with the early returns of Matt LaCosse and Ryan Izzo at tight end this season, but they’re obviously satisfied enough with those two guys that they decided to release Benjamin Watson on Monday. Watson was a proven commodity who had familiarity with this offense, and who’d already long ago earned Brady’s trust. If he’s not worthy of a roster spot at this time, Eifert might not be worthy of a spot either.
All in all, the Patriots might be better served waiting another week or two before pulling the trigger on any of these three trades – or on any trades whatsoever. Unless a deal is just too good to be true, they owe it to their current roster (even on offense) to see just what they have… especially now that some of the kinks appear to have been worked out in a convincing performance on the road against Washington.
If the offense as it’s currently constructed takes a step backwards or stagnates against the New York Giants on Thursday and/or in Week 7 against the New York Jets, then it might be time to call up the Vikings, the Bengals, or another team in the NFL to see just what kind of help might be available at wide receiver, tight end, or offensive lineman. But unless and until that happens, the Pats should stand pat and keep the faith in what they have.