The NFL trade deadline is Tuesday and the Patriots could be buyers this year. Injuries and incarcerations have them playing at less than optimal levels on both sides of the ball. Offensively, it’s been that way most of the season. But at least there’s a glimmer of hope that when injured players return or hit their stride – Shane Vereen, Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola, maybe Leon Washington – the offense can begin to click.
Defensively, strong as the Patriots were through six games, the situation grew dire when Jerod Mayo joined Vince Wilfork on injured reserve. Now, with Aqib Talib dented, the Patriots have lost their three best defenders and are scrambling to come up with a scheme that masks their losses.
The Patriots have made two significant deals prior to the deadline since 2000 – reacquiring Deion Branch in 2010 from Seattle and picking up Aqib Talib last season from Tampa.
Friday, Bill Belichick explained why the in-season adds are a little more complicated than in the other major sports.
Using baseball as an example, Belichick said, “Maybe a third baseman on this team, put him at third base on the other team and let him hit. How much is there involved? I’m sure there’s some but it’s not like playing left guard, having 20 different protections and two dozen running plays and a dozen different defenses you have to block every week. It’s a little more involved.
"You need more, there’s less available, it’s a shorter season, you’re trading for a guy for just a short amount of time,” he explained. “How quickly can you get him ready, how productive will it be, was it really worth it? Is it worth it to the team who is trading away the player to get not very much for somebody versus just keeping him and playing with him even though you get something for him but it isn’t really worth it?"
Every deal has to be mutually beneficial to the teams involved. That’s why, when the annual buzz around the Patriots acquiring Larry Fitzgerald gains volume, it’s smart to ask, “What’s in it for the Cardinals, trading away their best player for draft picks?”
At this point, the Cardinals are 3-4. It’s too early for them to bail on their season given they are still in the hunt.
The best partners for the Patriots would be teams that are either going nowhere and want draft picks or teams with players who aren’t relevant to that team’s future.
The Patriots have acquired no extra picks for the 2014 draft. They have one selection in each of the seven rounds. As for players, backup quarterback Ryan Mallett could bring something, perhaps, but who trades for a backup quarterback unless he’s going to be used? And what would the Patriots do if Tom Brady went down. Tebow me no Tebows.
What are their main areas of need?
With Vince Wilfork out, Tommy Kelly about to miss his third straight game and young players Joe Vellano and Chris Jones being asked to do more than they may be capable of, the Patriots could certainly use help here. Signing Andre Carter this week does more to help the pass rush than it does to shore up a run defense that’s suddenly susceptible. The name out there that jumps off the page is Jay Ratliff. The 32-year-old was released by the Cowboys last week after not playing or practicing because of hamstring, groin and abdominal issues. At 6-4, 290, Ratliff has versatility in different schemes from his time in Dallas. He’s also a four-time Pro Bowler and a very powerful interior player. His exit from Dallas, however, was not smooth and former teammate Sean Lee this week said of Ratliff, “If you don't want to be here and you don't want to play with this team, then move on because we have guys who are ready to play, who work extremely hard, who care about this franchise, who care about each other as teammates.” So the jury is out on where Ratliff’s head it at these days.
This is the spot where people have been pining for the Patriots to make a move. But the big question that hovers over any proposed acquisition is whether or not a rental player will pick things up quickly enough to make him relevant. Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins have their shortcomings. But whoever is imported needs to smoothly grasp the New England offense. That’s a tall order. Additionally, there are background issues for most of the players perceived to be on the block. Tennessee’s Kenny Britt has had three knee surgeries since 2011 and has been involved with the police nine times since 2009. Unlikely target, even if he did go to Rutgers. Josh Gordon from Cleveland was suspended for two games earlier this season for drug use. He had similar drug questions around him coming out of college. Additionally, the Browns have said they aren’t interested in dealing him. A player they might deal is Greg Little. He’s fallen out of favor there because he drops the ball and fumbles too much. His off-field missteps have been limited to driving too fast (Gordon has that issue too). Finally, Hakeem Nicks is in the final year of his deal with the going-nowhere Giants. At 25, he’s strangely fallen off the ledge in terms of production. It doesn’t seem any of these players is an easy fix for the Patriots who can either look for an experienced player or stick with what they have.
The addition of a “move” tight end could be a help to the Patriots offense and the one that jumps off the page currently in Fred Davis of Washington. He’s deep in the doghouse of Mike Shanahan, has been been passed by Jordan Reed and Logan Paulsen on the depth chart. It’s always easier for the Patriots to deal outside the conference and with a GM they know. Washington and Shanahan fit. Davis had 59 catches in 12 games for Washington in 2011. He was suspended for weed use in 2012. He had just 24 catches for 325 yards last year. With his contract expiring at the end of the year, he seems like a low-cost risk that could be worth taking. But if the Patriots gave up a fourth-rounder for Talib last year when Talib was still a good player, there’s no way they’d give up more than a fifth for Davis this year