The NFL trade deadline is next Tuesday at 4 p.m., and the Patriots find themselves in an unusual position: closer to the top of the draft than the bottom.
They sit at 2-4 entering Sunday’s game at Buffalo, currently holding the 11th spot in the draft order.
The season is not over by any means — the Titans started 2-4 last year and reached the AFC Championship game — but realistically, the Patriots are in rebuilding mode for the next couple of years. They need to find a quarterback for the future and remake the roster with a new wave of young talent.
It’s possible they become buyers at the trade deadline if they can find a youngster who needs a change of scenery (think Kyle Van Noy being acquired midseason in 2016). But in general, the Patriots should be sellers. They don’t need expensive veteran players; they need draft picks, especially since they lost a third-rounder for the Spygate 2 incident. And they have a few players who potentially could bring a decent return.
Let’s take a look at which players the Patriots should consider dealing:
CB Stephon Gilmore
There is no question the Patriots would become worse by trading their No. 1 cornerback. But Gilmore is also their best trade asset, one of their most expensive players, and plays at one of their deepest positions.
First, some background: Gilmore is in his fourth year with the Patriots, and there is reason to think he won’t be back for the fifth and final year of his contract. NFL Players Association records show that Gilmore attended only four of the Patriots' 32 offseason workouts this spring, meaning he didn’t participate in the voluntary ones (and they were virtual, which were easier to attend).
Usually that means a player is dissatisfied with his contract, and Gilmore, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, was on the books for $11 million this year, barely top 10 for a cornerback.
The Patriots did adjust his contract in September, but they just borrowed money from 2021; his 2020 compensation was increased to $15 million, but 2021 was decreased from $11 million to $7 million. It seems highly unlikely that Gilmore will want to play next year at $7 million, leaving the Patriots with a decision next offseason to either sign him to a new deal or trade him.
They should keep Gilmore for the rest of this season if they can’t field a suitable offer in the next week. But an elite cornerback could fetch a nice return. The Rams traded two first-round picks and a fourth-rounder for Jalen Ramsey last October, though Ramsey was 25 at the time and Gilmore is 30, which is a significant factor. But if the Patriots can get a first-round pick (or maybe even a second), they should swing a deal.
Trading Gilmore would save the Patriots $6.88 million in cash and salary-cap space for the rest of this year, and would leave them with a dead-cap charge of $8.92 million in 2021 that is not ideal, but not a significant hindrance.
And trading Gilmore would open up playing time for second-year cornerback Joejuan Williams, who is currently buried on the depth chart.
G/C Joe Thuney
Thuney has started every game over five seasons, and is one of the Patriots' most reliable and valuable players. He showed his versatility this year by starting two games at center. Thuney will be only 28 in November, and could be an anchor of this offensive line for the next five years.
The problem is his price, and whether it is worth it for the Patriots to spend top dollar on a left guard. Thuney is playing on a franchise tag this year worth $14.781 million, and another tag next year will cost $17.74 million.
On a long-term contract, the NFL’s highest-paid left guard currently makes $13.3 million per year, and the top right guard makes $14.05 million per year, so Thuney will likely command a contract in that neighborhood, or a little higher.
As solid and durable as Thuney has been, it might not make sense for the Patriots to pay him big bucks. They’re already paying Shaq Mason $9 million per year, ninth among right guards. And guard is one position that isn’t so difficult to fill. The Patriots could always plug in Michael Onwenu or Hjalte Froholdt, and the dropoff may not be too significant.
If the Patriots were planning to let Thuney walk in free agency and collect a compensatory draft pick in 2022, perhaps they could trade him now and get a pick for 2021. Two complicating factors: Thuney isn’t signed past this year, which likely decreases his trade value, and he hurt his ankle in last week’s game.
A second-round pick would be great, but the Patriots should consider a third-rounder or maybe even a fourth. Thuney has $7.825 million left on his contract after this week (nine weeks left), which the Patriots would gain in cap space and could roll over to next year.
WR Julian Edelman
The Buccaneers are probably the only team that would have any real interest in a 34-year-old slot receiver — one with an injury history — who isn’t producing without Tom Brady. And the Patriots probably wouldn’t get much more than a fifth- or sixth-round pick in return.
But Edelman is being wasted on the Patriots, with just eight catches for 79 yards in his last four games. The way he slammed his helmet on the sideline this past Sunday tells us everything we need to know about how he feels about the situation. And you can tell he has a serious case of FOMO, pining to join Brady and Rob Gronkowski in Tampa instead of languishing in post-dynasty New England.
What’s that old saying — if you love something, set it free? The Patriots should do right by Edelman and ship him off to Tampa to let him chase rings with Brady and Gronk.
Other players who may make sense
▪ DT Lawrence Guy: The Patriots' most versatile and durable defensive lineman is 30, in the last year of his deal, and maybe could fetch a mid-round pick from a Super Bowl contender looking to beef up its defense.
▪ S Terrence Brooks: With Adrian Phillips getting starter reps and Kyle Dugger continuing to develop, the Patriots could try to get a late-round pick for a guy who contributes on defense and special teams.
▪ CB Joejuan Williams: It’s probably too early to give up Williams, and he is super-cheap and under contract for two more years. But he has not lived up to his second-round draft status yet, and could be a “change of scenery” trade candidate.