The Patriots finally corralled Mohamed Sanu Tuesday morning.
Fresh off their Meadowlands mashing of the Jets, the Patriots kept working through the night, shipping a second-round pick to the Atlanta Falcons for Sanu, according to a league source.
Sanu tweeted about the transaction and received quick responses from new teammates, including Tom Brady, who wrote “See you soon,” and the McCourty twins, with whom Sanu played at Rutgers, who wrote, “We know him!!!’’
Patriots coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels declined to comment on the trade during Tuesday morning conference calls, likely because a corresponding roster move had yet to be made and Sanu must pass a physical.
“I would just say in general, any time there is a transaction for a player, there are always a number of steps that have to be completed,’’ said Belichick. “So, at whatever point in time we have a transaction to announce, we’ll announce it.’’
Belichick has long coveted the talented receiver, making a pitch to him in free agency in 2016, when the Falcons outbid the Patriots, and then inquiring about his availability this past offseason. The Falcons, thinking they would be contenders at the time, rebuffed New England’s request. They have started the season 1-6.
While a second-rounder could be considered a high price to pay, Sanu’s talent, character, production, durability (he’s played in at least 15 games in six straight seasons), and because the 30-year-old is under contract through the 2020 season, suggest he’s worth it.
Sanu has a cap hit of $7.65 million this season and $7.9 million 2020, the final year of the five-year, $32.5 million pact he inked with Atlanta.
New England currently owns a first-round pick in April and as many as three third-rounders (their own plus projected compensatory selections for Trey Flowers and Trent Brown), so Sanu’s acquisition doesn’t leave the cupboard bare.
The 6-foot-2-inch, 215-pound Sanu now has a chance to be what Demaryius Thomas, Antonio Brown, and Cam Meredith couldn’t be: the depth piece that Brady has been searching for all season.
New England has scored a league-high 223 points but has struggled to move the ball at times and has suffered a plethora of injuries to its receiving corps. Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon, Phillip Dorsett, and Gunner Olszewski all have been nicked up at some point. A healthy Sanu bolsters the squad and alleviates some of those concerns.
With Edelman and Gordon entrenched as top targets, Sanu could emerge as one of the top third options in the league. Add in the reliable Dorsett, and the Patriots can trot out a four-receiver package that would be the envy of many teams.
Sanu, who has 33 catches for 313 yards this season, was part of another talented group in Atlanta with Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley.
Undrafted rookies Jakobi Meyers and Olszewski round out the Patriots’ receiving corps.
Rookie N’Keal Harry is another possibly intriguing option if the team decides to activate the first-round pick, who returned to practice last week off injured reserve. Harry’s first eligible game would be Nov. 3 in Baltimore.
The questions for Sanu are the same as they always are when the Patriots acquire a veteran receiver: Can he digest enough of New England’s playbook and can he build enough of a rapport with Brady to be a consistent contributor?
With the Patriots on a short week before facing the Browns on Sunday, McDaniels and receivers coach Joe Judge likely will come up with an abridged version of the playbook for Sanu.
The Patriots did that for Brown, who made a quick impact in his lone game for them against Miami. It was clear the plan was to establish a comfort level and build on that.
Sanu is coming off the most productive season of his eight-year career (66 catches, 838 yards). A physical and versatile receiver, he would appear to be a natural fit in a Patriots offense that values those traits.
Though Sanu is no stranger to playing on the perimeter, his slot snaps have increased over the last two seasons. He sees about three-quarters of his snaps on the inside, as the Falcons have used Jones and Ridley on the outskirts of formations.
Sanu’s size and cutting ability on the shorter routes and his fearlessness and reliability over the middle should quickly endear him to Brady, while also opening up space for Edelman and the other receivers, backs, and tight ends.
Rick Mantz, who serves on the Rutgers football staff as director of high school relations and coached Sanu at South Brunswick (N.J.) High, thinks his former pupil is a perfect fit in New England.
“Mo is a grinder,” said Mantz. “He just will outwork anybody and do everything asked of him. He fits into that whole Belichick/Patriot mode. He’s what they want. He’s low maintenance, even on the field.
“He’s not going to be Edelman, streaking across on the shallow crosses. He’s a big body who can make those 8-, 9-, 10-yard catches for a first down. He’ll block, he’ll do the dirty work, whatever you need.
“He hit the lottery going to New England. They’re going to love him up there.”