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Patriots acquire linebacker, then trade away A.J. Derby

Former Lions linebacker Kyle Van Noy (53) had started every game in 2016.Jeff Haynes/Associated Press/File 2016

A week before the Nov. 1 NFL trade deadline, Patriots coach Bill Belichick worked the phones and made a couple of trades Tuesday, acquiring Lions outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy and a seventh-round pick for a sixth-round pick and trading second-year tight end A.J. Derby to the Broncos for a fifth-round pick, a rare swap between AFC powerhouses.

The Lions and Broncos both confirmed the trades.

Van Noy, the 40th overall pick in the 2014 draft out of BYU, never quite developed into the pass rusher and run stopper the Lions envisioned. He has just one career sack in three seasons, didn’t start a game in his first two years, and in seven starts this year has only 23 tackles and one pass defended.


But Belichick has a good history of squeezing production out of unheralded linebackers, and Van Noy, 25, is his latest reclamation project. Belichick also got good production out of Akeem Ayers and Jonathan Casillas in 2014.

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The Patriots are now deep at linebacker, and could be protecting themselves in case Dont’a Hightower and/or Jamie Collins leave in free agency. The Patriots also have Elandon Roberts, Rob Ninkovich, Shea McClellin, and Barkevious Mingo, plus Jonathan Freeny, who is out for the year with shoulder injuries. Van Noy, Ninkovich, McClellin, Freeny, and Roberts are all signed through at least 2017.

Derby, the Patriots’ sixth-round pick in 2015, was a developmental project after playing quarterback in college at Arkansas. After spending his rookie season on injured reserve, Derby had a strong preseason, but failed to make an impact in the regular season.

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He played 20 snaps in the season opener while Rob Gronkowski sat with a hamstring injury, but has only played in 15 snaps in the last six games combined. Derby played in four games overall, and did not make a catch this year.


The Patriots play at Denver in Week 15.

The Patriots were deep at tight end at the start of the regular season, but now only have Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett on the roster, plus fullback James Develin. In addition to trading Derby, the Patriots also released veteran Clay Harbor this month.

The Patriots have an open roster spot after releasing defensive tackle Anthony Johnson on Monday night. Belichick left open the possibility of running back Dion Lewis or guard Tre Jackson coming off the physically unable to perform list this week.

“We’ll have to talk with our medical and conditioning staff and kind of get a sense of where everybody is and then figure that out from when practice starts on Wednesday, tomorrow,” Belichick said on Tuesday. “So we’ll take a look at that information and see where we are and then make a decision on it prior to Wednesday’s practice.”

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Ben Volin can be reached at Follow him on Twitter@BenVolin.