CHARLOTTE — Given their recent losses at wide receiver, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Patriots trade for one before the start of the season.
Whom might they have their eyes on? Bill Belichick offered one guiding principle during his news conference Wednesday.
“There’s no question it’s always easier to talk to a team you’re not in direct competition with, either that’s not on your schedule, certainly not in your division,” Belichick said. “But, if they’re not on your schedule or if they’re not in your conference, that makes it a lot easier.”
That means any trade within the AFC East would be very difficult at this point, as would any trade with an AFC South team or the Steelers or Chiefs, who make up the rest of the Patriots’ divisional schedule. Trades with other AFC teams are complicated to a lesser extent. The Patriots also have the NFC North on the schedule.
That leaves the NFC East, West, and South divisions and, maybe, the Browns, Bengals, Ravens, Chargers, Broncos, and Raiders, the AFC teams not on the Patriots schedule this year. So, whom does that logic say the Patriots might target, whom does it say is out of the picture?
It would suggest that Packers receiver Randall Cobb (who Green Bay says isn’t available anyway), Miami’s DeVante Parker, Detroit’s Golden Tate, and Jacksonville’s Donte Moncrief aren’t practical options.
But maybe the Redskins might be looking to deal. The front office might be hesitant to say goodbye to 2016 first-rounder Josh Doctson, but coach Jay Gruden’s preferences lie elsewhere and the team is deep at the position. Doctson has struggled with Achilles’ injuries but he played all 16 games last year, gained 502 yards, is on a rookie contract, and has a high ceiling. Further down the roster, veteran Brian Quick is on the bubble and might be available cheap, though he’s dealing with a minor injury right now.
In the NFC West, the Cardinals probably could be convinced to part with J.J. Nelson. Nelson is small, and the Patriots probably would rather get a receiver who can play on the outside, but he’s owed less than $2 million this year and has had back-to-back 500-yard seasons. The Patriots also have a surplus of offensive linemen right now, and the Cardinals need depth to protect Josh Rosen.
The NFC South offers some options. Perhaps the third preseason game in Carolina will give the Patriots personnel staff a chance to inquire about Curtis Samuel. Samuel was drafted in the second round in 2017, which would normally mean he’s probably off limits, but that pick was under Dave Gettleman, not Marty Hurney. The Panthers also drafted a receiver, D.J. Moore, at No. 24 this year and Samuel is in line to lose snaps.
Former Patriots preseason standout Austin Carr is now doing the same thing in New Orleans, but probably could be acquired without giving up much in return. Carr wouldn’t dramatically change the Patriots offense but, if depth is an issue, he’d add something to the receiver room and already knows the system.
There are a few more options on the AFC teams the Patriots aren’t playing this year. Bronco Demaryius Thomas’s name has been bandied about, but he’s too expensive.
But elsewhere in the AFC West, the Raiders have depth at receiver and could be looking to trade Seth Roberts.
As for former Patriot Brandon LaFell, he was released by the Bengals this month. He knows the Patriots’ offense, which is a helpful starting point.
It’s not as if trades within the conference don’t happen — just look at last season when the Patriots made the Jacoby Brissett-for-Phillip Dorsett trade with the Colts (they also gave up a third-rounder). As Belichick mentioned, it’s not a perfect formula.
“That doesn’t exclude other teams that maybe you’re in more direct competition with,” Belichick said. “Again, trades are theoretically maneuvers that will help both teams. When two teams make a trade, both teams think that they’re improving. That’s why they make it, right? So, if you can find a trade partner and you’re helping your team, then that’s usually a good thing.
“But, certainly it’s a lot more common and easier to deal with teams that you’re not in direct competition with.”
And it’s something to consider when evaluating potential trading partners over the next couple of weeks.