The NFL trade deadline usually isn’t as action-filled as those in the other major pro sports, but Bill Belichick keeps his phone line open for the other 31 teams, and always answers it.
“I think they know we’re willing to trade,” Belichick said last week on WEEI.
The Patriots have swung a trade at the deadline, or close enough to it, six years in a row. Sometimes it’s getting rid of players — Michael Hoomanawanui in 2015, Jamie Collins and A.J. Derby in 2016, Jimmy Garoppolo in 2017.
Many times, the Patriots are adding players. Sometimes it’s a starting caliber player — Aqib Talib in 2012, Akiem Hicks in 2015, Kyle Van Noy in 2016. And sometimes it’s for a depth/backup player – Isaac Sopoaga in 2013, Jonathan Casillas and Akeem Ayers in 2014, Jon Bostic in 2015.
“Wouldn’t rule anything out,” Belichick said. “In all honesty, usually we get a call, because we’re a team that trades. I’m not saying we’d make a lot of trades, but if the situation is right, we’d certainly consider it. We’ve made our share.”
This year’s deadline is Tuesday at 4 p.m. The Patriots have $5.4 million in salary cap space and can always create more.
The Patriots would be responsible for only 9/17ths of any player’s salary, so they should have plenty of space to add one or even multiple players. However, there are a few high-priced players that would put the Patriots over the salary cap threshold, so they can’t just add anyone without making corresponding moves.
Assessing the roster, their biggest areas of need look to be defensive end, linebacker/safety, and possibly running back, though that position isn’t as dire as it appeared a week ago. Sony Michel should be back soon, Rex Burkhead is eligible to come off IR later this year, and Kenneth Farrow is available on the practice squad.
The Patriots could definitely use more speed up front defensively, as their pass rush is still fairly weak. And they could use another speedy linebacker or hybrid safety to help cover tight ends and replace injured linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley.
But Belichick and the Patriots are always looking to upgrade the roster and sometimes make moves thinking ahead to the next year, as they did with Van Noy. So trying to guess what the Patriots will do is usually a futile exercise.
A report from Fox’s Jay Glazer on Sunday said the Patriots are interested in adding a top-flight receiver, which is interesting given that the Patriots seem to be pretty well stocked with Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon, Chris Hogan, and Phillip Dorsett. Receiver doesn’t seem to be a big position of need, but Hogan and Dorsett both will be unrestricted free agents after the season and have fallen behind Gordon on the depth chart, so maybe the Patriots will move on from one of them, or at least acquire their replacement.
The Patriots already have been linked to a handful of players — Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas, Cardinals linebacker Deone Bucannon, and their former linebacker Collins from the Browns.
The Patriots probably aren’t going to make a trade with their AFC East rivals, or with other rivals such as the Colts, Chiefs, and Steelers. But here are a few situations to watch:
■ The New York Giants. They already traded Damon Harrison and Eli Apple, and are throwing in the towel for this year. I see five players that could interest the Patriots to varying degrees.
Olivier Vernon could help their pass rush, but he is owed $6.75 million the rest of the year, so the Patriots would need the Giants to eat some money in the form of a new signing bonus.
Since the Giants gave big money to Odell Beckham, the Patriots should check to see if the Giants have any interest in moving speedy receiver Sterling Shepard. He’s owed only $524k this year and $1.26 million next year, and he’s a free agent in 2020.
Veteran defensive end Connor Barwin looks like a perfect fit for the Patriots as a veteran depth presence, making $672k the rest of this year and $1.5 million next year. And running back Jonathan Stewart is on IR with a foot injury, but he’s supposed to come back this year, and is owed just $741k the rest of the way.
■ The Oakland Raiders. Another team that has thrown in the towel and has some pieces that could interest the Patriots.
The Patriots should see if the Raiders are willing to part with dynamic tight end Jared Cook, who is owed $2.64 million the rest of this year and is a free agent after the season. If they’re after a receiver, Seth Roberts could be a nice fit — he’s a big body at 6 feet 2 inches and is owed $1.2 million this year and a reasonable $4.65 million next year.
Bruce Irvin could help improve the pass rush, though he’s owed $4.235 million this year, which is a lot. And safety Karl Joseph, a first-round pick in 2016, is owed $810k this year and $2 million next year (plus a fifth-year option in 2020).
■ The Arizona Cardinals. Another team thinking long term and not 2018. The aforementioned Bucannon is a Patrick Chung-hybrid type who has lost his spot in the Cardinals’ defense, though he is owed $4.6 million the rest of the way, and the Patriots might ask the Cardinals to eat some of that. The Patriots should also check in on pass rusher Markus Golden, who also has lost his role in the defense and is owed just $513k the rest of this year.
■ Other players. Thomas is an interesting name, but I have a tough time seeing that one. He has rarely played well in big games against the Patriots and is owed $4.5 million the rest of the way, though the Broncos could potentially pay some of it. He’s under contract for $14 million for next year, but the Patriots could release him or give him a paycut with no salary cap penalty.
Panthers running back C.J. Anderson isn’t playing much and is owed just $608k for the rest of the season. The 49ers’ Alfred Morris also isn’t playing much and is owed just $400k the rest of the way.