An alternate universe exists where Clay Matthews is racking up double-digit sack seasons at outside linebacker on the New England Patriots’ defense. Sounds pretty exciting, right?
Well, consider this: Rob Gronkowski also is playing elsewhere in this universe, which suddenly doesn’t sound so fun anymore.
The Patriots once held the No. 26 overall pick in the 2009 NFL draft — the same selection the Green Bay Packers used to take Matthews.
With the Patriots set to face the Packers on Sunday at 4:25 p.m., it seemed apropos to review the trade that allowed Green Bay to add Matthews and to see what New England selected in return.
Check out how the Patriots fared in trading down in the 2009 draft, in which they originally held the No. 23 overall pick after finishing with an 11-5 record in 2008:
— The Patriots traded No. 23 overall to the Baltimore Ravens, who selected offensive tackle Michael Oher. The Patriots received the No. 26 overall pick and the No. 162 overall pick.
— The Patriots traded No. 26 and No. 162 to the Packers and received No. 41 overall, No. 73 overall and No. 83 overall. The Packers picked Matthews (No. 26) and offensive tackle Jamon Meredith (No. 162). The Patriots selected cornerback Darius Butler (No. 41) and wide receiver Brandon Tate (No. 83)
— The Patriots traded No. 73 to the Jacksonville Jaguars for a 2010 second-round pick and the No. 232 overall selection. The Patriots drafted wideout Julian Edelman (No. 232).
— In 2010, the Patriots combined the second-round pick (No. 44) they received from the Jaguars with the No. 190 overall pick to move up to the Oakland Raiders’ No. 42 overall selection, where New England selected Gronk. The Raiders took defensive end Lamarr Houston (No. 44) and linebacker Travis Goethel (No. 190).
To recap: The Packers wound up with Matthews and Meredith, while the Patriots selected Butler, Tate, Edelman and Gronkowski.
That’s a pretty good deal for both sides, and one that neither team likely would take back.
Matthews has recorded 54.5 sacks in six seasons with the Packers while being named to four Pro Bowls and two All-Pro teams. He’s one of the best pass rushers in the NFL, and he has flashed his versatility this season by playing inside and outside linebacker, recording 4.5 sacks, 36 tackles and two forced fumbles.
Meredith was released out of training camp during his rookie season and added to the Packers’ practice squad. He bounced around the NFL before latching back on with the Packers on Nov. 8 of this year. He was released a week later. He has started 24 career games but none with the Packers.
Gronkowski, of course, is one of the best tight ends in NFL history. He has 284 career catches for 4,067 yards and 51 touchdowns and has been named to two All-Pro and Pro Bowl teams.
Gronkowski has 58 catches for 812 yards with nine touchdowns this season after making an impressive recovery from offseason knee surgery. He’s also perhaps the best blocking tight end in the league.
Edelman has become Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s go-to short-yardage receiver. He has 70 catches for 695 yards with two touchdowns this season after a 105-catch, 1,056-yard performance in 2013. His 12.5 yards-per-punt return average ranks fourth all-time and tops among players in the modern era.
Butler is a nickel cornerback for the Indianapolis Colts now, but he spent two seasons with the Patriots, starting eight games. Tate started 11 games with the Patriots in two seasons, and he’s now a receiver/return specialist for the Cincinnati Bengals. (In retrospect, the Patriots likely wish they hadn’t cut Tate in 2011, when they elected to keep Chad Ochocinco and Taylor Price instead. Whoops.)
So, which team received the better end of the deal?
If the debate was between Matthews and Gronkowski, it almost would be too close to call. Both players have made gigantic impacts on their respective teams while also being slight injury risks and potential future Hall of Famers. Throwing in Edelman, however, pushes the edge towards the Patriots. Matthews would have helped improve the Patriots’ defense, but Gronkowski and Edelman have accounted for 1,507 of the Patriots’ 2,998 passing yards this season.
One could argue that the Patriots could have selected Gronkowski or Edelman without the draft-day trade, but it would have been difficult. Edelman is a selection best made with an extra draft pick, since he was such a risk to work out as a wide receiver, and Gronkowski likely wouldn’t have been available when the Patriots were picking at No. 53 overall. They also might not have been willing to give up a fifth-round pick to move up from that spot. The Patriots selected All-Pro safety Devin McCourty in the first round of that draft, so a trade down would have hurt the team.
So, would the Patriots trade Gronk and Edelman right now for Matthews? No.
Would the Packers trade Matthews for Gronk and Edelman? Probably not, but they might briefly consider it.
The Patriots were mocked for years after trading the pick that ended up being Matthews, but as it turns out, it was a sound decision that has helped shape their 2014 offense.
Thumbnail photos via Associated Press