Patriots Mailbag: Trading For Cornerback Upgrade Not A Necessity


Oct 2, 2015

New England Patriots fans are so spoiled.

The Patriots are elite offensively and more than adequate on defense, which in today’s sad state of the NFL, makes them the best team in the league.

They have the most underrated pass rush in the NFL, which masks some deficiencies at cornerback. But, after all the overreaction this offseason about how bad the Patriots’ secondary would be without Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, their defensive backfield has been fine in 2015.

Malcolm Butler has given up big plays the last two weeks but otherwise held up well on the left side, and Tarell Brown was solid at right cornerback in the first two weeks of the season before being held out in Week 3. The Patriots are still looking for consistent play out of a third cornerback, but their deep group of safeties, led by Devin McCourty, have helped hold opposing quarterbacks to a 90.2 passer rating. The Patriots are tied for third in the NFL with five interceptions while allowing six touchdowns.

Yet, you wouldn’t believe how many tweets I receive asking if the Patriots are going to trade for a cornerback. The Patriots have been so good for so long that fans need every single unit on the team to be perfect, otherwise they’ll complain. Will the Patriots trade for a cornerback? Maybe. They trade more than any other team. But just because they traded for a cornerback in 2012, acquiring Aqib Talib, doesn’t mean they will or need to now.

With that rant out of the way, let’s get into this week’s mailbag.

@DougKyed Of all the players the Patriots have traded for this year, who do you think will make the biggest impact?
The Patriots have made seven trades since training camp broke in late July, acquiring guard Ryan Groy, tight end Asante Cleveland, wide receiver Jalen Saunders, tight end Michael Williams, wide receiver Keshawn Martin, linebacker Jon Bostic and defensive tackle Akiem Hicks.

Williams has made the biggest impact so far, not only by playing 71 snaps on offense, primarily as a blocking specialist, but also in bumping Michael Hoomanawanui off the roster.

Ultimately, however, I think Hicks, the player acquired for Hoomanawanui, will make the biggest impact because of opportunities. Groy and Saunders are off the roster, Cleveland is on the practice squad, Williams is the No. 3 tight end and Bostic primarily will be a special teamer and backup linebacker. Hicks likely will rotate along the defensive line with Sealver Siliga, Dominique Easley, Alan Branch, Malcom Brown and Khyri Thornton.

I don’t necessarily think Hicks will make as big of an impact as he did on the Saints in 2013 and 2014, when he was a starter, but he could help contribute as a big-bodied run-stuffer and early-downs pass rusher. Hicks has a lot of upside as a former third-round draft pick, and he’ll have a big role if there are any more injuries along the Patriots’ defensive front.

@DougKyed what’s Jojo lafells role gonna look like when he returns?
@DougKyed is Aaron Dobson ever going to carve out a role in the offense? If not, what happens to him when LaFell gets back?
I’ll handle both of these at the same time. Brandon “JoJo” LaFell will return as the Patriots’ “X” receiver in the same role he held last season. He’ll play most offensive snaps, and then Danny Amendola, Scott Chandler and Michael Williams will rotate onto the field depending on the situation

It’s unclear what will happen to Dobson when LaFell returns, however. It’s easy to say Dobson will slide down to the No. 4 receiver role and Keshawn Martin will either move down to No. 5 or be cut. Patriots wide receivers coach Chad O’Shea said something interesting Monday, however, when talking about Martin.

“Physically, he has a skill set to play both inside and outside, which is really a requirement for that fourth receiver position for us,” O’Shea said. “I think physically he can do that and mentally, he’s been very sharp and worked very hard to make sure he can function in all of those roles.”

Martin can play inside or outside. Dobson can’t. Dobson is exclusively an outside receiver.

What could save Dobson, however, is LaFell’s ability to play inside and outside. LaFell was the Carolina Panthers’ primary slot receiver before coming to New England, so if Julian Edelman or Danny Amendola went down with an injury, LaFell could slide inside, and Dobson could take over as the “X.”

The Patriots’ offense is better when LaFell is in that position, however. Perhaps Martin’s versatility, and special-teams ability, could put an end to the three-year Dobson experiment when LaFell comes back. The Patriots will need to create up to four roster openings by the end of the season for when LaFell, Chris Jones and Dane Fletcher come off PUP and Bryan Stork returns from short-term injured reserve.

@DougKyed don’t you think it would make too much sense for the Patriots to trade a late-round pick to Tampa for Sterling Moore?
We’ve come full circle. Patriots fans are now clamoring for players heavily involved in the 2011 secondary. Perhaps they’ll move Julian Edelman back to the nickel cornerback spot too. Maybe Matthew Slater can play safety.

Moore was a decent player for the Patriots, but they’ve had plenty of opportunities to bring him back since 2012 and passed.

@DougKyed due to versatility of the front 7, will the patriots most likely play a 4-3 or 3-4 as base? Or would that be dictated by matchup?
I can’t see the Patriots ever sticking to one set base defense like many teams, such as the Seattle Seahawks, do. Bill Belichick switches from 4-3 to 3-4 or Cover-1 to Cover-3 not only based on matchup but situation. The Patriots have pretty much thrown everything at opposing teams early this season, and I can’t see them changing that now just because they acquired Akiem Hicks or Jon Bostic.

The Patriots fit a four-man front better than a three-man front because of Chandler Jones. Jones is a prototypical seven-technique defensive end. And that’s fine, because the “base” defense isn’t really the base at all anymore since so many offenses run three-receiver sets. Now the nickel defense has replaced the base defense, and the Patriots typically deploy a four-man front in sub packages.

The Patriots can switch things up occasionally by going to a three-man front, however. Jones can play five-technique defensive end or outside linebacker. Rob Ninkovich and Jabaal Sheard can play standing up, Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins can play either inside or outside, and the Patriots now have Branch and Hicks, both of whom have experience at and the size needed to play five-technique end against the run.

The Patriots have even used undersized pass rushers like Ninkovich, Sheard and rookie Geneo Grissom at defensive end in a three-man front, so the Patriots certainly are experimenting, and will continue to do so, with their front seven.

The Patriots have as much depth and versatility along their front seven as Belichick has ever had with the Patriots. It’s taken him years to build up his defense, and he’s obviously having fun moving pieces around to plague opposing offenses.

@DougKyed will Trey Flowers ever play?

@DougKyed trade chandler jones for a good cb ?
See! See?!

@DougKyed What are some good ways to prevent Curran and Giardi from bullying you on this website called Twitter?
Giardi harasses me on Instagram now. There’s no escaping those two. I’d suggest muting them the next time you just want to tweet about a bridge in peace.

Thumbnail photo via Kevin Hoffman/USA TODAY Sports Images

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