The NFL trade deadline is Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET, and despite their 6-2 record, the New England Patriots have needs at several positions.
They certainly could use help both at linebacker and on the edge now that Dont’a Hightower is done for the season. Another tight end to support Rob Gronkowski wouldn’t hurt, either, as Dwayne Allen has caught exactly zero passes through eight games. And New England might even need an additional receiver if Chris Hogan’s shoulder injury proves to be serious.
Speaking on a conference call one day after the Patriots’ 21-13 win over the Los Angeles Chargers, head coach Bill Belichick detailed how he and his staff approach the deadline each year.
It’s a rather simple strategy: The Patriots identify players who have fallen out of favor with their current teams and determine whether they could benefit from a change of scenery. This involves closely monitoring the inactive lists and snap counts each week.
“You look at the players who are not on your roster — whether they’re on your practice squad, whether they’re on some other team’s practice squad or whether they’re not on anybody’s team — and you put together a list of players that, if you had a need arise, would be the players that you go to,” Belichick said Monday.
“And in conjunction with that, you look at the rosters of the other 31 teams in the league, and based on what you know, other information that you gather, the inactive list every week and the play time, you can start to see which players have a diminished role in another team’s system for whatever those reasons are. And a lot of times if a team has a need in an area, and they match that up with another team who’s not making a player active that the team with the depth issue feels could give them depth, then that’s a potential conversation.”
Belichick pointed to Akeem Ayers, a linebacker the Patriots acquired from the Tennessee Titans during the 2014 season, as one example of this. Others in recent years include Kyle Van Noy, Jonathan Casillas, Isaac Sopoaga and Aqib Talib.
With that framework in mind, and taking into consideration Belichick’s note that teams rarely trade with their direct rivals or competitors, here are a few potential Patriots trade targets:
Hau’oli Kikaha, OLB, New Orleans Saints
Kikaha, who sacked Patriots quarterback Tom Brady back in Week 2, was a healthy scratch for the Saints’ last two games after opening the season as New Orleans’ No. 3 edge rusher. According to NESN.com’s Doug Kyed, the Saints are shopping the 2015 second-round draft pick, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL.
Jeremiah Attaochu, DE, Los Angeles Chargers
Buried behind Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram and Chris McCain on the depth chart, Attaochu has played in just one game for the Chargers this season and was a healthy scratch Sunday against the Patriots. Like Kikaha, he’s a second-round pick (in 2014) who’s been hindered by injuries, finishing last season on injured reserve after tallying six sacks in 2015.
Jonathan Casillas, OLB, New York Giants
Casillas is a captain for the G-Men, but seeing him in a Patriots uniform again wouldn’t be all that surprising. The Giants stink, and the linebacker, who won a Super Bowl with the Pats in 2014, is in the final year of his contract. ESPN.com’s Jordan Raanan speculated it might only take a sixth- or seventh-round draft pick to bring Casillas back to Foxboro.
Martavis Bryant, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
The Patriots shouldn’t need another wide receiver, and if Hogan’s injury turns out to be minor, they won’t. But if Hogan misses substantial time, New England could take a look at Bryant, who badly wants out of Pittsburgh after having his job snatched away by rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster. Bryant was a healthy scratch Sunday, and he still is on his rookie contract, making him very affordable. The Patriots inquired about Bryant’s availability this past spring, according to a report from NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport, but it’s a little tough to envision the Steelers, who have Super Bowl aspirations, trading him to the team they just lost to in the AFC Championship Game.
Eric Ebron, TE, Detroit Lions
Ebron’s name has appeared in numerous trade rumors in recent weeks, with Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk reporting Sunday the Lions “almost surely” will move him. Ebron was drafted 10th overall in 2014, but he hasn’t lived up to that billing and has been especially disappointing this season, catching just 15 passes for 160 yards and one touchdown through seven games. Detroit general manager Bob Quinn is a former Patriots executive, and the Pats and Lions already have pulled off two trades — for Van Noy and Johnson Bademosi — in the past 12 months.
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