Which Positions Could Patriots Upgrade Via Trade Before NFL Deadline?

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The NFL trade deadline isn’t for another 19 days, but it’s never too early to talk potential midseason acquisitions.

The Patriots typically make trades closer to the deadline, which falls on Halloween this year, but they have acquired players earlier in the past. In 2015, they traded tight end Michael Hoomanawanui to the New Orleans Saints for defensive tackle Akiem Hicks in late September.

New England currently sits at 3-2 and has played inconsistently through the first five weeks of the season. The team appears to have serious issues on defense, despite a better showing in Week 5, and its offensive line has struggled to protect Tom Brady.

To throw a wrench in potential trade plans, the Patriots can bring two players off injured reserve after Week 8, and they have three players eligible.

So, let’s look at a few positions where the Patriots could use an upgrade.

SAFETY/LINEBACKER
Jordan Richards played 41 snaps in a hybrid safety/linebacker role in Week 1, leading us to believe New England wants an athletic linebacker or bigger safety to use in certain passing situations on defense. Richards might not be talented enough on defense to take on that role, however. Perhaps the Patriots could look to add an undersized linebacker or bruising safety to play in the box when they’re forced to play in their dime positional grouping. This defense lacks a pass-coverage linebacker to take on running backs and tight ends.

EDGE DEFENDER/OUTSIDE LINEBACKER
If we’re assuming Dont’a Hightower will play inside linebacker more moving forward, then the Patriots will be starting either Adam Butler or Cassius Marsh on the edge. Both players are better suited to serve in rotational roles, primarily as pass rushers.

New England could solve this issue by bringing Shea McClellin off injured reserve before Week 9. The Patriots can activate two of McClellin, Vincent Valentine and Malcolm Mitchell; one of those three players won’t return this season. Mitchell probably is the most talented of the three, but the Patriots don’t have a major need at wide receiver at the moment, while they could use an upgrade at outside linebacker and defensive tackle. Will they eventually need another receiver? Perhaps. And it would look dumb to have Mitchell sitting on season-ending injured reserve if that need increases.

It’s worth noting a new receiver would have a more difficult time acclimating in New England than a defensive tackle or linebacker.

If the Patriots don’t intend to bring McClellin off IR, then they need another edge defender.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE
The Patriots went into their Week 6 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with Alan Branch back in Foxboro, Mass., as a healthy scratch and the 280-pound Butler backing up Malcom Brown and Lawrence Guy at defensive tackle.

If the Patriots plan to activate Valentine, then they probably can weather the storm until Week 9. If they plan to activate McClellin and Mitchell, however, then acquiring another defensive tackle should become a priority if Branch can’t regain his 2016 season form.

CORNERBACK
This depends on the severity of Eric Rowe’s groin injury and how much faith the team has in Johnson Bademosi as a defender. If the Patriots think Rowe’s injury could keep him out for a prolonged amount of time, and if they believe Bademosi is only a special teamer, then they should look to add another cornerback to their 53-man roster. That might come via the practice squad, where they seem to be high on rookie Ryan Lewis.

OFFENSIVE TACKLE
This would have to be a blockbuster, since New England seems high on backups Cameron Fleming and LaAdrian Waddle. If the Patriots could figure out the financial details of trading for a player like Joe Thomas without giving up a bounty, would they do it?

It seems highly unlikely Bill Belichick would look to upgrade his roster at center or guard where David Andrews, Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason are entrenched in their roles. The longtime Patriots head coach/general manager has surprised us before, though.

TIGHT END
Rob Gronkowski is injury-prone, Dwayne Allen has yet to record a catch and Jacob Hollister is a rookie who can’t block like a starting tight end.

It would be an admission of a failed trade to give up on Allen and deal for another tight end at this point, but we found out in Week 5 what an offense without Gronkowski, Julian Edelman and a tight end who can reliably get open looks like. It wasn’t pretty in the red zone.

Thumbnail photo via Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Images

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