The New England Patriots certainly did not steal wide receiver Mohamed Sanu from the Atlanta Falcons. That does not necessarily make it a bad trade, however.
The Patriots paid market price when they sent a second-round pick to the Falcons for Sanu. Other teams, including the San Francisco 49ers, reportedly were offering third-round selections for Sanu. The Patriots, who, if we’re being honest, will probably have the 64th overall pick in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft, had to pay up to account for their projected low pick.
The Patriots have never before given up a first- or second-round pick during an in-season trade. They traded a fourth-round pick to reacquire wide receiver Deion Branch from the Seattle Seahawks in 2010. They also gave up a fourth-round pick to acquire cornerback Aqib Talib and a seventh-round pick in 2012.
Otherwise, the Patriots have shipped off low-round draft picks or low pick swaps for players at the deadline. The best example of this came in 2016 when they traded a sixth-round pick to the Detroit Lions for linebacker Kyle Van Noy and a seventh-round pick. It’s probably the best trade Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has ever made. The Patriots have also acquired defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga, linebackers Jon Bostic, Jonathan Casillas and Akeem Ayers and wide receiver Keshawn Martin in recent in-season deals.
Sanu is a different player, however. The Patriots envisioned specific roles for players like Van Noy, Ayers and Casillas to fill. Sanu belongs more in the Branch or Talib category. He’s a proven veteran player who could step in immediately as a starter in the Patriots’ system. It helps that he’s signed through the 2020 season.
Most importantly, Sanu offers some dependability that the Patriots have sorely lacked at wide receiver over the last couple of seasons.
Sanu has missed just two games since his rookie season. He doesn’t have the off-field concerns of Josh Gordon nor the inexperience of rookies like Jakobi Meyers, Gunner Olszewski or N’Keal Harry. And while Phillip Dorsett has earned quarterback Tom Brady’s trust, his best season came in 2016, when he had 33 catches for 528 yards. He hasn’t exceeded 290 yards before or since.
Sanu, meanwhile, has put together three straight seasons of 650-plus yards. He was on pace for 75 receptions for 715 yards with two touchdowns before he was traded Tuesday. Sanu isn’t a No. 1 wide receiver, but he’s solid No. 2 or a spectacular No. 3.
The Patriots seemingly never wanted to count too heavily on Gordon, who played 11 games in New England last season before he was suspended again. The Patriots want it to be a plus if Gordon is in their offense. Acquiring Sanu makes it so Gordon isn’t necessary to have a high-powered offense. Gordon is currently dealing with knee and ankle injuries. The Patriots still have Sanu, Dorsett, Harry, Meyers, Olszewski and Julian Edelman without him.
Some have wondered why Sanu cost more to acquire than fellow wideout Emmanuel Sanders, who went to the 49ers along with a fifth-round pick for third- and fourth-round selections. Sanu is younger, takes up less salary cap room and is under contract for another season. It would have been tough to predict that Sanu would garner a second-round pick. But that’s what the market dictated, so the Patriots paid up for what they considered a 2019 and 2020 need.
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