Will the New England Patriots buy, sell or stand pat ahead of Tuesday’s NFL trade deadline?
That could depend on what happens Sunday.
The Patriots currently sit at 2-4, multiple games below .500 for the first time since 2001. They trail their Week 8 opponent, the 5-2 Buffalo Bills, by 2 1/2 games in the AFC East standings.
Beat the Bills this week, and New England would vault back into contention in this divisional race, which also features the 3-3 Miami Dolphins. Buffalo would be trending downward with three losses in four games, and Miami has a major question mark at quarterback as it integrates rookie Tua Tagovailoa.
In that scenario, it might make sense for a 3-4 Patriots team to acquire reinforcements at wide receiver, tight end, linebacker and/or defensive tackle for a playoff push. (They’re now especially thin at wideout with Julian Edelman sidelined for the foreseeable future.)
Lose, though, and the Patriots would be in danger of quickly falling out of postseason contention. They’d be 2-5, losers of four straight, 3 1/2 games back in the AFC East, and likely would need to win seven or eight of their final nine games to even earn a wild-card spot in the NFL’s expanded playoff structure.
Since 1990, no team that started 2-5 has advanced beyond the divisional round, and just 4.8 percent (seven of 146) have made the postseason.
At that point, the Patriots could look to flip some of their more valuable assets for draft picks. Reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore would be at the top of that list given his contract situation. Left guard Joe Thuney, who’s playing on the franchise tag, should draw interest from Super Bowl hopefuls, as well.
Albert Breer of The MMQB reported Thursday the Patriots will listen to offers on “almost anyone.”
Is that an oversimplification — win and they’re buyers, lose and they’re sellers? Perhaps.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick was asked Friday whether the outcome of Sunday’s game will impact how the team approaches the trade deadline.
“I don’t think so,” Belichick replied. “I mean, ultimately, any decision we make would be to do what’s in the best interest of the team. … Whatever it was, we could take them into consideration and, in the end, do what’s best for the team. Whatever that is, I don’t know.”
Belichick later offered a bitingly sarcastic response when asked about the “talk radio fodder” surrounding the Patriots’ deadline plans.
“Yeah, well, I guess I’ll just put it nicely and pass on the opportunity to get involved in talk radio,” he said. “That’s really a tough one for me to say no to. But, I’m going to say no talk-radio questions. Thanks for asking, though. I appreciate the opportunity to get involved.”
It is important to note that trading a high-profile player wouldn’t necessarily mean the Patriots are punting on the season (see: Jamie Collins in 2016). The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting salary cap uncertainly also could complicate player movement in both directions.
But it’s not hyperbole to call this matchup in Buffalo a potential turning point for the Patriots franchise.