Patriots Mailbag: How Should New England Approach NFL Trade Deadline?

Plus: Must New England change its fourth-down approach?


October 22, 2021

Happy Friday, folks. Let’s dive right into this week’s New England Patriots mailbag, which, with the Pats sitting at 2-4, is heavy on trade deadline talk:

Hi Zack, do you see the Patriots making any deals before the trade deadline?
I do. Now, will it be a significant move? That, I don’t know. But the Patriots have made at least one deadline deal in seven of the last nine seasons, ranging from the forgettable (remember Isaiah Ford, last year’s deadline pickup?) to the franchise-shaking (Jamie Collins in 2016, Jimmy Garoppolo in 2017). With this year’s deadline set for Nov. 2, history suggests we’ll see a Patriots transaction or two in the next 10 days.

I know it?s tough to say, but after the pats cleared space by trading Gilmore, what position (if any) do you expect for them go after at the deadline?
In my opinion, their biggest need is at cornerback, where they’re dangerously thin after shipping Stephon Gilmore to Carolina. It’s clear they no longer have faith in Joejuan Williams (healthy scratch in two of the last three games) to help them there, and Shaun Wade (currently out with a concussion) has yet to play a snap this season.

They could also use more reliable offensive tackle depth — Isaiah Wynn, Justin Herron, Yasir Durant and Yodny Cajuste all have struggled, and Trent Brown hasn’t played since the opening series of Week 1 — and maybe a pass-catching running back, unless they’re confident rookie Rhamondre Stevenson can take on a larger role in that area. (Stevenson had his best game as a pro Sunday against Dallas.) Some help at receiver help could be on their wish list, too.

This has to be the end of the line for Harry right? The fact that a rookie QB has to tell the guy how to line up, when to go in motion etc is embarrassing?
Yep. That mental mistake by N’Keal Harry forced Mac Jones to throw the ball away in the red zone. The Patriots wound up scoring, but it’s yet another mark against the 2019 first-round pick, who’s been a relative non-factor in the three games since his return from injured reserve. In 58 snaps this season, Harry has two catches on three targets for 9 yards, plus a couple of drawn penalties.

To me, Harry is one of the Patriots’ most likely trade candidates, assuming they can find an interested partner (which could prove difficult). New England also could look to move their second pick in the 2019 draft, cornerback Joejuan Williams, who’s been a healthy scratch in two of the last three games and was benched in the other. It’s clear the Patriots don’t trust Williams to contribute even with hardly any depth in their cornerback group.

Neither Harry nor Williams has panned out for New England, but both are recent high draft picks with intriguing physical tools (Harry’s size and contested-catch ability; Williams’ rare length) who could be viewed as worthwhile reclamation projects elsewhere.

Other Patriots who could be dealt? Maybe third tight end Devin Asiasi, who’s been a healthy inactive for every game this season behind Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith. But his trade value likely is even lower than Harry’s and Williams’ after he caught just two passes as a rookie. Ditto for third-year quarterback Jarrett Stidham, who returned to practice this week after undergoing back surgery in July.

Outside linebacker Chase Winovich, who’s played just 19% of defensive snaps this season, could have been trade bait, but he was placed on injured reserve this week.

If the plan is to mitigate OL shuffling and Owenu has already moved to RT, what are the odds we see Trent Brown play LT when he return, as Wynn has been struggling?
I think it’s a possibility if Wynn continues to struggle. His regression this season has been baffling. It’s not clear when Brown will be available to return, though. He seemed to suffer some sort of setback in his recovery, participating in a limited capacity in seven practices after his calf injury before landing on IR. He’s eligible for activation next week, but there’s no word on whether that will happen.

In the meantime, I believe the best setup is what the Patriots appear to be going with this week: Wynn at left tackle, Ted Karras at left guard, David Andrews at center, Shaq Mason at right guard (assuming he’s healthy enough to play after missing the last two games) and Onwenu at right tackle.

Will Bill eventually become less risk-averse if the offense starts to come together, or will we punt/kick on every 4th down going forward?

I understand not wanting to take too many chances with a rookie quarterback behind center, but the Patriots have gone too far in that direction this season. Jones has played well enough that they can afford to be a bit less conservative, especially in some of those fourth-down situations.

In an era where the NFL is trending more toward aggressiveness on fourth down, the Patriots have gone for it on fourth just three times this season. All three of those conversion attempts came on the same garbage-time drive against the New Orleans Saints with the Patriots trailing by 15 points.

The 56-yard field-goal attempt on fourth-and-3 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was rightly questioned, but this hesitancy didn’t truly burn the Patriots until this past Sunday when they punted on fourth-and-1 from their own 35, fourth-and-1 from midfield, fourth-and-4 from the Dallas 46 and fourth-and-3 from the Dallas 46. Converting on any one of those would have lightened the load on New England’s defense, which played 89 snaps in the game and was on the field for nearly 40 minutes.

On the final fourth down, which came on the opening drive of overtime, Bill Belichick should have known better than to punt the ball back to Dak Prescott, who’d been slicing up his exhausted defense for the last quarter-plus.

As I wrote earlier this week, the Patriots are on pace for just 8.5 fourth-down conversion attempts this season. Their average during the Belichick era is 15.8 per season. They’ve never attempted fewer than 10 under Belichick.

So, yes, I think the Patriots should be more aggressive on fourth down, and in situations like the double-score opportunity they passed up against the Cowboys. Will they? That remains to be seen.

Do you think Stidham has a chance to get a shot at QBing the offense? Or is all Macaroni

All Macaroni. I am interested to see how this Stidham situation turns out, though.

The Patriots have until Nov. 10 to add him to the 53-man roster before he reverts to the physically unable to perform list and cannot play this season. If they do activate him, would they carry three quarterbacks? That’s probably unnecessary. Would they cut Brian Hoyer with an agreement to re-sign him to the practice squad? Having a veteran like Hoyer in the room is important for Jones’ development, so the Patriots would be wise to keep him around, even if they view Stidham as the more desirable backup option.

I also wouldn’t completely rule out a Stidham trade, but as mentioned earlier, I don’t see there being a strong market for a quarterback who’s never started an NFL game and is coming off back surgery.

Thumbnail photo via Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports Images
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