The Patriots always seem to make a couple of surprise trades either just before or during the season. Most times they bring in some veteran players who may not register much on the radar screen but find a role for them to play that fits the New England system. Some are more productive than others. Other times they make surprise moves by jettisoning players that are or have been starring on the team.
Recent examples of the former include players like Akeem Ayers who played a key depth role in the 2014 Super Bowl and Kyle Van Noy who they brought in mid-season and who played well for the team. One move that didn’t work out was LB Barkevious Mingo who couldn’t carve out a role with the defense and played only on special teams in 2016 during the Super Bowl run.
There are several examples of the latter. Bill Belichick hasn’t been shy about trading some of his star players if he feels it is in the team’s best interest in doing so. Jamie Collins was traded last season for a conditional 3rd round draft pick. Chandler Jones was traded in the off-season for guard Jonathan Cooper and a conditional 3rd round draft pick. After unloading both Jones and Collins, many media members considered it the death knell for the defense in 2016. The team ended up with a Top 8 unit in yards and first in points against and won the Super Bowl, so Belichick gets the benefit of the doubt.
Just prior to the 2014 season, Logan Mankins was having contractual issues and was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for tight end Tim Wright and a 4th round draft pick.
Going back a bit further, Randy Moss in 2010 was also having contract issues, just four games in, he was traded along with a 7th round pick to the Vikings for a 3rd round selection in the 2011 season. Richard Seymour was “blindsided” by a trade to the Raiders prior to the 2009 season. The Patriots got a 1st round pick in that deal.
So, who could be the surprise players traded either just before the season starts or during the year in mid-stride? There are a lot of variables that go into it but a quick look at the early work in OTAs may provide a hint.
Malcolm Butler: Cornerback Jonathan Jones was getting a ton of work with the first unit players as the third or slot corner in the first week of OTAs. This could mean a lot or nothing. Possibly somebody was hurt and Jones was just stepping in. Or perhaps Belichick wants to see what Jones can do against the Patriots suddenly very deep wide receiver corps. It is always dangerous to read too much into OTAs.
Malcolm Butler may still be moved this season if the price and situation is right. (SBalestrieri photo)
Most think that this points to Rowe being a matchup corner against bigger wide receivers, which may indeed be true. But it could also be setting the Patriots up to use Stephon Gilmore and Rowe outside with Jones if he’s ready to play the slot. Butler could be trade bait to bring in a high draft pick. If they wait until next offseason, Butler would be gone and they’d get little in compensation.
I’m one of those who really wants to see Butler and Gilmore work beside each other all season. And beyond that, I’d really like to see the team sign him to a long-term deal. But I have this sneaking suspicion that they’re going to move Butler before the season is out and before he reaches free agency.
Dion Lewis: For the record, I love what this guy brings to the table. When he gets the ball in his hands he’s electric and makes you sit up a bit straighter in your seat. After coming off ACL surgery, he didn’t have quite the jump in his step that we saw prior to the injury in 2015. But that is understandable, it normally takes a year or more for a player to get his feet totally back under him.
Dion Lewis should be completely healthy but may become trade bait in 2017. (USA TODAY Images)
Now Lewis should be completely healthy and ready to assume that role of the Patriots “Swiss Army Knife” again. But with the emergence of James White, the Super Bowl performance he had and his resultant contract extension, the additions of Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee, where does the team go from here? Don’t forget the 2nd year player D.J. Foster who can also be electric with the ball in his hands. The running back position is pretty deep at this point.
I think the Patriots may feature Lewis early in the summer to get the interest in him high and to show that he’s all the way back. Look for him to play a key role in joint practices with the Jaguars when they roll into town along with a media horde during that week.
And don’t be shocked if the team dangles him out there for trade bait.
Nate Solder: Would this be a surprise? Absolutely it would be, but a shocker? No. The Patriots have shown this before when they shipped Mankins off to Tampa Bay for Tim Wright and a draft pick. Solder is in the last year of his contract and it isn’t known if the team has approached him about an extension.
Nate Solder in the last year of his contract could also be a subject of a trade in 2017. (USA TODAY Images)
But with a look towards the future, they picked up not one but two tackles in the NFL draft this spring. The intriguing pick is Tony Garcia, the third-round pick from Troy. He’s a work in progress and he was taken with 2018 and beyond. But what if his game takes off quickly under Dante Scarnecchia and he shows he’s ready to assume a starting role earlier than expected?
Solder could be one of those surprise moves to a team that desperately needs OL help and it frequently happens when teams get hit with a rash of injuries or some established veterans don’t work out in new environs.
Every year we see Bill Belichick make some moves in mid-stream that are surprising. I wouldn’t expect the 2017 season to be any different. Of course, certain things will have to fall into place for any of these players to be moved, but I wouldn’t rule out a surprise move or two. Just look at the list of players above. We didn’t see most of them being moved at the time either.