Taking stock of the Patriots with the trade deadline approaching

With four games on the books, there’s enough of a sample size to have a decent read on the Patriots, and assess what they might need going forward.

With the trade deadline fast approaching, there are a few areas the Patriots might like to shore up with the hope of enhancing their chances to not only reach the postseason, but legitimately contend.

During the past decade alone, Bill Belichick hasn’t been shy about making deadline deals to try and bolster the lineup. And, given his team went toe-to-toe with the defending champs in Kansas City without Cam Newton, and gave the Seahawks a run for their money in Seattle with Newton,  Belichick might think the Patriots aren’t so far off.

While Belichick has made a few impact-type moves in the recent past, it’s mostly been a mixed bag overall.

The deals of note? Whether it was linebacker Kyle Van Noy (2016), defensive tackle Akiem Hicks (2016), linebacker Akeem Ayers (2014) or cornerback Aqib Talib (2012), those players had an impact.

On the flipside, they’ve also come up short on deadline acquisitions, with last season being the latest example.

Trading a second-round pick for Mohamed Sanu didn’t provide the bang expected during their run to the playoffs last year.

Will they be able to remedy their problem areas this season before the 4 p.m. Nov. 3 deadline, which is a little more than two weeks away?

As it stands, they should seriously consider bolstering the tight end, wide receiver, and pass rush positions. They could also use some depth on the defensive line and or linebacker.

Starting at the top, the tight end group has been nearly invisible in terms of production at the quarter mark. Rookies Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene might eventually develop, but it’s not happening now. And Ryan Izzo, while a decent blocker, doesn’t qualify as an impact player.

So either they take the training wheels off Asiasi, or go after an established tight end that can help Newton right away, and further diversify the offense. That’s one storyline.

As for the wide receiver group, N’Keal Harry is coming along, and Damiere Byrd has contributed, but Julian Edelman is once again playing hurt with a bum knee. They need reinforcements, but does that mean a rental, or someone with years left on an existing deal? We’ll see in a couple weeks.

The defensive line? Beau Allen, the free agent nose tackle signed during the offseason, has yet to get on the field. He missed training camp, started the season on injured reserve and is due to come off. He would help, but it’s hard to judge what impact he’ll have, if any, given all the time he’s missed. At the very least, he’ll provide the same bump as any trade acquisition.

As it is, the Patriots signed Carl Davis off the Jaguars practice squad. Maybe he’ll suffice as a depth piece along with Allen. Plus, there doesn’t appear anyone in the available category that would have the needed impact.

Adding inside linebacker help might also be a priority, but with the Patriots playing so much dime coverage, employing six defensive backs, the need might not be as pressing in Belichick’s view. Plus, rookies Anfernee Jennings and Josh Uche figure to be more involved as the season rolls along.

As for the pass rush, it would be nice if Chase Winovich had some help making opposing quarterbacks miserable. He can’t do it alone. So it’s possible the Patriots will pull off a trade there.

At the moment, they don’t have a lot of draft capital available, outside of a few mid-round picks from next year’s draft class.

Not sure if they’d be willing to deal Joe Thuney, who’s on the franchise tag. He’s their best offensive lineman, but rookie Michael Onwenu has been a revelation. He’s started at multiple positions, and could eventually take over Thuney’s spot if they went that route.

Beyond Thuney, running back J.J. Taylor is currently a depth piece who might be attractive to some teams.

If Belichick decides he wants to add on, there are certainly a few places to look for help.

Typically, trades are made with teams that are already pretty much out of the playoff hunt. Those teams tend to be sellers at the deadline. Or, teams that have a surplus at a particular position is another option.

With that in mind, here’s a few names who might be on the Patriots radar at the top positions of need.

Tight end

1. Evan Engram, GiantsJoe Judge’s team is win-less. So it makes sense for the Patriots to look in his direction. Engram is a 2017 first-round pick. The 6-3, 240-pound tight end has speed and ability. And while many thought he’d flourish in Jason Garrett’s offense, that hasn’t been the case. The Giants already picked up his 5th-year option, so he’s under contract for another year. The Pats should definitely kick the tires on him.

2. David Njoku, Browns — The Browns have depth at the position and a huge need to fill. If they traded Njoku, they’d want to land a safety in return. That position is killing the defense. Not sure if the Patriots are a fit with that in mind. Terrence Brooks might qualify, and he’s played well. But the Browns would be looking for more. Njoku, however, would be a terrific addition, and just the kind of bump up that’s needed at the position.

3. Jacob Hollister, Seahawks — Yes, the Patriots had him, and traded him. And did so for peanuts in 2019. Last year, he developed into an effective outlet for Russell Wilson, but has fallen down the depth chart this season. He knows the Patriots system, and would provide a pass-catching presence that’s currently missing.

It’s possible the Patriots might also take a stab at Hollister’s teammate Greg Olsen, given his past chemistry with Newton while in Carolina. He’s 35, but still has something left in the tank. With a surplus at the position, it’s worth seeing who the Seahawks might be willing to part with.

Wide receiver

1. Golden Tate, Giants — Dipping back into the Giants well, Tate’s name has often been linked to the Patriots during free agency. Nothing has ever materialized. Wonder if he regrets signing with the Giants. He’s under contract through 2022. He’s still a tough competitor who tends to make big plays at key times. At the very least, he’s a veteran who would provide Edelman insurance.

2. Dede Westbrook, Jaguars — After being a key contributor, with back-to-back seasons with 66 receptions, Westbrook has fallen down the depth chart. After being inactive the first two weeks, he has just one catch for four yards this season. He’s essentially been displaced by rookie Laviska Shenault Jr. It’s possible the 1-4 Jags might be willing to part with the former Oklahoma receiver.

3. John Ross, Bengals — Byrd has speed, but Ross would take it to another level and force safeties to really pay if they chose to stay in the box to spy Newton. He’s been inactive three straight games. Can’t see the Bengals giving him away cheaply. Ross is a former first round pick (2017) taken ninth overall. He’s also in the final year of his deal.

Edge Rusher

1. Ryan Kerrigan, Washington Football Team — While his best days are behind him, Kerrigan could be employed as a situational pass rusher, which is what’s needed at this point. He could provide some valuable depth off the edge. Would Washington part with the four-time Pro Bowler and franchise leader in sacks (92)? In terms of value, Washington won’t get better value than now. After a two-sack performance Week 1, Kerrigan hasn’t done much since.

2. Takkarist McKinley, Falcons — McKinley’s a good player, and a former first round pick, although the Falcons decided not to exercise his fifth-year option. In that regard, they might like to get something for him before he hits free agency. He’s been bothered by a groin injury of late. In the season opening loss to Seattle, though, he was a menace to Wilson. It wouldn’t hurt if the Pats inquired about the asking price.

So there are a few names the Patriots might target. For the record, there hasn’t been much movement with players this year thanks in part to COVID-19 and all the uncertainty as it relates to rosters and the future salary cap.

Belichick, asked about that Thursday, acknowledged those factors, but didn’t know how much it would, or wouldn’t impact movement at the deadline.

“There certainly are a lot of unknowns going forward, not just this year but even in the next year relative to team building and salary cap and so forth,” said Belichick. “I think that may have everybody with a little less ability to really plan things out the way they want to do them and that may be causing some hesitation, as well.

“I think you’re certainly seeing more players stay with the teams that they’re on and teams using those players as depth with the injured reserve rules this year and the practice squad expansion giving teams more of an ability to do that, and I think we’re certainly seeing that play out.”

The Brady Chronicles

It was interesting that during their weekly chat on Westwood One before the Monday Night Football game, Jim Gray never asked Tom Brady about forgetting what down it was in the final series of the game during the loss to the Chicago Bears.

There was no mention of that, nor of Brady’s blow-up on the sidelines.

There were, however, a few interesting responses to questions posed by Gray. Brady provided a thoughtful answer on Dak Prescott’s gruesome ankle injury. He was reflective on his own career.

“Every week you see carnage in the NFL. It’s a violent sport. It’s what we sign up for and it’s very difficult to see players get hurt. Some players go through really tough injuries. On the same weekend Dak get hurt, you see Alex Smith come back from one of the toughest injuries and rehabs anyone has seen in the NFL, so it’s just, I think from my standpoint, when I see it, I’m very appreciative of the moments I have out on the field,” said Brady. “I’m very grateful coming off the field, healthy, and I’m very sympathetic toward the players that do deal with very difficult, career-impactful injuries like the one Dak had.

“Unfortunately, it’s part of the game. I don’t think those can be eliminated, it’s just so hard to watch when you see such a great player deal with such a tough injury . . . I know his teammates appreciate him. Dak has been shown a lot of love and support from his teammates, which shows to me, they connect with him very well. He’s a great leader, he’s had a great career to this point, and we’re all hoping for the best in his recovery.”

Brady said he gained a lot of perspective about his career and what football meant to him, when he was out during the 2008 season recovering from ACL surgery.

McDaniels Derby?

Naturally, with each head coach that gets fired, it’s easy to try and fit Josh McDaniels into the equation. The Patriots offensive coordinator still has head coaching aspirations. In Houston, with an established star quarterback in Deshaun Watson, there would likely be appeal for the Texans job.

The Falcons, where Dan Quinn just got canned along with general manager Thomas Dimitroff?

Well, Matt Ryan is there, but for how much longer? At 0-5, the Falcons are in the sweepstakes for the No. 1 overall pick. Getting Trevor Lawrence and being able to coach the Clemson star and build a team around him would also be a draw for McDaniels, if the Falcons in fact get the top pick. McDaniels and Nick Caserio could go in a package deal, if the Falcons are so inclined.

Just food for thought. There’s bound to be more openings and possibilities to ponder as the season progresses.

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