A Tale of Two Trades: Will Michel’s Departure or Wade’s Arrival Have a Greater Impact on the 2021 Patriots?

The pair of moves made by the Patriots this past week have both present and future implications.
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The New England Patriots certainly have had an eventful week. From quarterback Cam Newton entering a five-day cadence period (resulting from a misunderstanding of testing protocols) to two days of joint practices with the New York Giants (amidst sweltering summer heat), the Pats continued the tradition of avoiding any dull moments in Foxboro, Massachusetts.

While it was hardly ‘the best of times’ or the ‘worst of times,’ the Patriots’ ‘Tale of Two Trades’ may end up being the most significant narrative of the week-that-was in New England. The Pats dipped into the trade well on two separate occasions. On Wednesday, the Pats traded running back Sony Michel to the Los Angeles Rams, in exchange for two late-round draft selection. Merely one day later, the Patriots acquired rookie cornerback Shaun Wade via trade with the Baltimore Ravens.

With NFL rosters set for final reduction to 53 players by 4:00pm ET on Tuesday, August 31, the moves were clearly made with the intent of enhancing the present, as well as securing the future. Still, the question remains:

Which of these moves will have a greater impact on the Patriots in 2021?

Let’s have a look at the balance sheet.

Michel Says Goodbye

Even Sony Michel, himself, was admittedly ‘surprised when the Patriots decided to deal their former first-round (31st overall) selection in the 2018 NFL Draft. After all, the former Georgia Bulldog was having a solid preseason. Michel seemed to be running with a bit more power and purpose. He had also rediscovered his ability to make catches out of the backfield. Despite Michel’s progress, the two sides still appeared to be headed for a split following the 2021 season. In addition to the team drafting another potential early-down back in Rhamondre Stevenson, the Pats then declined Michel’s fifth-year contract option.

Faced with the prospect of having the 26-year-old depart via free agency in 2021, the Patriots decided to trade him, to recoup at least some compensation. Originally, Michel was reported to be on his way to the City of Angels for two draft choices; a fifth- and sixth-round selection in 2022. However, the compensation was likely to become a single fourth-round pick, should the Rams receive a fourth-round compensatory pick for safety John Johnson.

On Wednesday evening, the terms of the trade had changed, as the original deal violated league rules. A recent change in NFL policy now prohibits teams from exchanging conditional compensatory picks, as had the Patriots and Rams in this instance. As a result, the Pats will now receive a sixth-round draft choice in 2022 and a fourth-round pick in 2023.

While obtaining a sixth and fourth round draft choice respectively can be considered a fair return for Michel’s services, the Patriots are taking a risk in trading their former feature back. While the plan was for Damien Harris to be the first option at the position, New England appears to be gambling on his health. In the event that Harris suffers an injury, the Pats depth will be tested. While James White is one of the best pass-catching backs in the NFL, he is not a feature back. Neither is J.J. Taylor, nor Brandon Bolden It is tempting to assume that Michel became expendable when the Patriots drafted Rhamondre Stevenson in the fourth round of the 2021 NFL Draft. The 6’0” 230-pound back has the potential to be a dual-threat rusher with the Pats. He is a physical runner, yet athletic enough to make tacklers miss in short yardage. As such, many have conjectured that the former Oklahoma Sooner, may be a factor in New England’s offense as early as this season. However, it should be noted that the Patriots usually take a temporant and planned approach to developing young running backs. Though Stevenson has had an impressive preseason, filling Michel’s shoes may be a lot to place on the shoulders of a rookie carrier.

With a rotation of Stevenson, Taylor and Bolden supporting Harris and White, the Pats would have a formidable corps in the offensive backfield. Nevertheless, a position of strength can become a liability in an instant. In the long-term, this trade will likely strengthen the Patriots draft capital for the next two years. Be that as it may, it will be intriguing to see whether the Pats' decision to move Sony Michel will work as planned in the short term.

Wade Says Hello

On Thursday, rookie defensive back Shaun Wade found himself on his way to New England. The former Ohio State Buckeye was traded by the Ravens to the Pats in exchange for a 2022 seventh-round pick and a 2023 fifth-round pick. As the Patriots had been lacking depth at the position throughout camp, Wade’s acquisition should help add some strength and physicality to their defensive backfield. Most importantly, he provides a great deal of versatility. Wade has played well in both the slot and outside cornerback roles. He is aggressive at the catch point, while showing an ability to read his opponent. As such, he is in a position to provide a notable impact on the Patriots secondary.

Although it came together quickly, Wade’s acquisition should not be viewed as a harbinger of unwelcome change to the Pats defensive backfield in 2021. Though star cornerback Stephon Gilmore has yet to participate in training camp or preseason activities (Gilmore is currently on the physically unable to perform, or PUP, list) he is expected to rejoin the team when healthy. In addition to his recuperation from offseason quad surgery, Gilmore has also been the subject of much speculation when it comes to his contract. Set to make just over $7 million in salary in 2021, the 30-year-old is reportedly seeing a contract extension from New England. Ultimately, it is in the best interest of both parties to come to an agreement. When healthy, Gilmore is still one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL and the Patriots defense is much more effective with him in the lineup. As such, Wade’s acquisition is not likely to negatively affect Gilmore’s future in New England.

Rather, Wade is likely to compete with New England’s depth corners for a roster spot, including Joejuan Williams, Dee Virgin, D’Angelo Ross and Michael Jackson, Sr. The Pats apparently avoided a potential injury problem with slot corner Jonathan Jones, who left Thursday’s practice with a lower leg injury. Jones was back on the field on Friday and appears to have sidestepped missing substantial time heading into the 2021 season. Therefore, should Wade find his way on to New England’s 53-man roster, it will not be due to a shortage of bodies at the position. He will have earned his spot against formidable competition.

Final Analysis

While it may be unfair to compare a deal which trades a viable asset for future draft picks to one which provides the team with a potentially impactful rookie, the verdict on the ‘tale of two trades’ may be closer than one may think.

The draft selections acquired by the Patriots in the Michel trade will obviously not provide any value to the team on the field in 2021. However, this trade may yield more than meets the eye. In addition to creating just under $900k in cap space, the Patriots also have given the green light to both Stevenson and Taylor to gain prominent roles in the team’s offense. With the rookie running back providing a smooth blend of power and speed, combined with the change-of-pace style of Taylor gives the Patriots a dimension that they might not have had if they kept Michel in the fold.

Though he may be a rookie, Wade is a solid prospect that could provide a significant contribution to the Pats defense as soon as this season. His impact may end up being much more pronounced if the team is unable to find a suitable accord with Gilmore. Still, the rookie has performed at his best in the slot; a role that Jonathan Jones appears to have solidified. Should Gilmore return, Wade would, at best, have a shot to become the team’s third option at outside corner. Even so, his displacement of Joejuan Williams cannot be considered a foregone conclusion, given that Wade has little time to earn his roster spot.

In the final analysis, both trades are projected to pay dividends for the Patriots in the future. While Wade may end up being a shining example of a low-risk, high-reward acquisition, the Michel trade may have provided the Patriots backfield with the versatility to become one of the best troupe of running backs in the NFL. For 2021, the dealing of Sony Michel may be a ‘far far better thing’ for the New England Patriots.