For the next few hours, it is all about the simple laws of economics.
To be exact, it’s about supply and demand.
With the NFL Trade Deadline set for Tuesday, November 2, at 4:00pm ET, several NFL teams will be working the line of communications; seeking the opportunity to improve their team, both in the short term, and the long term.
At 4-4, the New England Patriots find themselves in an interesting position. They currently sit at eighth place in the AFC, owning a tie breaker with both the Denver Broncos and Cleveland Browns, based on head-to-head-winning percentage. While visions of a playoff berth was thought to be mere fantasy just a couple of weeks ago, the Pats are currently in the mix, in a conference that is there for the taking.
A chance for the postseason is usually enough to convince any given team to pursue the goal, at all reasonable costs. However, the Pats must decide in the next few hours whether said cost is both feasible and reasonable.
With just north of $2.6 million in available salary cap space ($2,663,503, according to @patscap, Miguel Benzan), the Patriots are not in a fiscal position of strength. As a result, a deal for any significant salary is highly unlikely. While it is possible that the ‘selling’ team may decide to rework the current deal of a player (in hopes of enticing the ‘buyer’ to seek a trade), such a move would likely come with a price of its own. The seller would likely increase their asking price, by way of draft capital, or even NFL-ready talenti in return. After spending a small fortune in free agency heading into 2021, the Patriots are not in line for the seemingly annual windfall of compensatory picks. Therefore, head coach Bill Belichick and the Patriots brain trust may be a bit more reluctant to part with his draft picks as trade chips.
Therefore, if the Patriots are, indeed, ‘buyers’ at the trade deadline, it will likely be a minor move, paling in comparison to Monday’s blockbuster which sent linebacker Von Miller from the Denver Broncos to the Los Angeles Rams.
Again, for the Patriots, it will be about supply and demand. Let’s examine some potential options.
While many within the fan base remain adamant in their stance that wide receiver is the team’s greatest position of need, the Patriots would actually be best served by adding help in the defensive backfield, specifically at cornerback. Since the trade of Stephon Gilmore, New England has promoted defensive back Myles Bryant to the active roster, while adding cornerbacks Brian Poole and De’Vante Bausby. Unfortunately they have also lost slot cornerback Jonathan Jones, who recently underwent season-ending shoulder surgery. Rookie corner Shaun Wade, who was acquired via trade prior to the start of the 2021 season, has yet to play a regular-season snap. Lastly, Joejuan Williams has remained an inconsistent depth option, at best.
Few would argue that J.C. Jackson has earned the team’s top spot at the position, the opposite outside corner spot has been moderately effective, at best. (…and that’s probably being generous.) Free agent signee Jalen Mills has notably struggled on the outside, having previously spent his most productive time in the slot with the Philadelphia Eagles. While playing on the outside, the 27-year-old has routinely been beaten in coverage. If the Pats were to acquire assistance at outside corner, it might allow Mills to return to the slot, with Bryant taking on a more situational role.
This, as they say, is where the plot thickens. Having already traded away the best, and most-in demand cornerback available in Gilmore, the chances of a perimeter corner of significant impact becoming available to the Patriots is minimal. For example, rumors began to circulate on Monday that the Miami Dolphins might be willing to listen to trade offers for cornerback Xavien Howard. However, striking a deal with a division-rival, for one of its most prolific players, is a remote possibility.
One name that continues to persist is Broncos corner Kyle Fuller. Fuller possesses the versatility to play in both the slot, as well as on the perimeter. The 29-year-old has seemingly fallen out of favor in Denver, who is clearly not averse to making deals. However, his price tag may be a bit too steep for the value he would bring New England in return. According to PatsCap’s Miguel Benzan, if Fuller were to be traded to a new team this week, and the Broncos did not redo his deal before the trade, his cap number for his new team would be $5,235,294.12. While creative money management could theoretically make this work, it looks to be a long shot, at best.
Another cornerback currently being discussed as a potential option is Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Steven Nelson. Nelson is a more-than-adequate cover corner, currently playing opposite Darius Slay in the Eagles’ secondary. The 28-year-old has been given a coverage grade of 64 by Pro Football Focus, and would be a solid fit opposite J.C. Jackson. Financially, the Patriots could make this work as Nelson’s base salary is less than $1 million, as he plays on a deal that is set to void in 20222. Mix in the fact that the Patriots and Eagles participated in joint practices (typically a popular scouting opportunity for Belichick and the Pats coaching staff), and it looks like a recipe for success. Still, the rub lies within the uncertainty surrounding the Eagles desire to shed his services. Philadelphia’s plans at the position may or may not include retaining Nelson. This could be one to watch, with the expected price tag being more to the Patriots liking.
Though the Pats would be smart to explore their options on Tuesday, the chances of them making a deal are best described as ‘doubtful.’ The demand may be palpable, but the supply is simply an inadequate match. In order for the Patriots to trade for a competent upgrade at corner (or any position of need for that matter), they would likely need to offset the compensation gap by including a current player (or two), or demanding that the seller consume a notable portion of said player’s remaining. Doing the latter will almost force New England to surrender additional capital to facilitate any deal.
Of course, in Foxboro, anything is possible. Still, it does not necessarily make it probable.