Curran: Why Patriots should be trade deadline buyers this year originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The NFL trade deadline is Tuesday. How drastically should Sunday’s result against the Chargers alter the Patriots plans to be buyers, sellers or bystanders?
In my opinion, not at all. With a fairly wide-open AFC, the Patriots should be looking to add, add, add for a possible run into the postseason. Win or lose.
If you’re thinking, “Whoa, hombre. They’ll be 3-5 and they’re a year or two away, why bother…” then I suggest you’re skipping over the fine print with what’s going on.
There’s no Godzilla in the AFC. It’s wide-flippin’ open.
Who’s ahead of the currently ninth-seeded Patriots? The Bengals, Raiders, Titans, Bills, Ravens, Chargers, Browns and Steelers. Ohhh. Scary. The Patriots aren’t a particularly daunting opponent at this point either. But with games against the Chargers, Titans, Ravens and two against the Bills, this team has plenty of opportunity to do direct damage to the teams ahead of them.
And when you consider that two of their five losses came narrowly to two of the best teams in the NFL – Tampa and Dallas – in addition to the one-point, mistake-marred loss in the opener against Miami, adding assets to the 2021 Patriots would be a wise investment. Within reason.
Nobody’s been busier at the deadline over the last decade than Bill Belichick. Makes sense. As perennial Super Bowl contenders, they should have been looking to raid the hapless for their own stretch run.
The last two deadlines have been interesting case studies though. Mainly, because the Patriots were in unfamiliar territory.
In 2019 , the Patriots sent a second-rounder to Atlanta for 23 games of the wide receiver’s services. The circumstances – Tom Brady’s last season in town, a clear-and-present lack of anyone to throw to and an “in for a dime, in for a dollar” attitude that preceded 2020’s financial correction – make the deal understandable even if it remains a complete bust. Who expected it to be a bust? Not me. I loved the move. I get the logic.
At the opposite end of the Sanu overpay was the failure to launch on Stephon Gilmore last year. The Patriots reportedly demanded a first-round pick for Gilmore before the November 3 deadline. They didn’t get it. As they slid out of contention, Gilmore played six more games before tearing his quad. He had surgery in the offseason and made it abundantly clear he wasn’t going to play for the team until he got a raise or a new deal. Given Gilmore’s slipping pre-injury performance, his age and his refusal to show the team what he could do on the field, the Patriots ended up releasing him and getting zip.
Again, I get the logic of why they didn’t move Gilmore for less than a first. Even though the Patriots were 2-5 at the time, Belichick refused to raise the white flag on his first season sans Brady. With a league-high number of COVID opt-outs, raw feelings around the team from Belichick’s “we sold out” comments on SIRIUS just before the trade deadline that insinuated 2020 was just a reset season (even if it was) and a belief that they’d be able to reach accord with Gilmore, the Patriots kept the asset. Ironically, the Patriots won four of their next five after the deadline. So even though they lost Gilmore for nothing, they didn’t tank 2020.
Which bring us back to now.
The Patriots’ most glaring need is cornerback. There’s been a post-Gilmore domino effect in the secondary. J.C. Jackson is a cut-below high-level Gilmore as a lead corner. Jalen Mills is more than a little behind both Jackson and Jason McCourty as a second corner. Jonathan Jones is now done for the season which means still-developing corner Myles Bryant, the always overmatched Joejuan Williams and untested rookie Shaun Wade move up a spot. Meanwhile, in the recent past are dismantlings by Dak Prescott and Davis Mills.
Meanwhile, offensive tackle seems wafer-thin until there’s some concrete sign Trent Brown is going to revert to being the dependable 2018 version of Trent Brown and not the oft-absent Trent Brown he’s always been otherwise.
As for the Patriots moving assets? If someone comes knocking for a non-starter? Shrug. Whatever. But shuffling off a player with an expiring contract (Jackson) who has an immediate role? The answer should be, “NFW.” The 2021 Patriots are still in this thing.
Justin Herbert is a treat to watch
There’s a slew of young quarterbacks across the NFL I enjoy watching. It’s a Golden Age in terms of varied young talent and the fact two of the best to ever do it – Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady – are still near the height of their talents. Has there ever been a wider range of quarterbacking flavors? But of all the talent we’re seeing, I think I like watching Justin Herbert the most.
By the time he’s done, Herbert could be what Andrew Luck was supposed to be. You might prefer Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, Kyler Murray, Joe Burrow. That’s fine. You can. For me, the combination of size, arm strength, accuracy, throwing motion, speed, power and his lack of plays that make you go crazy is what sets him apart.
He’s 6-foot-6, 237 pounds, runs a 4.69 40 and has thrown 41 touchdowns and 14 picks since coming into the league. He’s done that despite playing for a rudderless, 7-9 team last year as a rookie when he got sent in cold to replace Tyrod Taylor after Chargers doctors punctured Taylor’s lung with a poorly-placed pregame shot. Still and forever, WTF on that.
You can say people got it desperately wrong on Lamar Jackson but the takes on Herbert were asinine, aggressively ignorant and giddily dismissive. Did I know Herbert would be as good as he is? Did I know Mac Jones would be as good as he is? No and no. But the fact neither drastically improved from the time they were drafted until they were unveiled means to me that, if you doubted their ability to succeed, you just flat missed on how good they actually were.
Jackson and Josh Allen made incredible gains as throwers and decision-makers since being drafted. They were projections. Herbert – despite all the advanced metrics on his turnover-worthy throws at Oregon and concerns over him being too shy or too humble – was more NFL-ready than those two and Tua Tagovailoa. Speaking of which …
Mac Jones vs. other first-round QBs
Here’s a fun exercise we did on the pod.
Pick the first-round quarterbacks taken since 2018 you’d prefer to see quarterbacking the Patriots instead of Mac Jones. Not the best. The ones you think would be preferable in New England knowing the way the Patriots like to do their offensive business. Between myself, Phil Perry and Matt Cassel, we had Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, Kyler Murray (split 2-1 decision, I voted against Murray because I think he’s going to break), Joe Burrow and Trevor Lawrence.
That means Jones over Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Dwayne Haskins, Tua Tagovailoa and Jordan Love. Of that group, the only guys meriting debate are Mayfield and maybe Darnold. Your results may vary.
Chargers a tier above Pats?
Are the Patriots and Chargers peers? Kneejerk reaction might be that the 4-2 Chargers are a cut above the 3-4 Patriots.
LA has quality wins at KC, against the Raiders and over the Browns and they have a narrow loss to Dallas. They got waxed two weeks ago by Baltimore but that’s a pretty good team. The Chargers have the second strongest strength of schedule in the AFC (.585 winning percentage among their opponents) and their strength of victory (combined records of teams they beat) is .500The Patriots’ strength of victory with two wins over Houston and one over the Jets is .185. But the distance from 3-4 to 6-1 for the Patriots isn’t long at all.
So yeah, I think that the Patriots and Chargers – and next week’s opponent, the Browns – are on the same level of general quality. How then to explain last season’s 45-0 Patriots demolition of the Chargers?
The Patriots alley-jumped ‘em at SoFi. On their first drive, the Cam-led Patriots ran it through LA’s face on a 13-play TD drive (10 runs). LA missed a field goal. Gunner had a 70-yard punt return TD, the Patriots ran it through their face a second time on a 16-play drive (11 runs) and Devin McCourty returned a blocked field goal 44 yards for a touchdown to end the half. So it was 28-0 at the break. Dun.