What potential moves lie ahead for Bill Belichick and the Patriots?
Could another surprise move be on the horizon? At this point, it's mere speculation. But if the Patriots are in fact looking to get a deal done, what sort of players could be on the market?
Director of player personnel Nick Caserio and head coach Bill Belichick certainly have some decisions to make. Here are five moves to ponder.
What a difference one year makes.
Cornerback Kyle Arrington recorded seven interceptions in 2011. Yet that playmaking prowess hasn't been on display this season for the former undrafted free agent.
Through six games, Arrington hasn't gotten his hands on an interception and his coverage has been exploited.
Despite allowing significant yardage to wide receivers, the Hofstra product has still seen significant playing time due to his abilities as a run defender. Although, it seems like his role is slipping before our eyes for the big catches he's allowed.
Patriots Football Weekly's Erik Scalavino tweeted an update of the Arrington regression during New England's game versus the Seattle Seahawks on Oct. 14:
#Patriots rookie Alfonzo Dennard is now the right corner in base 4-3.
— Erik Scalavino (@PFWErik) October 14, 2012
If the Patriots were to trade Arrington, it's hard to say what the team would get in return. Odds are, it'd be a late-round draft pick. However, trading Arrington would open up more opportunities for New England's recent draft picks Alfonzo Dennard and Ras-I Dowling.
Shane Vereen could be an intriguing talent for another team.
Tailback Shane Vereen has plenty of value as a 2011 second-round draft pick. And yet, the former Cal Bear has been unable to snag much playing time in New England.
Fellow second-year back Stevan Ridley has taken the reins of the Patriots' backfield, while undrafted rookie Brandon Bolden and the versatile Danny Woodhead have also made an impact.
Due to the stellar play surrounding him, Vereen has gotten lost in the shuffle. After missing the first three games of the regular season, the 5'9", 210-pound rusher has garnered just two carries for one yard and a touchdown, as well as one catch for five yards.
Vereen has the athleticism and speed to warrant more reps, but the Patriots haven't needed a full workload from him. If another team is willing to give the Patriots a fair offer at a position of need, it would be hard to say no.
Leon Washington is a viable returner.
Cornerback Devin McCourty, wideout Matthew Slater and tailback Danny Woodhead have shared New England's kick-return duties. But despite their efforts, the Patriots' return game has been held in check.
That could all change if the Patriots were to trade for a dependable return man, however.
One person worth trading for could be the Seattle Seahawks' Leon Washington. The ex-Florida State halfback has speed to burn and is no stranger to the end zone, totaling seven kick-return touchdowns over his career.
On the year, the 30-year-old has averaged over 30 yards per kick return and nearly eight yards per punt return—far superior to the Patriots' 20-yard average.
Washington is in the second year of a a four-year, $12.5 million contract, cites Spotrac.com, which is a steep price for a special teams guy. Nonetheless, his explosiveness is something worth pursuing if Seattle was willing to make a swap.
Daniel Fells and Michael Hoomanawanui could be on the block.
New England's collection of tight ends is revered because of two men: Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. But the help behind them is also quite vital to the team's success.
That's where Daniel Fells and Michael Hoomanawanui come into the picture.
Both backup blocking receivers filter into the mix for short-yardage situations, heavy tight end sets, as well as special teams—all critical aspects of the game. Yet none of that work really shows up on the stat sheet, as both men have combined for three catches and 57 yards on the season.
Still, the veteran tight ends could give the Pats some value at the deadline. If not, one is left to speculate both men are on the 53-man roster as placeholders until the return of Visanthe Shiancoe from short-term injured reserve.
According to the Boston Herald's Patriots blog, "The Blitz," Shiancoe is eligible to return after eight weeks and may see his first action against the Buffalo Bills in Week 10, following the team's bye.
Shiancoe is in his 10th NFL campaign and has amassed over 500 receiving yards in three of his last four seasons. His presence gives the Patriots some leeway, not to mention an overabundance of tight ends.
As a result, something has to give. If the Patriots could get something in return for one of these backups, it would make sense to do so. They both are solid blockers who could help a team in search of a tight end.
Signing Zack Bowman isn't a blockbuster move, but it's less risky than a trade.
The Patriots rank 28th in passing yards allowed and have let up more pass plays of 20-plus yards than any other team. This can partly be blamed on the pass rush, but the secondary also has to hold up its end of the bargain.
Seeing as how the average age of a Patriot defensive back is 24 years old, it's a distinct possibility that inexperience has led to some growing pains. Instead of jumping the gun and trading for tutelage, the team has done some due diligence instead.
According to Field Yates of ESPNBoston.com, the Patriots recently worked out cornerback Zack Bowman. The 27-year-old Bowman has starting experience and notched six interceptions back in 2009 with the Chicago Bears.
Bowman is a player to keep an eye on if the Patriots don't trade for a vet in the upcoming weeks.
Wes Welker knows it's a business.
That being said, there's little to no chance the Patriots move Welker at the deadline.
No. 83 is a 100-catch machine who has gained over 6,600 receiving yards since his arrival in New England.
The reasoning behind trading Welker would be for the sake of brass tacks.
Welker is 31 years old and set to be a free agent again at the end of this season. If he is slapped with another tender next year, he would earn upwards of $11.4 million, according to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald.
Surely, the veteran wants some long-term security, but the Patriots have preferred the pay-as-you-go approach. Welker has seen free-agent wideouts like Pierre Garcon and Vincent Jackson reach lucrative paydays of $42.5 million and $55.6 million, respectively, per Chuck Schilken of the Los Angeles Times.
But by sticking with New England, Welker has sacrificed dollars for wins. If Welker tests his worth again next March, he will likely be greeted with some enticing offers, which would put the Patriots at a crossroads.
Nonetheless, both sides are not yet at that crossroads.
In an article written this summer, the Boston Globe's Christopher Gasper eyed the road ahead for both the Patriots and Welker:
The other message the Patriots delivered by not locking up Welker is they deem him replaceable, maybe not directly as a slot receiver nonpareil, but replaceable. Much like the Patriots offense morphed after the trade of Moss and the loss of the long ball in 2010, the Patriots could adapt and score without Welker.
The Pats would undergo an offensive reset if Welker were to leave the confines of Gillette Stadium. Still, it wouldn't be the first time a highly respected Patriot has departed.
There was the Randy Moss deal two years ago, the Richard Seymour trade to Oakland in 2009, the Deion Branch trade to Seattle early in the 2006 season and even the Lawyer Milloy release before the 2002 season opener.