2013 New England Patriots: Five Trade Scenarios
With the NFL free agent signing period beginning at 4 PM EST tomorrow, there are sure to be a flurry of contracts handed out to the top players available on the market over the next few days. However, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots are rarely big spenders in free agency, and instead build their roster around cheap veteran acquisitions, trades and via the draft. As successful as the franchise has been over the last decade, the team hasn't won a Super Bowl since 2005.
The Brady-Belichick era and window of opportunity to win another ring is quickly closing, and it may be time for the cap-rich Patriots to alter their philosophy and spend big on free agents. But aside from any free agents that would immediately help the team, here are five trades that could help bolster the roster for the upcoming season.
Brandon Lloyd to the Bears
Despite the Patriots' and Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels' best intentions, Brandon Lloyd is not a good fit for the team's offense. Lloyd is plenty capable of being a solid No. 2 receiver for most NFL teams, but the Patriots' passing game is heavily reliant on receivers' abilities to rack up yards after the catch, and Lloyd is terrible in that department.
Even with 74 receptions in 2012, Lloyd ranked 115th in the NFL with just 180 yards after the catch. That is less than 2.5 YAC per reception—a poor statistic for a tight end, let alone a receiver. New England has close to $30 million in cap space to spend on a speedy receiver, and although cutting Lloyd is certainly an option, the Bears would be a perfect trade partner for the incumbent receiver.
The 2012 Chicago Bears were historically reliant on Brandon Marshall in their passing game, as his 118 receptions were more than the rest of the team's wide receivers combined. Earl Bennett finished second on the team with 29 receptions, with the other 51 receptions dispersed between Alshon Jeffery, Eric Weems, Devin Hester and Dane Sanzenbacher.
Chicago's reliance on Marshall is not only detrimental to its offensive efficiency, but to Marshall's health as well. Mistake-prone Jay Cutler needs to spread the ball more to keep defensive secondaries honest, but he can only do so with legitimate options after Marshall. Lloyd would immediately step in as the team's No. 2 wideout.
The catch is that Lloyd has to be dealt before March 16th, when he is due a $3 million bonus. New England will not pay the bonus before dealing Lloyd, but his original 3-year, $12 million deal is a bargain compared to what the Bears would have to pay on the open market. It would be in all parties' best interest to make the deal as soon as possible—otherwise Lloyd will be cut or relegated to third or fourth WR duties for the 2013 Patriots.
The Bears don't have a third-round pick in 2013, which would be the best-case compensation for New England. However, Belichick is known for planning for the future, so a fourth-rounder in 2013 and third- or fourth-rounder in 2014 would get the deal done.
Ryan Mallett to the Browns
Widespread reports by beat writers and NFL.com verify Browns General Manager Michael Lombardi's interest in QB Ryan Mallett, and the cards are now in place for a deal. Brady's restructured contract keeps him in New England through the 2017 season, and at 24 years old Mallett is better served learning on the field instead of riding the pine until he is 30.
Although second-year quarterback Brandon Weeden was taken by Cleveland in the first round in 2012, he will turn 30 in October and the team needs a young QB to infuse interest into the perennially-losing franchise. The Patriots have only five picks in the 2013 draft, two of which being seventh-rounders, and Belichick will certainly be looking to pick up a few mid-round picks where he can.
Mallett allows the Browns to bring in competition for Weeden and backup QB Colt McCoy for a much lower price than signing a free agent. And drafting another QB with a high pick would be an embarrassment after using the 22nd pick on Weeden last year.
The Browns forfeit their 2013 second-round pick after selecting receiver Josh Gordon in the supplemental draft, but their third-round pick is still high at 68th overall. The Patriots would certainly take the Browns' third-round pick this year and their second-rounder next year in exchange for Mallett, especially with Mike Kafka being fully capable of assuming backup duty to Brady.
Steve Smith to the Patriots
The going-rate for veteran receivers is a mid- to late-round draft pick, so the Patriots could surely acquire Smith from the Panthers for their third-round pick (91st overall). Carolina currently has just two picks in the top 100 in 2013, and are continuing to rebuild after a disappointing 2012 season following Cam Newton's surprise emergence in 2011. Smith has been mentioned as a trade candidate for the past few years, and the Patriots are seemingly an excellent fit for a few reasons.
If the Patriots lose Wes Welker in free agency, Smith would assume the starting slot position. If they retain Welker, Smith becomes even more dangerous as another quick and agile target for Brady. To say that defensive game-planning for an offense featuring Welker, Smith, Gronkowski, and Hernandez would be a nightmare is an understatement. Despite the clamor for the Patriots to acquire a "deep threat" and true split-end receiver to complete their offense, the truth is, they don't need one.
Smith's speed makes up for what he lacks in size, and he would become the Patriots' best downfield option since Randy Moss in his prime. I'm a firm believer in trading draft picks for proven NFL talent, and Smith still has three years of solid play left in him. His 2013 salary is about equal to Brandon Lloyd's, but Smith is capable of 100 receptions in a below-average offense, let alone an elite one like that of the Patriots.
Shane Vereen to the Jaguars
New England drafted Shane Vereen with the 56th overall pick in the 2011 draft, and since he has shown flashes of excellence. His biggest game came in the Divisional Round of the 2012 playoffs against the staunch Texans defense. Vereen recorded five receptions for 83 yards and two touchdowns, as well as seven rushes for 41 yards and a touchdown in the blowout victory.
Going forward, the biggest roadblock for Vereen is Stevan Ridley's even more-impressive emergence as the Patriots' lead back.
If the Patriots choose to retain Danny Woodhead and Brandon Bolden, they will have a full backfield, with Jeff Demps waiting in the wings as a wild card. Vereen has the potential to be a solid starting running back in the NFL, but only with a higher workload than he will get in New England. Right now, Vereen is a certified "sell-high" candidate.
Jacksonville used five different starting running backs in 2012, mainly because Maurice Jones-Drew cannot stay on the field. MJD enters the final year of his contract in 2013, so the Jaguars will look to get the most out of him. But backup RB Rashard Jennings is a free agent and won't return.
After MJD, the Jaguars' backfield is extremely thin, and the addition of Vereen gives them an injury fill-in as well as a future feature back when MJD inevitably departs.
Jacksonville's second-round pick this year is 33rd overall, and would probably be best spent on the defensive side of the ball. But with an incompetent front office and a plethora of head-scratching moves, it isn't a stretch to think they'd swap the 33rd pick for Vereen. Again, the Patriots are in 100 percent "win-now" mode, and dealing some of their offensive depth would have very little impact in 2013. Vereen is expendable, and Bill Belichick is a big fan of second-round draft picks.
Dee Milliner to the Patriots
File this trade under "dream scenarios," but the Patriots do have the pieces to get it done. Dee Milliner is the top cornerback available in the 2013 draft, as well as one of the top 15 best players overall. He is 6'1", 200 pounds, and plays physical like former Patriots Ty Law, Lawyer Milloy and Rodney Harrison. His adjustment to the NFL will only be easier coming out of Alabama, and he would immediately start for the Patriots.
New England will move Devin McCourty to starting safety for good in 2013, but neither cornerback spot is currently filled. Aqib Talib could bolt in free agency, and Alfonzo Dennard may end up in jail. The Patriots have to sign a free agent corner, whether it is Talib, Sean Smith, Brent Grimes or Cary Williams, but they will also have to address their secondary depth. Milliner shores up many of the question marks the defense faces.
The problem in drafting Milliner is that he will be taken in the top 10 or 15 selections, and New England would have to trade up from pick 29. Enter Ryan Mallett, previously noted as a target of the Browns. New England could look to parlay Mallett and their first- and second-round picks for Cleveland's first-rounder at sixth overall. That pick should easily land them Milliner, giving them an excellent starting CB for a fraction of the price of big-name free agents.