This year, ESPN's Field Yates reports that the Patriots have made a trade for a nose tackle.
For all practical purposes, the Patriots got Sopoaga for nothing. Right now, Philadelphia is 3–5. Only four teams have more losses. Therefore, the Patriots' fifth-rounder—which should be a late one—becomes an early sixth-rounder.
In return, the Patriots get a cheap, veteran nose tackle for 2013.
At just $530,000 for the remainder of the season and a relatively low cost in draft capital, it's a low-risk, potentially high-reward scenario.
So far this season, the Patriots have been relying on two rookies: Chris Jones, a sixth-round draft pick originally selected by Houston out of Bowling Green State, and Joe Vellano, an undrafted free agent out of Maryland.
According to ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss, Jones was one of four Patriots defensive players who played all 80 snaps against the Miami Dolphins in Week 8. Vellano played 71 snaps, or nearly 89 percent of the team's snaps. Moreover, Jones currently leads all NFL rookies in sacks with 4.5.
Vellano and Jones are receiving a substantial amount of playing time because of injuries at defensive tackle. All-Pro tackle Vince Wilfork was lost for the season with a torn Achilles in Week 4 against Atlanta, while Tommy Kelly has been sidelined since Week 5 with a knee injury.
The Patriots have gotten minor contributions from veteran tackle Andre Neblett—who has since been cut—and Marcus Forston, who began the season on the Patriots' practice squad.
Trading for Sopoaga was:
Right now, Sopoaga looks to be able to help the Patriots most on rushing downs. The Patriots rank 31st in rushing yards allowed per game at 130.8, and 22nd in yards allowed per carry at 4.2. Teams are also rushing against the Patriots more than against any team other than Jacksonville.
On the other hand, the Patriots are fifth overall in passing yards allowed at 215.5. It's hard to tell whether the poor rush defense is a cause or an effect.
Vellano and Jones make a great defensive tandem on passing downs. Jones' second sack of Geno Smith against the New York Jets was a thing of beauty. However, both are relatively undersized for nose tackles.
Sopoaga, a 2004 fourth-round draft pick of the 49ers out of Hawaii, is listed at 6'2", 330 pounds, which is much closer to the prototypical size for the position.
He isn't an All-Pro like Wilfork, but I don't expect the Patriots to use Sopoaga that way either. Sopoaga will likely rotate in mostly on first and second downs, primarily replacing Vellano, although Jones will probably no longer be asked to play every snap. That should be a good thing.
The big question that remains is Kelly's health. We'll have a better idea tomorrow, when the Patriots release their first injury report for their Week 9 game against Pittsburgh.