In the last two seasons, the Pats have managed to swing deals for Aqib Talib (fourth-round pick) and LeGarrette Blount (Jeff Demps and a seventh-round pick) that cost the team little and brought huge returns.
After both players had character concerns in Tampa Bay, they rejuvenated their careers in New England and are now both primed to attract attention on the free-agency market.
Add these two to legendary deals such as the acquisitions of Corey Dillon (second-round pick), Randy Moss (fourth-round pick) and Wes Welker (second- and seventh-round picks), and it's easy to forgive misses like 2013's Isaac Sopoaga deal that cost the team a fifth-rounder.
Here are some realistic trade possibilities for the Patriots this offseason that could help the team at minimal cost with the potential for maximum impact.
Salary information courtesy of Spotrac.com.
Isaac Sopoaga was brought in to solidify the Patriots' defensive tackle position after it was devastated, losing Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly in a two-week span early in the 2013 season.
The Pats surrendered a fifth-round pick for Sopoaga, who Pro Football Focus (subscription required) indicates would go on to play just 120 total snaps for the Pats, including none in the playoffs.
Most troubling about Sopoaga is the $3.5 million cap hit he'll cost the Pats in 2014 if he remains on the roster. There's little doubt he'll be among the first cuts the Pats make this offseason, but perhaps there's a chance they can use him in any potential trade scenarios to sweeten the pot just a little.
Teams might be wary of taking on a player at that salary, especially given his performance for the Pats, but a renegotiation of his deal could help grease the wheels a bit.
Even a seventh-round pick would be better than just cutting Sopoaga outright.
With Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly having subpar seasons in 2013, the Pats should look to shake up some of their interior offensive line this offseason. Wendell is hitting free agency and Connolly is due for a $4.083 million cap hit.
The Pats could look to target a replacement at either position via trade, and Mike Brisiel of the Oakland Raiders could make sense. There are questions about whether Brisiel is a good schematic fit—as noted by Adam Caplan during an interview with Rise Guys on 95.7 The Game (h/t SB Nation)—and with the second-highest cap hit on the team, the Raiders could be willing to move him.
Of course, the Pats would need the freedom to work out a new deal with Brisiel—they're not going to take his $5.31 million cap hit as is.
Brisiel will be 31 in March, still very much in his prime and excelled in Houston's zone-blocking scheme that the Patriots will employ situationally.
Perhaps acquiring Brisiel would allow the Pats to move Connolly back to center, where he played all of 2011, under a restructured contract and let Wendell walk.
The Patriots need better play from their interior line and targeting a player like Brisiel would make sense. Mackenzy Bernadeau of the Dallas Cowboys is entering the last year of his deal and due for a substantial cap. He could be another target for the interior line.
If the Patriots had the 2013 offseason to do over again, they might give Danny Amendola's contract to Julian Edelman. Amendola's five-year $28.5 million pact was far richer than the one-year, $765,000 deal Edelman got, but Edelman far outplayed Amendola during the season.
Now, as Edelman hits free agency again, the Pats are left to wonder if Amendola will be able to replace Edelman in the slot. Amendola likely deserves another year to develop with Tom Brady—it took Edelman until his fifth season with the team to stay healthy and earn Brady's trust.
However, could the Pats consider moving Amendola via trade and then ante up that money to keep Edelman?
Amendola likely has value on the trade market, but his injuries and production would likely temper what the Pats might be able to get in return.
There's only a need for so many slot receivers, and if there's a worry that Amendola might never click with Brady, it might be smart to move him now.
As noted by Tom E. Curran of CSNE.com, Larry Fitzgerald joining the Patriots is one rumor that never seems to go away. What's not to love about Tom Brady getting another world-class wide receiver who has been mired with average quarterback play in recent seasons?
Yes, the Cardinals had a solid campaign in 2013 and Fitzgerald even restructured his contract to help the team's cap situation. Most signs seem to point toward Fitzgerald staying in Arizona, but could his new lower salary make him even more tempting for the weapon-needy Patriots?
There's no question, putting Brady and Fitzgerald together would give the Patriots the kind of outside threat they've lacked since Randy Moss' prime.
It would also ensure that the Patriots would be a Super Bowl favorite for Brady's final four seasons. Both Brady and Fitzgerald are on pacts that run out after the 2017 season.
The Patriots would likely have to give up a king's ransom in players and picks to get Fitzgerald, likely too much for the conservative Pats, but it's fun to imagine what Fitzgerald could do in Foxborough.
ESPN's Ben Goessling thinks Mallett could make a lot of sense for the Minnesota Vikings this year, as he enters the final year of his rookie contract. Or perhaps the Houston Texans with former Pats offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien as their head coach could make sense. O'Brien surely knows Mallett better after bringing him in and coaching him in 2011.
The Patriots would likely aim for a second-round pick for Mallett, which, given his complete lack of regular-season snaps in 2013 and limited development in three seasons of preseason action, would be a steal for the New England.
There's no question Mallett has an NFL arm to rifle the ball downfield, but he's had trouble finding the touch needed to be a complete quarterback. Three seasons in a top-notch program like New England's behind a legendary quarterback like Tom Brady certainly has its value and that could be enough to land Mallett a starting chance for a quarterback-needy team.
Mallett's departure would leave the Pats without an experienced backup behind Brady, but this will be their last chance to get this kind of return on their investment of drafting Mallett.
If they're going to make a move, this will be the offseason to do it—even for a third- or fourth-round pick. With former backup Matt Cassel now available, it might be a perfect reunion to replace Mallett.