With the outside world speculating on Tom Brady’s motivations in 2020 and beyond, at least one thing in the immediate future appears to be clear for the New England Patriots: making this season’s Super Bowl run a priority heading into the trade deadline.
As franchises have spent this past week positioning themselves for a flurry of transactional activity heading into the 4 p.m. ET trade deadline on Tuesday, the Patriots have been actively refining their roster — flipping defensive end Michael Bennett to the Dallas Cowboys, positioning for a release of wideout Josh Gordon and sending a second-round pick to the Atlanta Falcons for receiver Mohamed Sanu. But with 12 picks remaining in the 2020 draft, New England has been actively checking in on offensive linemen and tight ends as the deadline nears. The goal appears simple: acquiring some depth and skill around Brady for the coming Super Bowl push.
As it stands, the Patriots have eight draft picks they can use for trade ammunition, not including four compensatory selections that won’t be awarded until after the season. The eight picks the Patriots have at their disposal include their own first-, third- and fourth-rounders — as well as a slew of picks in the latter rounds (which are often used on players who are salary dumps by other franchises). That’s expected to be more than enough collateral to get into the running for a few players who will be available on the market.
That includes New York Giants offensive tackle (and former Patriot) Nate Solder, who leagues sources say is not being actively shopped but also not being excluded from conversations. Another possibility is Philadelphia Eagles offensive tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who has positional flexibility and has been available in conversations this week. Some other lesser candidates could also present themselves if the Washington Redskins decide to make All-Pro Trent Williams available, which could trigger another team moving a starting offensive tackle to make room for acquiring Williams.
Beyond the offensive line, two league sources said the Patriots have made calls on tight ends as well — including three to friendly front offices with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Atlanta Falcons and Detroit Lions. All of those teams either have starting-caliber tight ends or backups who could provide depth for the Patriots, although it appears at least two of the candidates (Tampa’s O.J. Howard and Atlanta's Austin Hooper) are not considered “on the market” as the deadline approaches. Another player to keep an eye on is the Cincinnati Bengals’ Tyler Eifert, who appeared to be the only player the Bengals were open to dealing heading into Monday. A league source said the Bengals would likely settle on a fourth-round pick for Eifert, although a team like New England might have to throw in a sweetener to the deal because it is expected to pick late in the round.
Finally, one NFC front-office source suggested the Patriots could even be in play for an unexpected defensive addition at the deadline, noting head coach Bill Belichick is fond of picking off distressed assets that had a good draft grade assigned by the organization in previous years.
New England “can always go the opposite way,” the source said. “An offensive [acquisition] makes sense with the defense looking like it does, but Bill is just looking for any players to make the team tougher to beat. It could be special teams. They could use a kicker, honestly. … I don’t think they care about stacking at a position as long as it helps and the players fit into what they do. Look at [Kyle] Van Noy. That was a great deadline trade [in 2016]. He’s been a fantastic fit. That’s what Bill looks for — anyone who fits and helps the current situation.”
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