PATS REPORTER

If the Pats beat the 49ers, they should be buyers at the trade deadline

PATS REPORTER

Front-office phones are charged and ready to go. They should be, at least. It's tradin' time.

The Vikings already dealt away a premier pass-rusher. The Jets have been active. The Eagles and Giants are looking to sell, according to Jay Glazer of Fox Sports.

"Look, we’re selling," is how Glazer described the approach of both clubs on Thursday Night Football's pregame show this week. "We’re looking to trade some of our players, who do you like? Make us an offer for some of our guys."

Will the Patriots be making calls to Philly, Minnesota or either front office in New York? Will they be buyers? 

They should be. Especially with a win Sunday against the Niners.

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The Patriots are a good team, by several measures, even after an ugly outlier loss to the Broncos in Week 6. According to Pro Football Focus' Power Ratings -- which are based on player grades in each facet of play and adjusted based on a given team's coach and quarterback -- they are the 11th-best team in football.

The Patriots still have the best head coach and offensive coordinator in their division. They have the best defense in their division -- Buffalo's has been a disappointment, checking in at No. 29 in defensive DVOA, while the Patriots are No .14 -- and the best offensive line when healthy.

They've faced the hardest schedule in football, per PFF, and several of the teams remaining on their slate aren't as potent as once thought.

The Texans should join the above list of "sellers" soon. The Cardinals don't look nearly as explosive offensively as many projected them to be as their second-year quarterback Kyler Murray struggles to adjust as a passer. The Rams have only beaten teams in the worst division in football, the NFC East. The Jets might be the worst team the NFL's seen in the last two decades, and they're on the Patriots schedule twice. The Dolphins and Chargers have handed their teams over to rookie quarterbacks.

 
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Bill Belichick and his team are going to have a chance to reel off a number of wins in the 11 left.

The division-leading Bills, meanwhile, are trending in the wrong direction. Their uber-talented quarterback, after a blazing start, has regressed to the mean over the last two weeks in losses to the Chiefs and Titans where Buffalo has scored a combined 33 points.

Buffalo won't lose any of their cushion in the division to the Patriots this weekend, in all likelihood, since they're seeing the Jets. But they shouldn't pull away, either, particularly if the Patriots add a piece to improve their passing game.

Tight ends should be available. Two who play for teams who've already played their Week 7 game, Philly's Zach Ertz and New York's Evan Engram, could potentially be on the block. Cleveland's David Njoku has reportedly asked to be traded in a crowded tight end room in Cleveland. Kyle Rudolph seems like a sensible dual-threat fit if the Vikings are willing to deal him.

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Bailing on top-end picks for any might not be the most prudent option for a team that still needs to build up its young foundation of talent for seasons beyond this one. But if they could be had for mid-rounders? Not a bad idea.

"It's an issue," Matt Cassel said of the team's tight end depth on this week's Patriots Talk Podcast. "Let's be honest. If you just eliminate one guy or one position group out of that offense, then now all of a sudden, when you normally have a three-man route or a high-low or something like that, you're going, 'Gosh, I really don't trust what we have over here.'

"Now you have two receivers, and you see it often, Cam gets to his back pretty quick, right? The reason he gets to his back is because he's reading one side of the field, thinking it's not a good matchup over here because they have a safety on our tight end who can't win one-on-one or you just don't trust the fact . . . when it's a man-to-man situation you just eliminate a guy. You say, 'Now I have to throw to N'Keal Harry and Damiere Byrd.' And those guys aren't open, and you're getting to the check down or you're  getting back to your screen game."

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Though theirs has been the least-productive tight end group in football this season, the argument could be made that it's a wide receiver the Patriots really need. We went into some detail here about how opposing defenses don't seem all that concerned about what the Patriots have on the outside, which has made their running game easier to defend.

 

Cassel, for one, suggested that a receiver addition -- not a tight end -- would be the way to go in order to impact how defenses approach Cam Newton and the Patriots.

"I don't think the big difference is gonna be the tight end," he said. "It's gonna be somebody on the outside. The tight end, there's so much that a tight end can do and help the capabilities of an offensive unit -- even Ryan Izzo had some good receptions last week in the interior part of the field. If you have a [pass-catching] tight end then they can really help your offensive unit and they can help you vertically down the seam because you get mismatches a lot of times with the tight end position on a lesser linebacker, sometimes a safety that can't cover well. When you have that guy it's a huge mismatch and a lot of times you can circle that guy. 

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"However that won't make the difference a lot of times on the back end. More importantly it would be somebody vertically that can threaten you on the outside. You haven't seen them take a lot of shots down the field. Because of that reason, I think, they don't have that guy that can vertically stretch them and put the stress on the DBs in the secondary."

If the Patriots are buyers, then, who should they be coveting? 

If it's a true vertical field-stretcher, as Cassel described, there are a few names in Houston who fit that bill. Kenny Stills appears to be the odd man out in a loaded Texans receiver group with only 116 snaps played -- well behind Brandin Cooks (297), Will Fuller (293) and Randall Cobb (248). If Cooks and Fuller are going to be a little more costly, Stills (13.0 yards per catch this season) might end up being reasonably-priced. In the last year of his deal with Houston, would a Day 3 pick get it done? A swap of Day 2 picks, perhaps?

If the Patriots are looking for even cheaper options, Jacksonville's Dede Westbrook would land in that bucket. A late-round pick swap for a player who is firmly out of the mix in that offense could potentially be enough to get him to New England. He's played just 16 snaps after dealing with a shoulder injury this season and is behind not only rookie Laviska Shenault and starters DJ Chark and Keelan Cole. He's also losing snaps to veteran Chris Conley. 

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John Ross from Cincinnati is a pure speed option who should cost very little, too. He fits the mold of what the Patriots have gone after in the past. A first-round pick who fell out of favor with his team but has real physical ability. The No. 9 overall pick in 2017, Ross can fly, but he's played just 86 snaps in two games this year and has two catches on seven targets for 17 yards. He's reportedly requested a trade.

 

Then there is Ross' teammate AJ Green, who hasn't exactly appeared to be thrilled in Cincinnati. He's not the physical talent he once was after missing all of 2019, but at 6-foot-4, 210 pounds he has some of the traits of receivers who've thrived with Newton in the past. He's also set to be a free agent after this season, and the Bengals wouldn't recoup more than a fifth-round pick should Green depart. That should lower his value in a trade. 

Would the Bengals be open to taking a fourth or fifth-rounder -- since the traded pick could arrive quicker than the 2022 comp pick and slot higher than where the bottom-of-the-round comp pick would sit -- in order to part with one of their most well-known players? 

There's talent out there. It should be available. And though the Patriots have some pieces who'd garner value elsewhere in a trade, they are still firmly in the playoff hunt right now. Even with a losing record. A win on Sunday should solidify their position as buyers.