Might the Patriots be willing to make an in-division trade for the third time in the last three weeks?
ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported on Friday that the Dolphins have given second-year defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick permission to seek a trade. Miami is reportedly hoping to get a package for last year's No. 11 overall pick that includes a first-round draft choice.
The Patriots have already traded with the Bills (for Russell Bodine) and Jets (for a sixth-round pick) in the last few weeks, but on its face, a deal for Fitzpatrick makes more sense than any other the Patriots have worked this offseason.
Fitzpatrick was the best safety fit in last year's draft for New England based on where he played his college football (Alabama), his athleticism (4.46-second 40, 33-inch vertical, 121-inch broad jump), his versatility (lined up in the slot, at linebacker, off the edge, at safety and at corner in 2017), and his highly-touted football character.
He was at the top of the list of last year's Prototypical Patriots. But because Fitzpatrick nearly cracked the top-10, the Patriots had little shot at him unless they wanted to package their two first-round picks to move up and get him. (They went on to take Isaiah Wynn and Sony Michel, both of whom have prominent in the Patriots offense.)
Now, if all the Patriots have to do is turn over a No. 1 pick for 2020 for Fitzpatrick, shouldn't they do it without hesitation? Not only was he a well-rounded phenom in college, his performance as a rookie last year bodes well for how he'll perform when he settles into life as a pro. Extremely well.
According to Pro Football Focus, Fitzpatrick allowed a 69.0 passer rating when targeted last season (ninth among corners). He posted 0.84 yards allowed per coverage snap (12th) and 14.1 snaps per reception allowed (13th). When in the slot, where he spent the majority of his time, he allowed a passer rating of 53.4, which was tops in the league.
Fitzpatrick will turn 23 in November. As a first-rounder last year, he'll be under team control through the 2022 season if his fifth-year option is picked up. And in the Patriots defense he could be a Patrick Chung type of movable chess piece that Belichick would love. After trading Brandin Cooks for a first-round pick not too long ago, one would think that the Patriots would be willing to give up at least that much for a player who seems so perfectly suited for their system.
Here's the catch: Fitzpatrick apparently hates the role that makes so much sense for him.
Remember, he's in Brian Flores' defense with the Dolphins. Flores would undoubtedly love to have a safety-linebacker-slot corner hybrid player like Chung in his system to build toward the future. But Fitzpatrick doesn't seem interested. In ESPN's report, it's explained that Fitzpatrick does not want to play multiple positions. It's also pointed out that Fitzpatrick took issue with being moved into the box by the Dolphins during joint practices with the Bucs this summer.
"Coach has asked me to do something right now. I got to do what they ask me to do," Fitzpatrick said at the time. "If we have to have some discussions in the future, we'll have those discussions.
"I'm not 215 pounds, 220 pounds. So playing in the box isn't best suited for me, but that's what Coach is asking me to do."
That's exactly what the Patriots would ask Fitzpatrick (listed at 6-1, 207 pounds) to do. Maybe he'd be willing to change his mind if the Patriots acquired him. Maybe getting out from under a situation where there's expected to be a good deal of losing this season would open Fitzpatrick's mind to filling a variety of roles.
And in 2019 Fitzpatrick might not even have to be the versatile defender the Patriots would eventually ask him to be. Chung (5-11, 215) still looks like an effective player in that role at 32 years old. Even in the slot the Patriots are pretty well covered with Jonathan Jones, who just signed an extension with the team.
Fitzpatrick still seems like an easy target for the Patriots, regardless of the first-round price tag. The only thing that might keep them from trying to do that deal -- other than the Dolphins not being willing to trade him within the division -- would be Fitzpatrick's reluctance to make the most of his versatility.
His skill set is a perfect fit for what the Patriots want. He'd be a talented young piece in a secondary that currently relies on three players in their 30s (Chung, Devin McCourty, Jason McCourty).
But in a locker room where a whatever-coach-wants approach his highly valued, Fitzpatrick's apparent unwillingness to do more than one thing might be enough to turn the Patriots off.
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