NFL Rumors: Patriots interested in trading for these pass catchers before trade deadline

NFL Rumors: Patriots interested in trading for these pass catchers before trade deadline

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The NFL trade deadline is rapidly approaching and the New England Patriots may not be done wheeling and dealing.

This past week, the team acquired receiver Mohamed Sanu from the Atlanta Falcons in exchange for a second-round pick to bolster their receiving corps. Meanwhile, on the defensive side of the ball, they shipped pass rusher Michael Bennett to the Dallas Cowboys for a late-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Moving forward, the team may still be looking to strengthen their core as they try to make it to the Super Bowl for a fourth consecutive year. And it seems that the team could be looking to add another pass catcher to their offense and they may have a particular interest in adding a tight end.

Right now, the Patriots have four tight ends on their roster, but only the 37-year-old Ben Watson and Eric Tomlinson are healthy. If Ryan Izzo and Matt LaCosse aren't close to returning, the team could look to find some extra depth or even an upgrade to one of the team's weakest positions. It's also worth noting that Izzo is surprisingly generating some trade buzz, so that remains something to keep an eye on. 

According to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports, the Patriots are interested in Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert and Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end O.J. Howard. Both would offer more upside than what the Patriots currently have and the 24-year-old former first-round pick Howard could really thrive in the Patriots' offense.

That said, it's unclear whether or not the Bengals or Bucs would be willing to give up their tight ends. NFL Network's Ian Rapoport is reporting that it would take at least a third-round pick for the Bengals to move on from Eifert, and it's fair to assume that the price for Howard -- who is five years younger than Eifert and has a less extensive injury history than Eifert -- would be higher.

The Patriots may also be among those interested in Falcons tight end Austin Hooper, a talented pass catcher on a team going nowhere. However, Rapoport is reporting that the Falcons are unlikely to trade him, so he would likely cost a king's ransom if the Patriots do end up targeting him. Perhaps if the Falcons do change course, dealing with a Patriots team that gave them an early pick for Sanu would appeal to them.

As for the wide receiver position, La Canfora is reporting that the Patriots could "take a run at" Bengals receiver A.J. Green before the deadline. The Bengals don't seem to want to trade Green, but perhaps if the Patriots offer up a first-round pick or more, that could entice them to give him up.

No matter what happens, it's worth noting that the Patriots are exploring ways to add to their stable of pass catchers before Tuesday's deadline. The only question now is about whether or not they'll find a willing trade partner in the next two days.

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Nate Ebner wants to stay with Patriots as free agency looms

Nate Ebner wants to stay with Patriots as free agency looms

The New England Patriots have some key players set to enter free agency this offseason. Obviously, Tom Brady will take most of the attention, but the team has some important special teams players set to hit the open market as well.

Notably, Matthew Slater and Stephen Gostkowski will be available. And Nate Ebner will be as well.

Ebner, an eight-year pro who was drafted in the sixth round in 2012, has been a big-time special teams ace for the Patriots. In 2018, he ranked second in the league in special teams tackles with 15. He provided another eight last season and continued to be a key cog in that aspect of the game.

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Ahead of his free agency, Ebner opened up about wanting to stay with the Patriots as he looks to continue his NFL career.

“I mean, that would be the best thing, I think, when you consider my entire career has been here,” Ebner said per NESN's Zack Cox. “I understand how things go. I’ve got some true friendships here.

“I understand how things work — that would be great. But right now, it’s out of my hands, so we’ll see what happens and I’ll just take it as it goes. We’ll see.”

It wouldn't be surprising to see Ebner return to the Patriots. After all, Bill Belichick places a lot of value on special teams performance. Given that Ebner should come relatively cheap -- he signed a two-year, $5 million deal last time he was set to hit free agency -- it's well within the realm of possibility that the team could find a way to keep him.

Nothing is guaranteed in the NFL, and if the Patriots use up most of their cap space signing Brady and some offensive weapons to surround him, Ebner might not fit. But if Ebner's first choice is remaining in New England, it seems likely that the team will at least entertain the idea of bringing him back.

How the reported expanded NFL playoff proposal impacts the Patriots

How the reported expanded NFL playoff proposal impacts the Patriots

NFL owners are pushing for a big change that would be part of a new collective bargaining agreement with the players. The league reportedly will propose expanding the postseason to add a seventh playoff team in each conference.

As ESPN's Adam Schefter detailed, the league would now have six games on Wild Card weekend under the new proposal, three in each conference, and only the No. 1 seed in each conference will get a playoff bye.

Also in the proposal is a 17-game regular season and a shortened preseason to three games. The changes would be implemented for the 2020 season if the new CBA is ratified by the owners and NFL Players Association.

If adopted, this is certainly a massive change and one that could have a big impact on the New England Patriots. 

The Patriots have mastered the art of qualifying for a bye in their two-decade-long dynasty. In fact, this past postseason was the first time New England didn't have a first-round bye since the 2009-10 postseason. The Patriots finished as the No. 3 seed and promptly lost to the Tennessee Titans at home, marking their earliest playoff exit since the '10 postseason.

Thus, the elimination of one of the byes could have a significant impact on the Patriots. Since Bill Belichick took over as coach before the 2000 season, the Patriots have made it to the Super Bowl nine times. In each of those seasons, they've had a first-round bye.

In the Belichick Era, the Patriots have been the AFC's No. 2 seed on six occasions. They advanced to the Super Bowl and won three times in those six instances, and it's fair to wonder if they would've had a similar chance to advance had they needed to play another game, even if it was against a seventh-seeded team.

In the past seven Super Bowls overall, no team has made it to the big game without a first-round bye. The 2013 Ravens were the last team to play Wild Card weekend and make the Super Bowl.

So, needless to say, the No. 1 seed in each conference will now have a major advantage, and the Patriots are going to have to fight harder to earn it. They're certainly capable of earning the No. 1 seed. They were the No. 1 as recently as the 2017 and 2018 playoffs, when they beat the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl 51 and lost to the Philadelphia Eagles in SB 52.

The road to the Super Bowl will become a little more difficult without that No. 1 seed if the new format is approved. Only once in the Patriots history have they reached the Super Bowl as a Wild Card team and that was 35 years ago in the 1985 season. The No. 1 seed and home-field advantage will carry even more importance, but they'll have to outduel some powerful up-and-coming AFC teams if they want to earn it in the near future.

For a team with the NFL's toughest projected strength of schedule in 2020, that will be no easy task.