NFL ANALYST

Cassel: Should the Pats target WR or OL at trade deadline?

NFL ANALYST

The New England Patriots have areas of need at both wide receiver and the offensive line, and the NFL trade deadline is only two weeks away. But what position should they prioritize if they make a move?

It’s an intriguing question, because the offensive line hasn’t performed up to its potential this season. They’ve also had some injuries and dealt with COVID as well. So, I don’t know if the unit itself has been totally intact other than the first game of the season before Trent Brown got hurt.

At the wide receiver position, they have a steady group with Jakobi Meyers, Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne, but they don’t have a premier No. 1 wide receiver after spending a ton of money on the tight end position.

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As a quarterback, my mindset is "the more weapons the better." So, I’m always going to lean toward wide receiver. Selfishly speaking, when you have more talent on the field, you create more matchup issues for the defense.

Adding a wide receiver midseason can go one of two ways, though. We saw how Mohamed Sanu had trouble adapting to this offense in 2019, and it's a challenging offense to learn.

 

It usually takes a few weeks for a new wide receiver to get on the same page, whether it's making adjustments on their routes or getting familiar with the offensive terminology.

It’s a lot easier for an offensive lineman to get caught up to speed, because protection schemes -- gap schemes and man schemes, for example -- don’t really change from team to team. The terminology might, but you also have a buddy standing right next to you who can help you understand what your responsibilities are. It’s a lot more straightforward on the offensive line.

You're rolling the dice when you bring in a skill player midway through the season. If he struggles to get caught up on the terminology or doesn’t understand the reads or concepts, then you’re sitting there with the same group of guys. There’s a lot more to playing wide receiver from a mental standpoint than there is on the offensive line.

I like the way he goes about his business. He hasn’t always been the offensive focal point in Chicago, but he's a true No. 1 wide receiver who makes plays and has a tremendous catch radius.

Matt Cassel on Bears WR Allen Robinson

Adding a wide receiver can also affect the chemistry in the position group. Some guys might be a little upset, and you also have to figure out how to get that new addition on the field.

There’s a lot of attention that goes toward getting him ready to play, so there has to be that healthy balance between, “Can he be a contributor?” and not mess up what you’ve been building toward in the first part of the season.

That said, I'd still target a wide receiver. 

This offensive line has shown the capability of adjusting to difficult circumstances. A lot of backup linemen have played already this season and have done pretty well at times. They've struggled at the tackle position, but if this offensive line gets healthy and starts to jell, I think it can return to the more dominant form we thought it was going to be in preseason.

As for a target? I like Chicago Bears wide receiver Allen Robinson. I like the way he goes about his business. He hasn’t always been the offensive focal point in Chicago, but he's a true No. 1 wide receiver who makes plays and has a tremendous catch radius. He's playing on the franchise tag, so if you trade for him, you'd have to consider re-upping him next year and how that impacts the salary cap.

But if this team wants a wide receiver, the need someone who can be difference-maker versus a guy who's just a role player. Because right now, they’ve got a lot of role players.

You can never have too much depth at the wide receiver position. So if you bring in a guy with speed who can blow the top off the coverage, that can only help that offense in the long term.

Editor's Note: Matt Cassel played 14 years in the NFL as a quarterback, including four with the Patriots from 2005 to 2008. He serves as an analyst for NBC Sports Boston, appearing on Pre/Postgame Live, as a guest on Tom Curran's Patriots Talk Podcast every Thursday, and as a columnist each week during the season.