The Patriots weren't simply going to sell off players just to sell them off at the NFL trade deadline. They want to win games this year. They were always going to coach and play to win.
The question was whether or not their front office would trade away a couple of their best pieces, hurting this year's club in the name of improving future iterations of the roster.
That didn't happen.
Stephon Gilmore remains on the team. Joe Thuney remains on the team. The Patriots didn't "sell" by any definition. Not a single player was sent away. In fact, they added one, picking up slot receiver Isaiah Ford by sending the Dolphins a late-round pick.
Looking at the sum of their moves and non-moves, it appears as though Bill Belichick believes what his players have said in recent days: Despite their bad record, they aren't a bad team.
Believe it, don't believe it . . . Let's first look at the non-moves.
The Patriots reportedly wanted a hefty return for Gilmore, with ESPN's Dianna Russini saying they were hoping for a first-round pick and a player in return for last year's Defensive Player of the Year. Apparently that never materialized.
No surprise there. Wherever Gilmore ended up, the likelihood was that he would be looking for a new contract. He's currently slated to be paid $7 million in base salary next season -- far below the going rate for No. 1 corners. That meant any acquiring team would've probably had to be willing to part with a first-round pick, a player and a significant amount of money in the form of a long-term deal in order to meet the demands of both the Patriots and Gilmore himself.
A second-round pick, perhaps a second-rounder and a little more, made more sense as a return for Gilmore. That would have been, in essence, splitting the difference between the return in the recent Jalen Ramsey (younger than Gilmore) and Darius Slay (not as good as Gilmore) trades.
Unclear if that kind of package was ever on the table. Perhaps teams were simply wary of acquiring Gilmore and giving him a lucrative new deal when there's uncertainty with exactly how next year's salary cap will shape up after the NFL takes its COVID-related financial lumps this season.
But if the Patriots and Gilmore won't be partnering in 2021 -- and Gilmore's contract situation seems to be an indication that's in doubt -- the team may be hard-pressed to get more for Gilmore in the spring via trade than they would've at the deadline.
By next offseason, teams may have to scramble to become cap compliant. The draft will be on the horizon, and teams will convince themselves they can fill their cornerback needs with rookies. Meanwhile, Gilmore will be further removed from his Defensive Player of the Year campaign, and if his season continues to trend in its current direction -- where some of his numbers have fallen off noticeably from 2019 -- then his value around the league may experience a dip that results in weaker offers.
As for Thuney, he remains one of the team's best players. But there's a chance he leaves via free agency in the offseason and the Patriots recoup nothing via the NFL's compensatory pick formula. We went into detail as to why that could be right here.
Isaiah Wynn, who has two years of team control left on his contract, remains on the roster. Chase Winovich, who has two years of team control left on his contract and played five snaps last weekend, remains on the roster.
The Patriots were anything but "sellers," and even if they were willing to listen to offers on just about any player on the roster, they must have been left unimpressed by whatever it was they were hearing.
That they added a piece to play a real role Tuesday would indicate they still feel as though they can salvage this thing. The Boston Globe reported that Belichick sent a seventh-round pick in 2022 for Dolphins slot receiver Isaiah Ford (6-foot-1, 190 pounds).
Ford, in his fourth season out of Virginia Tech, has 18 catches this season for 184 yards this year. He caught seven passes for 54 yards in the 2019 season-finale win over the Patriots. He's played the 15th-most slot snaps in the league in 2020, per Pro Football Focus, and he's tied with Julian Edelman for 19th in the NFL in slot receptions (17).
Based on what Belichick has said in the past about in-season trades typically happening to fill specific roles, Ford looks like a pretty clear slot replacement for Edelman (currently on injured reserve). That could shift Gunner Olszewski (42 snaps against the Bills) back to more of a returner-specific role while Damiere Byrd (X receiver) and Jakobi Meyers (Z) would round out the top-three at that position.
One note about Ford's ability to transition to his new offense: He worked last season under then-Miami offensive coordinator Chad O'Shea, who spent years in the Patriots system as a receivers coach. There should be some immediate familiarity with the scheme that allows Ford to come in and pick things up quickly.
At 2-5, what the Patriots did -- and more importantly didn't -- do at the deadline would indicate they're still looking to make something of this season. They are four games behind the Bills (6-2) in the win column in the AFC East, and ESPN pegs their odds at making the postseason at three percent. Per PFF, they have the 13th easiest schedule in the NFL remaining, including two games against the winless Jets. The first of those is coming up on Monday night.
If they're going to save their 2020 -- if they aren't going to look ahead to better their position in 2021 and beyond by dealing away players of value -- it's going to require an almost-miraculous rise up the standings. And it's going to have to start in Jersey.