The Michael Bennett trade might not have officially taken the Patriots out of the Trey Flowers sweepstakes, but they had to know that Flowers' market was going places they didn't want to be.
Now Flowers is headed to Detroit on a five-year contract with an average annual value in the $16-$17 million range, according to ESPN. And suddenly Bennett has gone from an ideal sidekick for Flowers to someone who will be viewed as the "next man up" to replace him.
Not that replacing Flowers is a one-man job.
As a pass-rusher, Bennett projects to significantly cut into the production the Patriots will lose in losing Flowers, if not exceed it in some respects. He had 9.0 sacks last year, more than Flowers has ever had, and he racked up 20 hits and 37 hurries in 2018 according to Pro Football Focus. Flowers, meanwhile, had 7.5 sacks last season to go along with 16 hits and 51 hurries, per PFF.
Flowers is 25 years old. Bennett is 33. The Patriots certainly lose some longevity at the position by opting not to re-sign their top pass-rushing talent. But even in the short-term, the Patriots will take a hit on first and second downs if the plan is to swap in Bennett (735 snaps in the 2018 regular season) for Flowers (732).
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Flowers was one of the best in the league last season among edge defenders in PFF's run-stop percentage category. He made 25 "stops" on 215 snaps against the run for a run-stop percentage of 11.6, trailing only Demarcus Lawrence (12.3) and Calais Campbell (15.1). Bennett was no slouch against the run, ranking 16th with a run-stop percentage of 7.5 in 2018.
With a strong every-down option in Bennett, paying him $7.2 million — or less than half of what it looks like Flowers will make in Detroit on average — probably made more than enough financial sense for the Patriots to let Flowers walk.
This year's draft class is loaded with edge-defender talent — we had two go to the Patriots in our most recent seven-round mock — and the Patriots have a few young players who could take on larger roles moving forward: Deatrich Wise, Derek Rivers, Keionta Davis, Ufomba Kamalu and Trent Harris. How those players project in the Patriots system could factor into the decision to ultimately let Flowers link up with Matt Patricia.
When looking at a Bennett-for-Flowers trade-off, there are other areas to consider. Will Bennett thrive in New England's scheme the same way Flowers did? (Thanks to Chris Long, we know the Patriots use their defensive linemen much differently than the Eagles use theirs.) Will Bennett be a fit in the Patriots locker room? Flowers was universally respected at One Patriot place, mentored younger pass-rushers like Deatrich Wise and Derek Rivers, and he'd become the voice of the defensive line.
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Those variables are difficult to project. Odds are Bennett won't be able to do everything Flowers did for the Patriots — on or off the field. But the Patriots probably knew that. Which could be the jumping-off point for an entirely different discussion.
On the one hand, the Patriots have left emotion out of their business dealings for a long time. On the other, they understand that culture matters and they work to cultivate it both with their in-house practices and their front-office maneuverings.
Flowers was someone everyone liked. He was someone who positively impacted the culture the Patriots espoused. How much are they willing to pay for that?
Not as much as the Lions were willing to, apparently.
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