Why the Patriots' trade for Michael Bennett makes sense

Why the Patriots' trade for Michael Bennett makes sense

It's almost as though the Patriots can't get rid of their fifth-round picks fast enough. They've made just two selections in the fifth round in the last seven years.

If they can acquire useful players by trading a Day 3 pick that another team values, then why not?

That's exactly what the Patriots did on Friday, dealing away a 2020 fifth-rounder (they don't own a fifth in this year's draft) for Eagles defensive end Michael Bennett and a seventh-round pick.

Describing Bennett as "useful" would be an understatement. He had 9.0 sacks for Philadelphia, and according to Pro Football Focus, only two players in the league have had more pressures since 2014. Last season, Bennett was credited by PFF with 20 quarterback hits (second in the league among edge defenders) and 37 hurries (19th).

At 33, it looks like Bennett still has plenty of juice, plus he provides the Patriots with a pass-rushing threat from both the edge and the interior. He's primarily played off the left edge the last two seasons, but (as he showed against the Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX) he has experience creating havoc from a variety of different positions along the defensive line.

Bennett is a different player than he was five years ago. He's not the same every-down disruptor that he was for the Seahawks. Seventy-five percent of his snaps last season came against the pass. But should the Patriots end up losing Trey Flowers in free agency, while Bennett wouldn't be able to replace everything Flowers provided the Patriots, his acquisition would provide the team some measure of insurance -- particularly as a versatile pass-rusher, since Flowers is someone who will play a variety of techniques along the line. 


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If the Patriots can end up retaining Flowers, he and Bennett would make a formidable pair on the edges. And should New England decide to part ways with defensive end Adrian Clayborn, the cap room saved ($5.94 million) would almost cancel the cap hit absorbed by Bennett for 2019 ($7.2 million).

Based on Bennett's relatively manageable salary and his recent productivity, what the Patriots gave up to get him makes the deal that much more palatable from their perspective. 

The Patriots generally hate picking in the fifth round. Yes, they've had fifth-round successes like Dan Koppen, Matthew Slater and Marcus Cannon in years past, but in the last seven drafts, they've made just two fifth-round choices: Ja'Whaun Bentley (2018) and Joe Cardona (2015). 

Why? According to some of the numbers compiled in this piece by Inside the Pylon's Dave Archibald, the odds of finding a significant contributor in the fifth round aren't all that different from the sixth, seventh or undrafted free agency. If another team wants to value those fifth-rounders more than the Patriots do, they're happy to give it up to get a known veteran in house. And if a Day 3 pick comes back to New England as part of the deal -- as it does in the Bennett trade -- even better.

The Patriots have dealt fifths in recent years for Albert Haynesworth (2011), Isaac Sopoaga ('13), Keshawn Martin ('15), Barkevious Mingo ('16), James O'Shaughnessy ('17), Cassius Marsh ('17), Cordarrelle Patterson ('18), and Josh Gordon ('18). 

By trading for Bennett, the Patriots get the added benefit of not having his acquisition work against them in next year's compensatory pick formula. Had they tried to acquire a free-agent edge defender as Flowers insurance when the new league year begins, someone such as Ziggy Ansah or Alex Okafor, that player would have impacted New England’s compensatory pick formula in 2020. 

Given the cost, and given Bennett’s level of production in 2018, he has the chance to give the Patriots the best return they've seen from any of their many fifth-round trades.

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How Julian Edelman let Cam Newton know about Patriots' complex playbook

How Julian Edelman let Cam Newton know about Patriots' complex playbook

Remember when Cam Newton jokingly compared the Patriots' playbook to "calculus" after signing with New England last month?

Turns out that wasn't his own assessment. (Not yet, anyway.)

Rather, it was Julian Edelman who made Newton aware of what he was dealing when the quarterback called his new Patriots wide receiver for the first time.

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"We were both excited just to be on the phone with each other," Newton told reporters Friday in a video conference. "Then all of a sudden he just said, 'Hey bro, this (explicit) is calculus.'

"He said it and it was just funny. From that whole 15-minute conversation, that's the only thing that I just remembered: Calculus."

The Patriots playbook that Tom Brady spent 20 years mastering is notoriously complex and has stumped talented veterans like Chad Ochocinco and Reggie Wayne. Edelman has dealt with that playbook for a whole decade, so it's no wonder his comparison stuck with Newton.

Not that the 31-year-old QB is intimidated by learning a challenging offense after nine seasons with the Carolina Panthers.

"At the end of the day, football is still football and you just can’t make too much on it than what it already is,” Newton said of the playbook. "(Offensive coordinator) Josh (McDaniels) has been there every step of the way as well as (quarterbacks) coach Jedd (Fisch). Just been hammering away. All the quarterbacks have been trying to learn this whole system from what it is."

Newton admittedly faces a tall task picking up the Patriots' offense in short order without the benefit of the on-field workouts of a traditional training camp.

The three-time Pro Bowler has his means of getting up to speed, though: Newton is a "visual learner" who famously relied on a large three-ring binder in Carolina stuffed with notes on the Panthers' offense.

"We all have our different methods of how we (learn) and go about different ways to retain as much information as possible,” Newton said. "I don’t think the binder is actually here, but some type of retention methods have adapted towards New England."

Newton has a few more weeks to study, but his first test -- the Patriots' 2020 season opener against the Miami Dolphins on Sept. 13 -- is rapidly approaching.

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For Josh McDaniels, adapting offense means tapping into Cam Newton's superpower

For Josh McDaniels, adapting offense means tapping into Cam Newton's superpower

Josh McDaniels wouldn’t trade his time with Tom Brady for anything.

But the Patriots offensive coordinator did point out Friday that those times Brady wasn’t at his disposal are very valuable right now as the Patriots offense does its post-Brady pivot.

“I’m thankful for the experiences that I’ve had when I didn’t have Tom,” McDaniels said on a video conference call. “Believe me, no one was happier to have him out there when he was out there for all the years I was fortunate to coach him.

"But I would say I did have some experience with the Matt Cassel year (in 2008), which I learned a lot about how to tailor something to somebody else’s strengths, we had to play that four-game stretch (in 2016) with Jacoby (Brissett) and Jimmy (Garoppolo), I thought that was helpful. And I was away for three years. So trying to really adapt … it’s not changing your system, it’s adapting your system to the talents and strengths of your players.”

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How will the Patriots offense change now that Brady’s gone has been a dominant topic of discussion this offseason. The six-time Super Bowl winners' strengths are well-documented and hard to replicate – absurd accuracy, poise, pocket-presence and the ability to decipher and manipulate defenses at will. Part of the reason they’re hard to replicate is that it took him a dozen years of monkish devotion to get where he was. Nobody’s got time for that.

So, after a couple of decades building a tower out of wooden blocks, the blocks are knocked down and scattered. And McDaniels starts building again. Same blocks. Different-looking structure.  

“(We need to) adapt (the offense) to the players that we have,” said McDaniels. “So, again, you just have to keep telling yourself, ‘Do I really want us to be good at this? Or are we good at this?’ There’s a fine line between really pushing hard to keep working at something that you’re just not showing much progress in vs. ‘Hey, you know what, we’re a lot better at A, B and C then we are D, E and F, why don’t we just do more A, B and C?” I think as a staff we’ve really had a lot of conversations about those kinds of things.”

McDaniels has discussed in past seasons how developing an offense is a trial-and-error process. The difference this year is there is no chance for the “trial” portion. No joint practices. No preseason games. Obviously, no OTAs or minicamps.

“We can’t make any declarations about what we’re good at yet because we haven’t practiced,” McDaniels acknowledged. “I think everybody’s chomping at the bit, eager to get out there and start to make a few decisions about some things that we want to try to get good at, and if we’re just not making a lot of progress then we just have to shift gears and go in a different direction.

“But I’m going to lean on my experience and then I’m going to lean on the staff, coach Belichick, just to, (say), ‘Let’s be real with ourselves. Yeah, we used to be good at that. We’re not doing so hot at it so let’s just scrap it for now and move in a different direction.”

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Obviously, a direction they’ll move in will most likely be powered by the mobility of whoever the starting quarterback is, Jarrett Stidham or Cam Newton.

McDaniels pointed out that a player with the size, power and mobility of Newton does change things.

“It’s certainly not something I’m accustomed to using a great deal but you use whatever the strengths of your players that are on the field allow you to use, to try to move the ball and score points,” he said. “So whatever that means relative to mobility at the QB position, size and power, quickness, length, height with receivers … you go through the same thing many different times.”

Newton, said McDaniels, is the same as any other player who brings a unique talent.  

“I remember when you get a new receiver group … our receivers have changed quite a bit in terms of some of them were bigger … Randy Moss was a bigger guy and then we’ve had some smaller guys like Wes Welker and Danny Amendola, and then you have tight ends that are more fast straight-line players and then you have guys like Gronk and those kinds of players,” he pointed out.

“Regardless of what the position is, I think you try to use their strengths to allow them to make good plays and if that’s something we can figure out how to do well and get comfortable doing and feel like we can move the ball and be productive then we’re going to work as a staff to figure out how that works best, and try to utilize it if we can.”

In other words, when you have a player with a superpower - Moss' speed, Welker's quickness, Gronk's size, Brady's brain, Newton's power - , you tap into said superpower. ASAFP.