Sitting at 2-5, and as nearly double-digit underdogs headed into their game Sunday at Miami (-9.5), there’s an obvious argument for the Patriots to be sellers at this year‘s Halloween trade deadline.
But, based on the opinions of NFL decision-makers shared with NBC Sports Boston this week, it might be difficult for Bill Belichick to find offers that would entice him to deal away an impact player.
Theoretically, the Patriots have pieces that contending teams would covet.
Left tackle Trent Brown plays a premium position and is in the middle of one of the best seasons of his career. Edge rusher Josh Uche had one of the most efficient pressure-generating seasons of anyone at his position in 2022. Kyle Dugger looks like the definition of a versatile modern-day safety. Kendrick Bourne, given opportunities he wasn’t a year ago, has reestablished himself as a starting-caliber NFL wideout.
But all of those potential trade chips are in the final year of their respective deals. And therein lies the rub for Belichick.
“Expiring contracts are tough,” one general manager said. “The trades that have been done, other than (Kevin) Byard, are late-round flips. Maybe Uche is worth more, but you’re paying for 10 games and no guarantee you’ll have the guy next year.”
The Eagles traded safety Terrell Edmunds and fifth and sixth-round picks to Tennessee for the two-time First-Team All-Pro safety Byard.
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Last season, Philadelphia general manager Howie Roseman was active as well, sending a fourth-round pick to Chicago for veteran Bears defensive end Robert Quinn.
With even the best NFL clubs always seeking pass rush help, that kind of return for Quinn -- who had the final two years of his contract removed to put him on an expiring deal -- could be indicative of what a Super Bowl hopeful may pay for someone like Uche.
But a second general manger wasn’t so sure that kind of haul would be out there for the Patriots when asked about potential trades involving Uche or any of his fellow teammates on expiring deals.
“Would be surprised if any of those guys brought a third or fourth,” he said. “Could be wrong, but think the best any of those guys would bring would be a fifth.”
Would fifth-round picks satiate Belichick to the point he’d trade away some of his most talented players? Even if they’re not guaranteed to return to Foxboro in 2024?
While the Patriots are willing to listen on just about anyone -- “open for business” has typically been the modus operandi at the deadline during Belichick’s tenure -- those who know Belichick well have indicated to NBC Sports Boston that they don’t anticipate him trading away impact players who would significantly alter his team’s chances at winning. Even with the Patriots currently sitting near the bottom of the league record-wise.
Those sentiments were echoed by two former Belichick assistants this week.
Former Jets and Dolphins team-builder Mike Tannenbaum, who worked for Belichick in Cleveland in 1995, told Next Pats he can’t see the Patriots trading away some of the players who may be considered their most attractive trade chips. There’s still enough to play for that those types would be worth keeping around, unless there’s an offer that bowls over Belichick, for the rest of the year.
“This season has a long was to go,” Tannenbaum said. “Seven teams make the playoffs in each conference now.”
It would be one thing to trade away an underwhelming receiver — they have seven wideouts on the active roster right now — or a defender whose role is relatively limited like Jalen Mills, Adrian Phillips or Mack Wilson. But a starting-caliber player? Mike Lombardi, who worked in Belichick’s front offices both in Cleveland and in Foxboro, doesn’t see it.
“New England has ton of cap room (in 2024),” Lombardi said on his podcast, The GM Shuffle. “I can’t imagine that they would trade any good young player for more assets… They’ve got a good team… This isn’t doom and gloom.”
It is worth noting -- in light of the reporting earlier this week on Belichick’s new contract that is scheduled to keep him in New England through 2024, according to our Tom E. Curran -- that those who work with Belichick would tell you he remains the team’s final decision-maker on roster calls.
Is there perhaps more of a willingness to take input from others? Do director of player personnel Matt Groh and his staff of experienced front-office assistants have influence? Yes and yes.
But Belichick is still the boss. And if the league isn’t jumping to take the expiring contracts of impact players off his hands, as he hopes to salvage something of his team’s 2023 season, it’s hard to envision him being inclined to make a splashy sale at the deadline.