Potential Patriots trade wide receiver and cornerback candidates

The Patriots may not have been able to hit all of their top targets in free agency, which should come as no surprise. After last year’s spending spree, they were still going to play it safe in the open market for established veteran talent.

They have options left in free agency to improve their team, of course. Priorities, it’s safe to assume, would include cornerback, receiver and guard. Free agent additions like Malcolm Butler at corner or Marquez Valdes-Scantling at receiver would help the Patriots plug the holes before they get to the draft on the weekend.

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But there’s another way the Patriots can get some real play before they jump into the rookie pool in late April: trades.

At this time of year, when NFL teams are spending a lot of money on contributors, some players are on the verge of being eliminated in their respective depth charts. Among this group of individuals who may see their roles diminished in 2022, those in the final year of their rookie contract (from the 2019 draft class) may be particularly attractive trade candidates.

Often seen as rentals, they can be obtained for low-level returns. And if they train at their new home, they can either be candidates for a new signing or land a compensatory pick to a team if they leave via free agency.

The Patriots have shown over time that they like to pick up players with a year left on their rookie contracts and see what sticks.

In 2018, they entered into a pick trade deal with the Niners to get Trent Brown in the final year of his rookie contract. Brown ended up starting for the team at left tackle, winning a Super Bowl, then leaving via free agency. He landed them a third-round pick as a parting gift.

That same year, the Patriots entered into a pick trade deal with the Browns for Danny Shelton when he was in the final year of his rookie contract. Shelton re-signed and played two total seasons with the team, counting their comp selection formula in 2021 as sixth-round value.

In 2017, the Patriots acquired Brandin Cooks in the final year of his rookie contract. He played one season with the team, racked up over 1,000 receiving yards, helped the Patriots to the Super Bowl, then was traded again the following offseason to the Rams for a first-round pick and a trade pick. draft day 3.

That same offseason, the Patriots made a far less productive trade for a player in the final year of his rookie contract when they traded a second-round pick for a third and Kony Ealy. At the start of the regular season, Ealy was no longer on the team.

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Barkevious Mingo was acquired by the Patriots in the final year of his rookie contract in 2016. Kyle Van Noy – one of the best low-cost discoveries of Bill Belichick’s New England tenure – was picked up from Detroit later that year with only more than one season left on his rookie contract. Keshawn Martin (2015), Akeem Ayers (2014) and LeGarrette Blount (2013) were also all brought to New England in the final year of rookie contracts.

These are generally inexpensive moves. They have the potential to provide excellent production (Brown, Van Noy, Blount), and even if not kept for several years, they can produce a compensating choice down the line. These types of acquisitions also don’t eliminate potential roster choices in an offseason where a team (like the Patriots this year) has lost valuable free agents, as trades aren’t factored into the formula. composition selection.

The Patriots are certainly budget-conscious right now, which makes these types of trades the types we should have our eyes on.

Regardless of position, if there is some low-cost help in the trade market for the Patriots, it looks like an offseason where they would be more interested in these types of moves than ever.

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At catcher, a name that fits that mold and might be interesting would be Darius Slayton of the Giants. Taken in the fifth round of the 2019 draft at Auburn, Slayton was an impressive athlete. At 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, he ran a 4.39-second sprint for 40 yards (86th percentile) at that year’s combine. He also jumped 40.5 inches vertical (93rd percentile) and 11 feet 3 inches wide (97th percentile).

In his first two seasons with the Giants, he racked up over 1,400 total yards and 11 total touchdowns. Last year he didn’t see as much playing time after New York added Kenny Golladay (free agency) and Kadarius Toney (draft). Slayton finished with just 26 catches and 339 yards on 58 targets.

Slayton could be in for another disappointing year if he stays with the Giants as he remains behind Golladay, Toney and recently re-signed Sterling Shepard. The Giants currently have 11 receivers on their roster.

Slayton has had serious problems with falls – he dropped 22% of the passes on target thrown at him last season, according to Pro Football Focus – and he has hamstring and shoulder issues. But he’s had the opportunity to work closely with Joe Judge over the past two seasons, so the Patriots should get some next-level insight into how he’ll fit into Foxboro.

On the surface, because Slayton would give the Patriots some size and speed — which is what they’re looking for this offseason at this location — and because he might only cost somewhere in the range of a pick. fifth round in a trade, it would make sense as a target for Belichick.

Around the corner, perhaps New England’s greatest need position, there’s another member of the 2019 draft class who should see a seriously diminished role in 2022 and could be available: Trayvon Mullen of the Raiders.

Mullen was an impressive size and speed prospect coming out of Clemson, standing 6-foot-2, 200 pounds and running his pre-draft 40 in 4.46 seconds. He was the defensive MVP in the national title game at the start of 2019, with one pick, one sack, one forced fumble and six tackles in a win over Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide.

Mullen started in 26 games in his first two seasons with the Raiders, but only played five games in 2021 due to a toe injury. Then, this offseason, under a front office led by former Patriots director of player personnel Dave Ziegler, Vegas added two starting-caliber corners via trade (Rock Ya-Sin) and free agency (Anthony Avertett).

For the Patriots, who are looking for a cover man with some starting experience, Mullen would be a solid option to roll the dice on. The New England corner room currently includes Jalen Mills, recent free agent Terrance Mitchell, slot options Jonathan Jones and Myles Bryant, as well as Joejuan Williams, Shaun Wade and special teams ace Justin Bethel.

Calling up old friends Ziegler and Josh McDaniels — if they’d be willing to part ways with Mullen for a late-round pick — might not be a bad way for Belichick to bolster his corner group.

There are other moves there the Patriots might be able to execute in order to fill in some clear holes. Maybe they could come up with a pick trade move that would encourage the Ravens to send them guard Ben Powers, who was a fourth-round pick in the 2019 draft. Powers started 12 games as an injury replacement last season in Baltimore’s big-gap run game (similar in some ways to the Patriots). But he may be available in a deal because veteran Kevin Zeitler, Tire Phillips (2020 third-rounder) and Ben Cleveland (2021 third-rounder) could all be ahead of Powers on the Ravens’ guard depth chart.

Regardless of position, if there is some low-cost help in the trade market for the Patriots, it looks like an offseason where they would be more interested in these types of moves than ever.

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