This off-season has been rough for the typical New England Patriots fan. Longtime favorites Danny Amendola, Malcolm Butler and Dion Lewis set sail for greener pastures, while left tackle Nate Solder left for the New York Giants, leaving Tom Brady’s blindside unprotected. However, Belichick has acquired some solid players that should play big roles on next years roster. For the most part, these players have come over in trades instead of free agency. Bill Belichick has dominated off-season trades, and it should lead to the Patriots being even better in 2018
Building a Team: Bill Belichick Dominates Off-Season Trades
Trading Over Free Agency
The initial wave of free agency comes with a massive amount of overspending. Every team in the league has a hole on their roster, and free agency is the perfect place to fill that hole. Unfortunately, multiple teams have similar holes, and there aren’t enough players to go around. This leads to overspending, which leads to solid players like Solder becoming the highest paid left tackle in the league.
Of course, the Patriots also bring in free agents, but they’re a little more diligent than that. Organizations fire head coaches every year, which naturally leads to some players from prior administrations that don’t fit with the current coaches scheme. Belichick locates these leftover players and acquires them for pennies on the dollar.
Additionally, doing this has no effect on the compensatory pick formula. Whenever a team signs a free agent, they hurt their chances of acquiring compensatory picks in the upcoming NFL draft. Likewise, if a team loses a player to a massive contract, they’ll receive a compensatory pick in return.
This formula doesn’t apply to trades. Oftentimes, Belichick can acquire a cheaper player for late-round picks without ever having to hurt his compensatory pick formula. While he makes moves like this all the time, he’s already done so three times this off-season, and each time was a steal.
One of the Patriots biggest needs in the off-season was finding a run-stuffing defensive tackle. New England’s defense struggled against the run all season long and was gashed repeatedly in the Super Bowl by the Philadelphia Eagles.
Belichick found an answer to that problem before free agency even began. Belichick sent a 2019 third round pick to the Cleveland Browns for Shelton and a 2018 fifth-rounder. Playing in a scheme that didn’t fit his skills, Shelton finished 2017 ranked as the 35th best defensive tackle in football.
While he’s strictly a run stopper, Shelton’s production should increase in New England. He’s a perfect fit for what New England needs, and the Patriots love big, space-eating defensive tackles. When paired with Malcolm Brown, opposing offenses should have trouble running the ball up the middle.
It would have cost a sizable amount of money to get a player of Shelton’s caliber on the open market. However, Shelton is still on his rookie contract, so he’s relatively affordable for 2018. New England also has a fifth-year option on Shelton, which comes into effect in 2019. Should they choose to, the Patriots have two years of team control over him.
While it did cost a third-round pick to acquire him, the Patriots should have enough to go around. Thanks to the departures of Solder and Butler, New England is expected to receive two third-round picks in the 2019 draft. In essence, they traded Malcolm Butler for Danny Shelton and a fifth-round pick.
Finding Butler’s replacement was also very high on the Patriots to-do list, and for a while, it looked like they’d have a tough time filling that spot. Options looked slim after losing out on Aqib Talib, Richard Sherman, Trumaine Johnson, and Aaron Colvin.
However, the perfect option fell into their lap in Jason McCourty. McCourty had a good 2017 with the Browns and was only on the books for $3 million, but the Browns were set to release him.
Before they could do so, Belichick shipped over a sixth-round pick for McCourty and a seventh-rounder. This trade was brilliant for a variety of reasons, the first of which because it brought McCourty to New England in the first place.
McCourty ranked out as the 27th best cornerback in 2017, per Pro Football Focus. By comparison, Malcolm Butler finished the season as the 51st ranked cornerback. On paper, New England improved their pass defense with this trade alone.
However, the further you look at this trade, the better it gets. Had McCourty reached the open market, he certainly would have received a deal exceeding $3 million a year. Instead of having to pay him more money and risk losing him to one of the other 30 teams, the Patriots sent some very light draft capital to obtain his services.
Additionally, they gave up nothing to get him. The trade caused the Patriots to drop 19 spots in the draft, but those are very late spots. By the time teams are picking in the late sixth/early seventh round, there are no more sure things on the board. Most players selected won’t even make their team, and if any team finds a diamond in the rough, it will be based on pure, dumb luck. Essentially, the Patriots got a cheap starting cornerback for free.
One of the underrated parts of Lewis’ game was his value as a kick returner. He served as the team’s primary kick returner for most of the past two seasons and returned two kicks for touchdowns in that time frame. With him gone, the Patriots needed to find someone to fill that void.
Enter Cordarrelle Patterson. He’s been arguably the best kick returner in the league ever since entering the league in 2013, and he’s now a Patriot. Patterson’s been First-Team All-Pro twice and led the league in kickoff return average and kickoff return touchdowns three times in his five-year career.
While he’s an elite kick returner, he’s also a serviceable depth receiver option. He’ll typically finish with 30-50 receptions per season and is a nightmare when given the ball in open space. Essentially, he’s an upgraded version of Phillip Dorsett as a receiver, while also being a dangerous weapon in the kicking game.
What did it cost to get Patterson? Amazingly, Belichick acquired Patterson and a sixth-round pick for just their late-fifth rounder. Again, New England got him basically for free. Patterson does come with a $3.25 million dollar cap hit, which sounds like a lot for a guy primarily suited for special teams. However, looking around the league, this is basically market price.
Market Price For Special Teams
Money has been flowing freely in free agency, and players are seeing bigger paychecks than ever before. This goes for special teamers, too. Former Patriot Johnson Bademosi earned a two-year, $6.25 million dollar contract from the Houston Texans. Bademosi is strictly a gunner and a very low-ceiling cornerback, and he’s on the books for basically the same money as Patterson.
Patterson is a vastly superior weapon as a returner and offers more as a receiver than Bademosi does as a corner. Had Patterson hit the open market, he probably would have received more money than what he’s currently making. So really, Belichick gave up essentially nothing in the draft to receive a top-notch special teams player for below-market value.
This has been a strange off-season for the Patriots, there’s no denying that. However, the team is set to still be one of the best in football in 2018. Thanks to Belichick’s willingness to trade, the Patriots have filled the majority of the holes on the team, before the draft. The 2018 Patriots will feature several new faces, but the wins will still come in bunches.