The 2018 off-season has been no stranger to both trades and trade rumors. For New England Patriots’ fans, these rumors have led to an off-season of rapid Twitter-scrolling, speculating, and worrying. While the ever-apparent rumors of a Rob Gronkowski or Tom Brady crisis have not come to fruition, the team has been active in the trade market. Prior to the draft, the Patriots acquired the 23rd overall selection in the 2018 NFL Draft in exchange for receiver Brandin Cooks. The team has also been linked to big names throughout the off-season. Most notably, Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant and new Los Angeles Ram Aqib Talib. Notably, current Seattle Seahawk Earl Thomas joins the list as well.
Thomas, a nine-year NFL veteran, has spent his career as one of the top contributors to the infamous “Legion of Boom” in Seattle. While this unit has been all but broken up, Thomas remains one of the top talents in Seattle, and across the league. While nagged by injuries as of late, Thomas has maintained top-level production throughout his career. In 2017, Thomas recorded two interceptions and 56 solo tackles en route to his sixth Pro Bowl appearance. However, with only one year left on his current contract, the star safety has been adamant on receiving not only a new contract – but a massive payday.
Why a Trade for Earl Thomas Makes Sense for the New England Patriots
This is where the Patriots come into play. A team can never have too many defensive backs, especially those as versatile and talented as Thomas. While the need is not imminent, as the team already has Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, and Duron Harmon under contract for the time being, Thomas can offer an upgrade in both the short and long term outlook in New England.
The price for Thomas, however, is likely to be high. Seattle is in no rush to trade away their All-Pro safety, especially after the release of long-time cornerback Richard Sherman. With the price looking expensive, but the Seahawks entertaining offers, fans in New England have to wonder what package Bill Belichick and company could construct to bring in Thomas.
ESPN’s Mike Reiss began the discussion Thursday, as he proposed a trade sending right guard and impending free agent Shaq Mason to Seattle in exchange for Thomas. This trade, as Reiss points out, would be followed by the Patriots signing Thomas to a three-year, $39 million dollar contract with $28.5 million in total guarantees (matching that of Eric Berry). This trade, which may incite both positive and negative responses from fans, is an interesting proposal, yet one that makes sense for both sides.
This trade should be contingent on two factors: the development of rookie guard Isaiah Wynn, and the ability to either sign (or not sign) Mason to a long-term extension.
Shaq Mason’s Contract Situation
Mason has been outstanding in New England since joining the team in 2015. However, he is in an awkward position, as he is entering the final year of his rookie deal. Fans and coaching staff alike would love to see Mason remain in New England for the long haul. However, given the recent contract signing of Andrew Norwell and extension of Zack Martin, this appears extremely unlikely.
Mason’s market in the coming off-season is likely to price him out of New England’s range, with teams around the league desperate for any offensive line talent. New England is in a terrific position, however. Their depth allows them to not enter a high-bidding war for Mason’s services.
Instead, the team should take a similar approach to Mason as they did with Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins. In each instance, the team used the last year of their services as trade bait, shipping each out of town to acquire any value in return. The approach should not change here, as there is no need to become the highest bidder in a rich guard market.
In this scenario, New England will likely save money by extending Thomas instead of Mason. The safety market is already lower than it has been in recent memory. The team will add a higher impact player to a defense that was exposed heavily in 2017. Thomas, especially in this scenario, should prove more valuable to the defense than Mason is to the offense.
In Seattle, however, Mason would be a perfect fit. Seattle can, and should, pay a high price to keep Russell Wilson upright. Mason, while at a high price tag, would provide Seattle a young building block on the offensive line. Mason is the perfect man for Seattle to target. With this trade, they will get a head-start on their pitch to him once he hits the market.
Isaiah Wynn’s Development
The reason that the Patriots are able to sit out the Mason bidding war is due to the Cooks trade. With their 23rd overall selection, the team selected one of the top offensive linemen in the draft in Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn. Wynn, who played left tackle in college, projects as a long-term guard with star potential. While the Patriots view Wynn as a potential left tackle, Wynn started at left guard in minicamp. In this scenario, Wynn would slide in at left guard, while Joe Thuney would move to the right side.
If Wynn comes close to his dominant form in college, the Patriots should actively look to shop Mason to the highest bidder. If the return was Earl Thomas, Bill Belichick should crack a small, rare smile under his hoodie-covered face, and gladly accept the offer.
How Earl Thomas Would Fit In New England
As previously mentioned, the Patriots have no imminent need for another safety. With Chung, Harmon, and McCourty already entrenched as starters, the need is not immediate. However, fans must remember that the Patriots do not roll with these three safeties alone. 2015 pick Jordan Richards, at least for the time being, is still on the roster. This, as many fans know, should terrify you. Ideally, the Patriots could acquire Thomas and effectively release Richards. This would enable Chung to take on his natural, specialized role as an in-the-box safety. Thomas can slot right into a safety role in New England, in rotation with both McCourty and Harmon.
Thomas would provide an elite addition to a New England defense that was exposed throughout 2017. He would provide a long-term replacement for an aging defensive backfield, as well.
Last Word on Earl Thomas
Overall, a one-for-one deal involving Mason and Thomas may seem unlikely. Thomas has changed Seattle’s defense for years, and the team is in no imminent rush to move on from him. However, if New England is willing to throw in some, if only minimal, draft capital to push the deal through, then this scenario is more than likely to come to fruition. New England should be more than happy to add a higher-impact player to a higher-need position. By also allowing a young, promising rookie to earn his spot, New England suits its needs immediately. If Seattle is truthfully making Thomas available in trade talks, Bill Belichick should be the first one on the phone.