New England Patriots Should Stay Away From Earl Thomas

Earl Thomas

There are few teams in football more engaged in the trade market than the New England Patriots. This off-season, they have already acquired Cordarrelle Patterson, Danny Shelton, and Jason McCourty, among others, via trades. Now, Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas is reportedly on the market, and the Patriots have been linked as potential trade partners.

While nobody is denying Thomas is a special talent, the Patriots are better off saying no to this trade. Thomas would only make the team marginally better, and wouldn’t justify the extreme cost to acquire him. Additionally, if the Patriots wanted another safety, there are several cost-effective free agents readily available.

Earl Thomas is Not What the New England Patriots Need

First of all, acquiring Thomas would not be cheap. While Thomas is in the last season of his current deal, he’s one of the premier players at his position and Seattle won’t trade him without a decent return. Additionally, any acquisition of Thomas would also include signing him to an extension. It’s no secret that Thomas feels his current contract doesn’t reflect his value, so he won’t come cheap.

ESPN’s Mike Reiss proposed trading guard Shaq Mason straight up for Thomas. In this hypothetical scenario, the Patriots also sign Thomas to a three-year, $39 million dollar extension. Let’s move forward with this as the assumed trade, and see how a deal like this would affect the Patriots.

Priority Number One: Keep Brady Upright

Let’s begin by talking about what Shaq Mason’s departure would mean to the Patriots. In case you hadn’t heard, quarterback Tom Brady will be playing the 2018 season at the advanced age of 41 years old. While he keeps himself in phenomenal shape, New England should obviously do everything in their power to keep Brady’s jersey as clean as possible.

Mason is one of the better young guards in the league and is arguably the best offensive lineman on the team. If Mason were dealt, that would leave Joe Thuney and rookie Isaiah Wynn as the starting guards. While Thuney’s a solid starter and Wynn should be good, there is no depth behind them. The Patriots don’t have a clear starter should one of those two go down.

Yes, Mason is in the last year of his deal. Yes, it will be hard for the Patriots to resign him once he hits free agency. And yes, the Patriots have a history of trading away players they know they can’t re-sign. However, none of those past players have been this instrumental to the team’s success. If Brady goes down, the season is over. Brian Hoyer and Danny Etling cannot win a Super Bowl, so Brady’s health should be the top priority. Simply put, keeping Mason increases the odds of Brady surviving another season.

Money Doesn’t Grow on Trees

As mentioned earlier, the Patriots would also need to sign Thomas to a big money extension in order to secure the safety’s services. Thomas is publicly upset with his current contract, so he wouldn’t sign on a discount. There’s no denying that Thomas is worthy of a big paycheck, but can the Patriots afford to give one?

The answer lies in where the team’s priorities lie. Per @patscap, the Patriots currently have $10,019,148 in cap space. That’s not exactly a lot of space in which to work. That number will increase entering the 2019 off-season, but only because several key players will enter free agency after 2018.

Mason, Trey Flowers, Malcolm Brown, Chris Hogan and 19 other players are set to be free agents following the 2018 season. As it is, the Patriots won’t be able to bring everyone back. Adding Thomas’ contract to this situation only makes it harder to bring back the young players about to hit free agency.

Again, there’s no denying Thomas is a great player. However, he’s also 29 with eight seasons of pro football already under his belt. The Patriots may have to choose between Thomas and their homegrown players. If safety were a bigger position of need, the Patriots may be wise to consider prioritizing Thomas over their younger talent. However, New England is in a pretty good place with the safety position.

Safety is Already Set

There’s no such thing as too many good defensive backs, but the Patriots should feel comfortable with their current safety depth chart. While he isn’t quite as good as Thomas, Devin McCourty is a borderline top-ten free safety. He’s already making similar money to what Thomas would demand, and the Patriots can’t afford two big contracts for the same position.

Behind McCourty, the Patriots have the reliable Duron Harmon. Harmon’s one of the best backup safeties in the league and could be a starter for at least half the teams in the NFL. When McCourty has missed games with injuries, Harmon has been able to adequately fill his role.

Thomas is a free safety in the mold of McCourty and Harmon. While the Patriots often operate with two free safeties on the field, adding Thomas to the mix feels redundant. If he were coming over on the cheap, he would absolutely be worth adding. However, the benefit of adding Thomas’ skill does not outweigh the financial burden of carrying two high-priced safeties that do the same thing.

There’s Team-Friendly Options Available

While the free safety position is set, the Patriots could look to add some depth to the strong safety position. Patrick Chung is still an above average starter, but Jordan Richards is next in line on the depth chart. Anyone who has watched Richards play knows that he should never be on defense. If the Patriots added Thomas, chances are they’d use Thomas or McCourty in Chung’s role should Chung go down.

However, there are more cost-effective options available on the market. The safety market never developed in free agency, and there are several starting-caliber players still available on the market. Kenny Vaccaro and Eric Reid both remain unsigned and are natural fits for Chung’s role.

Even if the Patriots were looking for more of a free safety, former Los Angeles Chargers safety Tre Boston is still available. Granted, he’s not the same caliber of player as Thomas, but acquiring him would be a lot easier. With McCourty entrenched as the starter, they don’t need a superstar. Instead, they could more than make due with a solid player that won’t cost them their best offensive lineman and an additional $40 million dollars.

Last Word on Earl Thomas

Thomas is a great player and is one of the best safeties in the league. However, while his addition would make the safeties better, it would not make the team better. The Patriots need the offensive line to be as strong as possible, and Shaq Mason means more to the 2018 Patriots than Thomas.

2019 is a crucial off-season for the Patriots, as a large portion of their recent core heads to free agency. As it is, they don’t have the financial capability to retain all of their talented players. Adding Thomas to the mix would only make that problem worse.

While Thomas is a great safety, the Patriots are already set at the free safety position. If they were looking to add another body, there are several cheaper options available in free agency. While none of the available options are as good as Thomas, they won’t cost the Patriots their best offensive lineman and will come at a significantly cheaper price.

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