As training camp creeps closer, you can see the long days of summer start to wane and autumn is on the horizon. With that, the much maligned New England Patriots start their defense of their much earned, yet much (unjustly) scrutinized title defense. With 90 players on the team, coaches and GM’s are trying to decide who makes the cut and who doesn’t. After observing the first few days of camp, these thoughts about shaping the roster come to mind. Although they might seem drastic, I believe it makes the most sense to make the best Patriots roster available.
- Patriots trade G/T Jordan Devey to the San Diego Chargers for RB Danny Woodhead. With RB James White trying to step up in departed RB Shane Vereen’s shoes, the results so far have left some to be desired. Although he faces competition from veterans Dion Lewis, Travaris Cadet and Brandon Bolden, the importance of the “Passing Back” in this offense can’t be understated (see Vereen’s performance in the Super Bowl). Woodhead is 30 and carries a bigger contract (2.5 million), but he knows this offense and has Brady’s trust. He could be a stopgap for a year while White gets a little better and allows Bolden to return to his better suited Special Team role. Devey’s chances of making the team are slim to none with the additions of Tre Jackson and Shaq Mason. The Chargers need offensive line depth and Devy’s size (6’7, 315) can allow him to play both tackle and guard spots for San Diego. With Donald Brown, Brandon Oliver and Melvin Gordon all in the backfield with Phillip Rivers, Woodhead could be the odd man out. I see this as a win/win.
- Patriots sign G Evan Mathis. This is a no-brainer to many. He’s the best free agent available and gives the Pats a veteran leader in the place of Dan Connolly. With Ryan Wendell still hobbled and Jackson and Mason being rookies, Mathis can step in at either guard spot and dominate. Although he is 34, he was one of the best guards in football last year, if not the. Although he’s still in high demand from several teams, the appeal to play for a perennial playoff team might bring him up to the North East. If his asking price is too rich for the Pats, then they will pass. The depth inside beyond the rookies is Wendell, Josh Kline and Caylin Hauptmann. I’m not sure any of these guys can step up and be a steady performer if one or both of the rookies start to falter.
- Patriots trade DT Chris Jones to the Oakland Raiders for a 2016 6th round pick. With the free agent addition of DE/DT Jabaal Sheard and the 4 rookie Defensive Linemen added in the draft, the need for the pass rushing DT is pretty slim. With the loss of a 1st rounder due to Deflategate, it would be smart to unload players that have a slim chance of making the roster to needy teams. Even better unloading them to teams that will probably yield the Pats a higher pick in the said round. The lack of DL depth in Oakland is troublesome and Jones could provide a better interior pass rush than Stacy McGee or Dan Williams, the current two Defensive Tackle starters. Jones had 6 sacks in 2013 (3 in 2014) as a sub defensive tackle and can provide more depth.
- Patriots trade S Duron Harmon to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a conditional 2016 5th round pick and 2017 conditional 7th round pick (both picks go up a round if playing time is met). See the trend? Harmon has a lot of talent that hasn’t seen the field much in the past two seasons. He’s a zone safety that has a skill set more similar to Devin McCourty. With Jordan Richards and Tavon Wilson both playing better as of late, Harmon could take the spot for another position of need (or in Belichicks case, another linebacker or running back). With one year remaining on his deal, they might hold onto him for another year. But the fact that he isn’t an impending free agent could be reason to get more compensation. Getting this compensation for Harmon is a mutual win/win and Tampa has been a favorable trade partner in recent years (Mankins, Casillas). Harmon can compete for reps immediately at FS with Chris Conte (ugh) and Keith Tandy. This might be considered a high price for Harmon, but with his untapped potential and being around some of the best in New England, he could be a player Tampa can build around.
- Patriots sign DT/DE Red Bryant. Why add another defensive linemen? If you’re a Patriots fan, then you know that’s a redundant question. Bryant is massive (6’5, 325) and can play both defensive end and tackle. Although he isn’t much of a pass rusher (4.5 sacks in the past 7 seasons), he’s very stout against the run and could be an upgrade over former teammate Alan Branch. At 31, he’s not going to demand a long term deal and could be a nice veteran leader across the line that lost its biggest voice with the departure of Vince Wilfork.