The 2021 NFL trade deadline is set for 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday, Nov. 2, and it's fair to wonder how the New England Patriots are going to approach that period of the football calendar. Given that they are entering Week 7 two games below .500, it wouldn't be a shock to see them in seller's mode. That said, New England is more talented than its record suggests and there's a case to double-down on this roster after spending a boatload in free agency earlier this offseason, especially as Mac Jones continues to look the part under center.
If the Patriots -- who are historically very active on the trade market -- do decide to invest more into this 2021 squad, what should be their areas of attack? Below, we'll look at four position groups that could use an injection of talent to help New England for the stretch run.
The Patriots traded for right tackle Trent Brown this offseason, but the 28-year-old has been on injured reserve due to a calf injury for the bulk of the season and will miss at least one more game before he is eligible to return. While he may technically be able to return in relatively short order, it's unclear if he's actually healthy enough to do so. Not only is Brown's status up in the air, but New England's current tackles aren't turning in stellar results. According to PFF, the combination of Isaiah Wynn (primarily at left tackle), Justin Herron, and Yasir Durant have given up 32 pressure and seven sacks through the first six weeks. Even if Brown is able to come back healthy, this group could use someone that can more consistently keep Jones off his backside.
This is an obvious one, but the Patriots still need a wide receiver that opposing defenses need to game plan against. While Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor -- the two receivers that the Patriots brought in this offseason -- have had their moments, there's no true No. 1 option in this position group for New England. If someone of elite caliber is to be had at the deadline, this should be a high priority for the Patriots, especially as they have struggled to address this position in the NFL Draft in the past. Acquiring an established player at this position might be the best course of action.
Yes, the Patriots traded away Stephon Gilmore and the former Defensive Player of the Year certainly would have eliminated the need to add to the secondary, but it seemed like the two sides were never going to agree on a contract, which was what sparked the deal with Carolina. While this isn't the most pressing need on the depth chart, it does seem like the Patriots could use another corner to deepen the unit currently headlined by J.C. Jackson and Jalen Mills. Over the last three games heading into Week 7, the Patriots have given up 333 passing yards per game, which is the worst mark in the NFL over that stretch.
Another sneaky need for New England, despite having notable names like Dont'a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Matt Judon, and Jamie Collins now on the roster. This is a position that the Patriots need to add more speed. Maybe that comes via a prospect in next year's NFL Draft, but if there is a diamond in the rough -- similar to Van Noy when the team acquired him around the deadline in 2016 -- that is worth exploring as well.
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Welcome back, Jarrett Stidham
The Patriots had a handful of players that were now eligible to begin practicing this week after starting the year on the physically unable to perform list. That included quarterback Jarrett Stidham, who underwent back surgery during training camp. He was at practice this week, meaning that his 21-day window has started. If Stidham is not activated to the roster during that time, he will revert to PUP and be done for the year. It'll be interesting to see how New England handles Stidham's return and what that could mean for veteran Brian Hoyer. If the Patriots see Stidham as a more suitable backup to Jones, that could result in some roster shake-up. Of course, the team could always simply decide to hold three quarterbacks on the roster, which is probably the most likely option.
Along with Stidham, linebacker Terez Hall and defensive tackle Byron Cowart were eligible to return this week. Cowart also began practice opening up his 21-day window, while Hall has still been sidelined.
Defense takes accountability
As I wrote about immediately following last week's loss to the Cowboys, the Patriots' defense has yet to truly live up to its offseason billing to this point in the season. Entering 2021, it was expected that New England's defense would be an area of strength as it rolled out a rookie quarterback. Through the first six weeks, it has been the opposite.
"We don't like where we're at just because we haven't been finishing," safety Adrian Phillips told reporters Wednesday, via WEEI.com. "Everybody that plays defense, and this is probably the same for the teams around the league, they like when the pressure is on them. We like when the pressure is on us and we haven't been holding up to that, but we've been getting better each and every week. … Our main thing is getting better each and every week and making sure when we get to those situations and points in the game, everybody is clicking and everybody is moving on the same frequency and we can come out with the win."
Did Stevenson leap over Bolden?
One thing that may have flown under the radar in last Sunday's loss to the Cowboys was that it seemed like rookie Rhamondre Stevenson has leapfrogged Brandon Bolden on the depth chart. Stevenson played 33% of the offensive snaps compared to Bolden's 20% as the veteran largely went back to his special teams duties. Not only that, but Stevenson was able to catch all three of his targets in the passing game for 39 yards. More importantly, as it pertains to him keeping this role for the rest of the season, Stevenson was clean in pass protection against Dallas.
Rodney Harrison's advice to Jonnu Smith
Jonnu Smith's introduction to Foxborough hasn't gone as planned. The tight end inked a four-year, $50 million contract at the start of free agency this offseason, but hasn't gotten off to the start that many hoped he would. Entering Week 7, Smith has just 16 catches for 124 yards and a touchdown. On Thursday, former Patriots safety and current NBC analyst Rodney Harrison gave some advice to Smith while appearing on WEEI's Merloni and Fauria.
"I remember him when he was with the Titans," he said, as transcribed by WEEI.com. "Before I would see flashes of him as he made his way and kind of became a veteran player in this league and I used to always say, 'The Titans don't use him enough. The Titans don't use him enough.' What he's going to have to do is he's going to have to get to a point, forget about all the expectations and the big contract and just go out there and play. He seems like he's fighting the ball, he's not relaxed. The kid has so much talent and so much ability that it's like he's putting added pressure on himself. He's finally got the financial security he's looking for, this is the time just to relax and go out there and play. He doesn't have to play scared or anything like that.
"I am looking for him to really step up because the expectations when he came here was that this dude could do a lot of different things — [create] mismatches for linebackers, safeties and even cornerbacks because he's a very, very talented kid. He just needs to relax and play football."
Richard Seymour gets his red jacket
Patriots legend Richard Seymour was officially inducted into the team's Hall of Fame on Saturday during a ceremony outside of Gillette Stadium. He was originally elected to the Patriots Hall of Fame in 2020, but the ceremony didn't take place due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Seymour was a key piece to the early years of the Patriots' dynasty, winning three Super Bowl titles with the organization and is 11th on the team's all-time sack list.
"Yeah, everything," Bill Belichick said with a smirk when asked Friday what made Seymour unique. "Richard was a tremendous player, Had a tremendous skill set. He had great length. Explosive. Very quick for his size. Could really do everything. ... He was a great player. Certainly deserves to be in the Patriots Hall of Fame and the NFL Hall of Fame. Hopefully, that will be coming shortly for him as well."