By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — At this point in Bill Belichick’s Hall of Fame career, everyone knows better than to try to crawl inside that mind of his. And so as Tuesday’s 4 p.m. NFL trade deadline approaches, nobody should claim to have a beat on what the Patriots’ head coach is going to do.
What does seem clear is that his team could use an upgrade. They’re 6-2 as they head into their bye, but nothing has come easy for the Patriots (except for a win over the Falcons). Losing Julian Edelman was huge, as was losing Dont’a Hightower. Some new additions have worked out splendidly, some have been fine, and others have not worked out at all. As a whole, the team has yet to really have all three phases of the game clicking at the same time.
Whether it’s with a contributing depth player on defense or a riskier move on offense, the Patriots could use a little help as they enter the second half of the season. Belichick has made some important acquisitions in the past, like Kyle Van Noy last year, as well as Akeem Ayers and Jonathan Casillas in 2014. In 2015, they added Akiem Hicks. Belichick also shook up his roster drastically last year with a deadline trade of Jamie Collins to the Browns.
So while we can’t say exactly how Belichick will operate at the deadline, it’s more probable than not that he’ll be active in some way.
Here’s a rundown of players rumored to be on the trading block for Tuesday’s deadline who might have some value in New England.
Tight End Eric Ebron
The Lions tight end has heard his name in rumors recently, and he doesn’t seem to mind.
“They got till Tuesday,” he said Sunday night. “It’s a business. If they feel like they want to cut ties with me, then they cut ties. If they feel like they can continue to use me and my skills and my abilities, then, [expletive], let’s do it.”
The Patriots could use some depth at tight end, as Dwayne Allen has not worked out thus far after the Patriots traded a fourth-round pick to acquire him and a sixth-round pick. Allen has zero catches on the year, and he missed some key blocks in the game which Rob Gronkowski missed due to injury.
Behind Gronkowski, the Patriots are thin, with just Allen and Jacob Hollister on the roster. A big-bodied tight end like Ebron could help.
The 6-foot-4, 253-pound Ebron has caught 15 passes for 160 yards and a touchdown this year. That’s a bit of a letdown after last year, when he caught 61 passes for 711 yards and a score. Overall in his three-and-a-half-year career, Ebron has caught 148 passes for 1,656 yards and eight touchdowns in 47 games.
Wide Receiver T.Y. Hilton
During the Ryan Grigson era, the idea of a Pats-Colts trade was sheer lunacy. But as the Jacoby Brissett-for-Phillip Dorsett deal showed, the cold war is over.
And with Dorsett not making much of an impact offensively, and with Chris Hogan potentially out for some time with his shoulder injury, would the Patriots be interested in giving another Colts receiver a shot?
The soon-to-be-28-year-old Hilton has caught 29 passes for 527 yards and a touchdown this year, despite Andrew Luck’s season-long absence to this point. He caught 91 passes for 1,448 yards and six touchdowns a year ago and has consistently been a top receiving threat since he was drafted in 2012.
Pro Football Talk reported that the Colts would be willing to deal Hilton, though his big-money contract that runs through 2020 could prove to be prohibitive to a deal getting done.
Wide Receiver Calvin Johnson
Wait … what?
As you know, Johnson retired
this past offseason prior to last season, as he was fed up with the Lions being the Lions. But his name resurfaced this week as a candidate to be lured out of retirement via trade. ESPN’s Chris Mortensen said on Monday that the chances of Johnson coming out of retirement are a “long shot,” but that the Eagles and Jaguars have been on the hunt.
“Calvin has been working out, I guess, but does he really want to play?” Mortensen pondered.
If he does … and he wants a crack at a Super Bowl … and the deal is right for Detroit … where longtime Belichick assistant Bob Quinn is the GM … could it happen? Probably not! Right? Right?
Johnson, by the way, is 32 years old. He caught 88 passes for 1,214 yards and nine touchdowns last year. He ranks 29th on the all-time receiving yards list and 22nd on the all-time receiving touchdowns list.
Defense remains the Patriots’ biggest area of need, but absent a viable defensive player available on the trade market, it wouldn’t be the worst strategy to add another weapon to an offense that’s already pretty well-stocked.
Cornerback Vontae Davis
If the Patriots make an addition on defense, it probably won’t be at cornerback. Granted, Eric Rowe’s groin injury appears to be serious, but the Patriots are still in decent shape with Malcolm Butler, a recovering Stephon Gilmore, and a surprisingly effective Johnson Bademosi.
But, if the phone lines are hot between Foxboro and Indianapolis, perhaps the veteran cornerback’s name gets thrown into some conversations.
The 29-year-old cornerback is in his ninth NFL season after being drafted 25th overall by Miami in 2009. Some Patriots fans who are not encouraged by Gilmore’s start probably wouldn’t mind letting their thoughts wonder into a scenario where the Patriots unload Gilmore’s contract and get Hilton and Davis in return. That’s probably a bit fantastical, but nobody should be told what they’re not allowed to dream about.
Linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha
According to NESN’s Doug Kyed, the Saints are looking for a trade partner to move Hau’oli Kikaha. With Higtower lost for the year, linebacker figures to be a postion of need.
Kikaha was drafted in the second round out of Washington in 2015, yet after starting 11 games last year he has not gotten a start on defense this year. He recorded four sacks last year and he has two this year in five games. With a year left on his deal after 2017, it might take something valuable to get him. But Belichick and Sean Payton are close enough where a conversation is not out of the realm of possibility.
Defensive End Rob Ninkovich
Just come out of retirement already, Rob, would you? The defensive players being rumored to be available are scant, you know the system, and you’d only have to really bust your buns for three months, which doesn’t seem so bad.
Some Practice Squad Linebacker In, Like, Chicago?
There it is, the most likely acquisition Belichick will make this week. It will be some second- or third-year player who’s never gotten a chance but who showed some promising abilities when Belichick met with him before the draft several years ago. Belichick probably remembers what the kid was wearing.
He’ll be inactive in his first game with the Patriots, take between five and 12 snaps in his second game, people will pronounce his name dismissively as a sign of how little respect they have for him and his abilities, and then he will slowly increase his playing time until it gets to the point in January where he’s ingrained in the defense and nobody even questions how he got there.
This will assuredly be the route chosen by Belichick. The only question is what number the mystery man will wear. No. 94 perhaps? And the guy will wear a visor on his facemask too. I can picture him now. He’s not too tall — we’ll say 6-foot-1 — and he is more of the spry type than the beefcake type. Get ready for him. He’s joining the Patriots. He’ll probably make a big tackle in the Super Bowl, too.