We’re now one week away from the NFL trade deadline.
Typically, the New England Patriots are active at this time of year. Bill Belichick’s club executed at least one trade during the lead-up to the 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2019 deadlines.
Four of those deals — Aqib Talib in 2012, Isaac Sopoaga in 2013, Jonathan Casillas in 2014 and Jimmy Garoppolo in 2017 — were made on deadline day.
The Patriots head into next Tuesday’s 2020 deadline with clear needs on both sides of the ball (receiver, tight end, linebacker, defensive tackle) and, if they choose to sell following their 2-4 start, multiple internal trade candidates (Stephon Gilmore, Joe Thuney).
But dealing might be more difficult than ever this year.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, far fewer players than usual changed teams through trades and waiver claims during cutdown weekend last month. The same could be true over the next seven days.
Under the NFL’s coronavirus protocols, players who sign as free agents or are traded must test negative for five consecutive days before joining their new team for practice or a game. That’s why running back Le’Veon Bell, who signed with the Kansas City Chiefs ahead of their Week 6 matchup with the Buffalo Bills, was not eligible to play until Week 7.
If a player is moved on deadline day, he would not be able to debut for his new team until the following week at the earliest. For the Patriots, that means that player could not play in Week 9 against the New York Jets but could suit up against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 10.
A total of five NFL players have been traded in the last two weeks:
OLB Kamalei Correa to the Jacksonville Jaguars (Oct. 14)
DT Steve McClendon to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Oct. 19)
OLB Jordan Willis to the San Francisco 49ers (Oct. 21)
DE Yannick Ngakoue to the Baltimore Ravens (Oct. 22)
OLB Markus Golden to the Arizona Cardinals (Oct. 23)
Writing about the Ngakoue trade, Peter King remarked in his latest “Football Morning in America” column on how the COVID waiting period could impact player movement in the coming days:
“The trade deadline is Nov. 3. But if a team wants a player to get in a full week of work and be available to play in Week 9, the deadline is really Oct. 29 — this Thursday. That would give a hustling team time to get the player his five consecutive daily COVID tests and be with the new team for a full practice week before the game in Week 9.”
Belichick was asked two weeks ago how COVID could impact the trade deadline. He mentioned the lengthy integration process, uncertainty surrounding the 2021 salary cap and new practice squad/injured reserve rules that allow players to utilize more of their internal depth.
“Even the movement now, it’s been restricted, and it’s been restricted even further in terms of bringing players in from outside the organization, whether that’s in any capacity,” Belichick said on Oct. 15. “That process now is really about a week before you could actually get them onto the field, so that that changes things as well. Would that affect the trade deadline? I mean, I don’t know. It might but maybe it’s a longer view than that. I’m not sure. It’s a good question.
“We’ll have to see how much activity there is or isn’t. Certainly, are a lot of unknowns going forward, not just this year but even in the next year relative to team building and salary cap and so forth. That may have everybody with a little less ability to really plan things out the way they want to do them. That might be causing some hesitation, as well. So, certainly seeing more players stay with the teams that they’re on and teams using those players as depth. With the injured reserve rules this year and the practice squad expansion has given teams more of an ability to do that, and I think we’re certainly seeing that play out.”
The Patriots know full well the problems COVID can cause. They’ve placed eight players on the reserve/COVID-19 list since the beginning of October — including starting quarterback Cam Newton and star cornerback Stephon Gilmore — and were forced to reschedule two games.
Running back Sony Michel and offensive lineman James Ferentz have yet to be activated off COVID reserve.
Belichick was asked again Tuesday about the Patriots’ deadline plan.
“That’s something that I’ll check in on with Nick (Caserio) here this week, but I usually don’t get too involved in that,” the head coach replied. “That’s something that the communication on that really goes through the personnel department with Nick and his staff. I’d say, generally speaking, the coaches are pretty involved in their game preparations at this point in time until something becomes more of a realistic opportunity.
“So we’ll kind of see how that goes. I don’t know. I really don’t have a good sense on that one way or the other. I’m sure that there’s some conversations out there. How close that would or wouldn’t be for us, I’m really not sure at this point.”