New England Patriots

By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

As long as Rob Gronkowski is prowling the middle of the field and working his magic with Tom Brady, the Patriots will ultimately be fine in terms of pass-catchers. James White and Chris Hogan are, at worst, fine complementary pieces and proven productive players in the offense. Phillip Dorsett and Jacob Hollister have flashed in the preseason. Rex Burkhead is still here, and dynamic rookie back Sony Michel might not be too far behind.

Yet when it comes to the wide receiver position in particular, the Patriots are still in a spot where they could stand to add someone to the depth chart. Preferably, someone who could make as close to an immediate impact as possible.

You may read “impact” and think big. Literally, big guys who make big plays. Dez Bryant, Jeremy Maclin, and the newly released Brandon Marshall may come to mind. But that has never been the kind of receiver that Brady or the Patriots need. Certainly not the kind they could realistically expect to step on the field and contribute quickly. They usually come with off-field issues or bad locker room reputations; that’s why it’s an extremely hard NO on Marshall, by the way.

If the Patriots do want to add a receiver to its certainty-sapped group – Julian Edelman, Hogan, Dorsett, and Cordarrelle Patterson look like a solidified-but-flimsy group for Week 5 on – they need a different kind of player. They need route-runners. Smart, tough players who can be relied upon to pick up a complex playbook and snag a lot of passes in short areas and crucial situations.

Jul 26, 2018; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman (11) shakes hands with wide receiver Phillip Dorsett (13) during training camp at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

That’s why Detroit Lions slot receiver Golden Tate is a name who should occupy more real estate in the minds of the ambitious. Among those with such aspirations is ESPN’s Mike Reiss, perhaps the most reliable voice of any reporter covering the Patriots. Reiss has his own website, where he recently posted some “anecdotes” from his trip to Charlotte to cover the Patriots’ third preseason game against the Carolina Panthers. One of them involves a hypothetical trade involving Tate and the Patriots.

Reiss’ proposed package for Tate includes defensive tackle Malcom Brown and linebacker Elandon Roberts. Here’s the full piece from his article:

“I don’t know if the Lions would consider it, but receiver Golden Tate is the type of trade target I’d inquire about for the Patriots. Playing fantasy GM, a package of defensive tackle Malcom Brown and linebacker Elandon Roberts would be something I’d float out there to see if there was a bite. Something tells me Lions fans would tell me I’m not realistic, even though Tate is entering the final year of his contract and the Patriots might have to do some cap maneuvering to bring him on.

Oct 9, 2016, Cleveland, OH, USA: New England Patriots defensive tackle Malcom Brown against the Cleveland Browns during the fourth quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Patriots won 33-13. (Photo Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports)

Oct 9, 2016, Cleveland, OH, USA: New England Patriots defensive tackle Malcom Brown against the Cleveland Browns during the fourth quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Patriots won 33-13. (Photo Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports)

The offer makes sense from the Patriots’ end. Brown has felt like a surprise trade candidate throughout the summer, and Reiss apparently feels no different. Brown hasn’t performed as well as Danny Shelton or Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler appears to have assured himself a spot, and Vincent Valentine could be a capable replacement. This could be the Patriots’ last chance to get something valuable for Brown.

At the same time they would jettison Roberts, who has had an up-and-down start to his career. Due to the emergence of rookie linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley and the Pats’ abundance of special teams mainstays – something where Roberts has not been a big factor – the 2016 sixth-round pick feels borderline to make the roster at this point.

Above all else, the Patriots would get the kind of receiver that would have the best possible chance to work with Brady. Tate has played in all 16 games and averaged 93 catches, 1,056 yards, and five touchdowns in the past four seasons. He’s as tough and dependable as they come in the short-to-intermediate areas of the field and remains one of the league’s sharpest route-runners. And he’ll occasionally burst for a big play, too.

Reiss couches his trade proposal with the idea that the Lions may not be interested in such an offer, anyway. It’s quite possible that Tate remains locked in as Detroit’s No. 1 or 1A receiver along with Marvin Jones. But the rumor is an indication that Bill Belichick could be showing interest in Tate, or players of his type. Former Patriots exec and noted Belichick confidant Mike Lombardi agrees that the Tate rumor may not be made up out of thin air on the Patriots’ end.

There’s another issue with potentially acquiring Tate. If the Patriots swapped Brown and Roberts for him, they’d probably need to clear some extra cap space. They’d net about $6.27 million added to the cap with the trade, and their space sits at about $9.5 million as of Wednesday – and that’s without knowing the exact cap figures for Shaq Mason’s five-year extension. (H/t to the Boston Sports Journal’s Miguel Benzan, a.k.a. @PatsCap on Twitter).

But maneuvering cap space is far from impossible, or even a major roadblock. Belichick can be depended on to figure out the financials. So assuming he does, would it behoove the Patriots to make a move like the one that Reiss is floating out there? It certainly appears that they could use more of an impact at receiver than defensive tackle, and Tate would have the potential to be the perfect kind of addition for Brady’s receiver group.

There should be plenty of other receivers, including a few slot guys, who could end up on the trade block or the open market. And clearly, Belichick and the Patriots are scanning the league at all positions. Belichick’s instant classic “Watermelon rolls” response to a question about whether he’s scouting other teams tells you all you need to know.

Receiver is certainly a position where the Patriots could at least look to add depth. But because of that lack of depth, it’s arguably the team’s best opening for a potential impact player to come in on cutdown weekend.

Is Tate on their radar?

Someone must be.

Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at matthew.dolloff@bbgi.com.