Callahan: Robert Kraft should command Patriots to sell at NFL trade deadline

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — The next time Bill Belichick engages with the media, wait for a thorny question about his decision-making.

Whether it pokes at his roster management, in-game management or a play-call doesn’t matter. Odds are Belichick will follow with some version of this answer: “We did what we thought was best for the football team.”

It’s a verbal binky for Belichick. Through this blanket response, he simultaneously tells the truth without revealing anything and often halts the line of questioning. Inevitably, we all move on.

Well, here’s a question: with the NFL’s trade deadline two days away, what is in the best interest of the 2-6 Patriots?

Selling, of course.

Forget a path to the playoffs. After going 1-of-9 on third down in Miami, these Patriots need directions just to move the chains. There is no sense in adding cargo onto a sinking ship.

It’s time to offload.

The Dolphins out-gained the Patriots by close to a 2:1 ratio Sunday and led for the final 36 minutes; numbers that spotlighted the massive talent gap between the Pats and legitimate AFC contenders. The Patriots are who we thought they were: a bad football team.

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick shouts during the first half of an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins, Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Belichick and the front office should deal veterans on expiring contracts who can fetch mid-round picks, like Josh Uche, Kendrick Bourne and/or Kyle Dugger. Stockpile as much draft capital as possible for future selections or trades that require more assets than the front office currently has. The time to trigger a rebuild is here.

But will Belichick see this? Will he sell?

Fat chance.

Belichick is known to sacrifice anything at the altar of winning. He is both the GM and head coach, and while Belichick the GM has often failed Belichick the head coach when roster-building, one won’t abandon the other now. Belichick might also be coaching for his job, especially after Sunday’s defeat dropped him to 27-32 over the last three and a half years.

On Sunday morning, Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer shed light on the reporting around Belichick’s offseason contract adjustment saying, “Effectively, my understanding is, this changes nothing.”

Breer’s reporting echoed earlier sentiments shared by ESPN’s Adam Schefter, an insider who has a long-standing, well-documented relationship with Belichick. Schefter expects Belichick and owner Robert Kraft to meet at the end of the season and decide if and how to move forward.

Kraft should first call a meeting on how to move at the trade deadline, and order Belichick to sell. He’s allegedly done it before.

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According to ESPN, Kraft ordered Jimmy Garoppolo to be traded days before the trade deadline in 2017. Kraft has since repeatedly denied the report, calling it “fiction.” But the circumstances surrounding and leading up to Garoppolo’s trade to San Francisco support the reporting.

Belichick called the 49ers last minute and asked for a second-round pick, a price lower than what the Browns offered at the 2017 NFL Draft, which Belichick declined. Belichick didn’t attempt to drum up a market for a highly valued asset. What type of GM does that?

Belichick, as reports later uncovered, also happened to be butting heads with Tom Brady. But Brady, fresh off his fifth Super Bowl ring and en route to another MVP award, won Kraft over, thereby forcing Garoppolo out and winning the right to leave on his own terms.

If Belichick intends to win Kraft over in the coming days, what case could he possibly make?

It’s not a roster currently devoid of blue-chip talent. It’s not a coaching edge his staff is instilling on Sundays (the Patriots committed four more penalties than Miami). It’s not the quarterback.

Mac Jones’ interception at the end of Sunday’s first half came a Demario Douglas tackle away from becoming his fourth pick-six of the season. It caused at least a 6-point swing in what was then a 14-7 game the Patriots might have tied were it not for Jones’ horrendous throw.

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Through eight games, Jones is tracking for career worsts in passer rating, yards per attempt and interception rate. Of course, he’s also been failed by one of the NFL’s most porous offensive lines.

The Patriots’ latest solution there has involved moving right guard Mike Onwenu to right tackle; a move offensive line coach Adrian Klemm told reporters he considered as early as this summer, and Belichick has been reluctant to make for years.

Out wide, Belichick’s latest highly drafted wide receiver, Tyquan Thornton, was a healthy scratch Sunday. His big free-agent splash this offseason, JuJu Smith-Schuster, only took the field because DeVante Parker and Kendrick Bourne succumbed to injuries. Meanwhile, Jalen Reagor, newly signed off the practice squad, saw several snaps before Smith-Schuster took his first.

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Lastly, Belichick’s pride and joy, his defense, failed to beat Miami back at the end. It continues to suffer from communication issues in the secondary, as safeties Jabrill Peppers and defensive back Myles Bryant confessed post-game. Though Dugger snatched his first interception of the season, and might be turning a corner.

Could that boost his value in the eyes of interested contenders? Bourne’s value is already clear, provided his MRI scheduled for Monday comes back clean. The same holds for Uche, one of the most impactful per-snap pass rushers in the NFL, per multiple advanced metrics.

But in New England, Uche can’t even see the field half the time. He hasn’t played more than 38% of the team’s snaps in a single season. He’s a poor scheme fit, a sad excuse for an organization that drafted and developed a player with a premium skill set coveted around the league.

There cannot be any more excuses at 2-6. Whether Belichick decides on his own or Kraft forces him, it’s time. Hang the sign on the door.

Fire sale.

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