Source: Josh Uche is Patriots’ most likely trade candidate ahead of deadline

If the Patriots make a deal by the NFL trade deadline on Tuesday at 4 p.m., the most likely player to be moved is outside linebacker Josh Uche, sources said Monday.

Teams have called the Patriots about most of their impending unrestricted free agents, per a source. A source said last week it’s “definitely possible” that the Patriots make one trade. Anything more than that would be a surprise.

Uche has missed the Patriots’ last two games. He was listed on the injury report with knee and ankle ailments ahead of Week 7 and ankle and toe injuries ahead of Week 8.

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Uche has ranked among the best pure pass rushers in the NFL based on PFF’s metrics over the last two seasons, but at 6-foot-3, 240 pounds, he’s limited in the Patriots’ scheme to a third-down situational role since he would be an undersized edge setter on the end of the line of scrimmage. The Patriots typically prefer investing in bigger edge defenders who are more effective against the run.

When asked about the trade deadline last week, Uche told the Herald he was just focused on getting back to playing football. He said that he and his agent had talked to the Patriots about a contract extension but wouldn’t go into further detail.

“Yeah, I mean, we just got back from Miami late last night and so working through the game,” head coach Bill Belichick said Monday morning. “We’ll deal with that here over the whatever period of time there is. I don’t know.”

Sources polled around the NFL believe the Patriots could get a third- or fourth-round pick for Uche. The Patriots have among the most salary cap space in the NFL next offseason, so it’s unlikely that they would receive comp picks for outgoing free agents if they intend to spend that money.

The Patriots’ top upcoming free agents include tight ends Hunter Henry and Mike Gesicki, left tackle Trent Brown, safety Jalen Mills and wide receiver Kendrick Bourne, who tore his ACL in Sunday’s loss to the Dolphins, plus 2020 draft picks like Uche, safety Kyle Dugger and offensive lineman Mike Onwenu.

If the Patriots don’t feel like there’s a future with quarterback Mac Jones, who has now struggled in two straight seasons, then they also could try to shop the 2021 first-round pick. Sources varied on Jones’ trade value. One source believed there was none.

The Vikings believe they lost starting quarterback Kirk Cousins to an Achilles injury in Week 8. Prior to Cousins going down, two sources raised the hypothetical of Jones being traded to the Vikings.

The 49ers, who had reported interest in Jones before selecting Trey Lance third overall in 2021, have lost three straight games with Brock Purdy under center. The 49ers have Sam Darnold as a backup after trading Lance to the Cowboys this offseason.

Sources polled around the NFL believe Dugger, who could fetch up to a second-round pick, is the Patriots’ most valuable asset. Belichick said Monday morning that, “Yeah, of course, sure, absolutely” he would like to see Dugger stick around in New England. Belichick wouldn’t get into any contract conversations he’s had with Dugger or the safety’s representatives. The Patriots head coach acknowledged this summer that players like Dugger “end up getting a lot of money.”

Onwenu, who can play left guard, right guard and right tackle, could have potential trade value but one source said it’s unusual for an offensive lineman to be traded midseason.

The Patriots currently are slated to pick fifth overall with more than half of the season left to go. If they don’t believe they’ll be retaining some of their impending free agents and plan to spend in free agency and cancel out the formula that would net them compensatory draft picks, then it does make sense to add more draft capital at the deadline.

Actively selling players would have been more difficult if the Patriots had won Sunday’s game and improved their record to 3-5. At 2-6 with Bourne injured, Christian Gonzalez, Marcus Jones and Matthew Judon already on injured reserve, and with the Chiefs and Bills still on their schedule, it’s now looking extremely unlikely that the Patriots could get near playoff contention in a competitive AFC.

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