Bill Belichick has done it again. On Friday afternoon, the New England Patriots swung a trade for Philadelphia Eagles defensive lineman Michael Bennett. Bennett, a 10-year NFL veteran, is one of the better edge defenders in the league and comes at a bargain rate. With Trey Flowers likely out the door, Belichick found a way to get a cost-effective replacement while actually improving New England’s overall draft stock.
The Patriots needed to find another difference maker along the defensive line, as their best player is about to land a gigantic contract. Trey Flowers is easily the top free agent defensive lineman and will likely command a deal averaging $14-17 million per season. If a bidding war ensues, it’s not crazy to imagine Flowers getting even more than $17 million per year.
New England will still try to bring Flowers back, but they were never going to break the bank for him. Knowing they needed to find a replacement, they targeted a team that had every motivation to sell low. The Eagles are facing a financial nightmare, as they were over 2019’s salary cap just a few weeks ago. Philadelphia needed to open up cap space for the start of the league year, and Bill Belichick knew that they’d be willing to part ways with a player like Bennett for far less than he’s worth.
Trey Flowers may be younger, but Bennett and Flowers are roughly the same caliber of player. According to Pro Football Focus, Flowers finished 2018 as the sixth-best edge defender in football. Bennett wasn’t quite as good, but he still ended the year as the 26th-ranked edge defender. Flowers is slightly better, but both players are strong starters who can carry a defensive line.
In terms of statistical production, Bennett actually has Flowers beat. Since 2016, Bennett has recorded 22.5 sacks, 73 quarterback hits, and 43 tackles-for-loss. Flowers, meanwhile, has recorded 21 sacks, 59 quarterback hits, and 25 tackles-for-loss. Stats aren’t everything, and the film shows that Flowers is a marginally better player. However, the fact of the matter is that Bennett has the ability to replicate the majority of what Flowers brings to a defense.
The Fantastic Value
For the sake of this exercise, let’s assume that the Patriots lose Flowers in free agency and effectively replace him with Bennett. If that’s the case, then New England essentially got a player who can do roughly 85-90% of what Flowers can do for a late-round pick swap. The Patriots gave up their 2020 fifth-round pick but also received Philadelphia’s 2020 seventh-round pick.
This ultimately amounts to losing absolutely nothing. The NFL Draft, by and large, is nothing more than a glorified guessing game. Earlier picks have a higher chance of success, but that trend stops by the later rounds of the NFL Draft. By the time the fifth round rolls around, all of the “known commodities” are completely gone. At this point, drafting is basically akin to throwing darts at a board, and the numbers back that up. According to Rich Hill of Pats Pulpit, there is zero difference in projected value from picks 185 to the end of the draft. Essentially, the Patriots got Bennett for free.
Projected NFL value by draft selection. pic.twitter.com/3GjtpNDmax
— Rich Hill (@PP_Rich_Hill) May 8, 2017
The true value comes in Bennett’s cap charge. As of this posting, Bennett is on the books for $7.2 million in 2019 and $8.5 million in 2020. The 10-year veteran reportedly wants a new contract, but New England could actually extend him while lowering his 2018 number. No matter how you cut it, Michael Bennett is an absolute bargain.
Trey Flowers, meanwhile, has the edge defender market all to himself. He obviously hasn’t signed his contract yet, but it’s safe to assume that the former fourth-round pick will have at least a $15 million cap hit. Flowers may be a slightly better player, but he’s not $8 million better than Bennett.
Not only did the Patriots save some money in this trade, but this should indirectly improve their draft stock. The NFL awards compensatory selections to teams who lose free agents to large contracts. Flowers is about to earn a huge deal, meaning that the Patriots should earn a third-round compensatory pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. When factoring in the added pick, the Patriots essentially traded a fifth-round pick for Bennett, a third-round pick, and a seventh-round pick.
Last Word on the Michael Bennett Trade
Bill Belichick has outsmarted everyone in the league for the better part of two decades, and the Michael Bennett trade is just his latest trick. New England knew they needed to find a cost-effective replacement in case they lose Trey Flowers, and the Patriots targeted a team desperately trying to lower their payroll. By doing this, New England got an immediate impact player on a cheap contract for essentially nothing.
Michael Bennett isn’t quite as good as Trey Flowers, but he’s more than capable of starting along the defensive line. When factoring in the financial savings, there’s no denying that this move makes the Patriots better regardless of where Flowers plays in 2019. The added cherry on top of that fantastic sundae is that this probably helps New England’s draft stock. If Flowers departs, New England will receive a third-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
At the end of the day, the Patriots basically exchanged Flowers and a fifth-round pick for Bennett, a third-round pick, a seventh-round pick, and roughly $8-10 million in available cap space. Almost any other franchise would consider this trade the deal of a century, but it’s another case of the Patriots using every avenue imaginable to build the best roster possible.
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