Commentary

The Patriots are deadline losers — unless Belichick’s confidence pays off

The coach appears to believe in this group. That message should be hammered home inside the building this week. 

Bill Belichick watches from the sideline during the second half of last Sunday's game against the Chargers. AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

As the clock expired on the NFL’s trading deadline Tuesday afternoon, news of one last swap came across the wire, apparently having been filed just before the buzzer. The Eagles had acquired a cornerback from the Eagles by the name of Kary Vincent Jr. 

Vincent is a rookie after being drafted by the Broncos this past spring. He was taken in the seventh round, with the 237th overall pick, although his next pro game will be his first. He’s been on Denver’s roster, but inactive, for the season’s first eight weeks.

The price Philadelphia paid for that caliber of cornerback? A sixth-round pick.

Advertisement:

Yep. The same price the Panthers paid to the Patriots for Stephon Gilmore four weeks ago. Except Denver gets its compensation in 2022. New England will need to wait another year after that to cash in its haul for the league’s former defensive player of the year. Based on that deal, and based on the fact the now-corner-needy Pats let 4 p.m. Tuesday pass without making any sort of deal, it’s hard to say New England was anything but a loser at a largely dormant deadline. Making matters worse is the schedule, which will put Gilmore across the line of scrimmage this Sunday, fresh off a game-sealing interception late in his Panthers’ debut.

The looming presence of No. 9 will only amplify the questions: Why did the Patriots trade him in early October, rather than holding on and trying to extract a more enticing deal nearer to the Nov. 2 deadline? If a motivating factor was to make room for the reacquisition of Jamie Collins, why is the retread linebacker playing so sparingly? Why, at the trade deadline, couldn’t the Pats find a way to use the salary cap money created by dealing Gilmore? And how can a team that saw Gilmore’s exit compounded by a season-ending injury to fellow corner Jonathan Jones not do something — anything — to try and reinforce their defense?

Advertisement:

Ultimately, their record from this point forward will be the referendum that answers all those questions — but, for now, perhaps the most justifiable explanation for the inaction is encapsulated in the vibes around this team after a successful trip to Los Angeles that rendered a third win in four weeks. Perhaps the answer is that Bill Belichick agrees with what his players have been professing, and the Patriots are truly confident in what they’ve already got. “We’re building confidence in each other,” center David Andrews said after Sunday’s 27-24 win, echoing what’s been a common refrain recently, both from the players themselves and those around the team.

Once 1-3, they’re now 4-4, and firmly in the mix as one of 11 AFC teams within two games of the conference-leading Tennessee Titans (who just lost presumptive MVP candidate Derrick Henry, likely for the season).There’s a danger in fully trusting what’s in place at the deadline, especially given the way the glow of recent success can so easily create a mirage.

This summer, the Red Sox were roundly criticized after baseball’s trade deadline for not looking to build significantly on a team that spent most of the season’s first half in first place, and subsequently slumped their way through August. With the Patriots, though, there was no equivalent of the Yankees acquisition of Anthony Rizzo — who became a big part of the criticism levied against the Red Sox because he represented Boston getting beat to a low-cost, high-impact player at a position of need.

Advertisement:

The Patriots won’t have a comparable problem in post-deadline analysis. The NFL’s trade deadline was a dud, with not a lot happening after the Broncos sent Von Miller to the Rams for second- and third-round picks on Monday, and with all of the sexy names being bandied about the Twitter mill Tuesday eventually staying put. Even including Miller, there wasn’t a player moved that Patriots’ fans should feel disappointed that their team missed out on.

That is, except for Gilmore. Apparently, though, Gilmore was never going to work unless New England was willing to budge on his demands for a salary bump — and so now the pressure continues to ramp up on the players Belichick has entrusted and empowered. JC Jackson, playing for his own payday, needs to perform up to the standards of a true No. 1 corner. Joejuan Williams, the former second-round pick, has to be able to handle his role within the gameplan on a weekly basis. Jalen Mills has to live up to the expectations of a day-one free agent. Myles Bryant has to remain a steady, below-the-radar playmaker in his hybrid coverage role. They might need something from Shaun Wade, the rookie they traded for before the season began. Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips have to keep delivering the turning-point moments they’ve provided in recent weeks, and Devin McCourty has to be more than a leader.

It goes beyond the secondary, too. Deatrich Wise needs to give them more off the edge. Dont’a Hightower needs to step up his tackling at the linebacker level. The interior of the front seven needs to, generally, be far better against the run than it’s been over the first eight weeks.

Advertisement:

Even offensively, standing pat means moving forward with Brandon Bolden as a third-down back. It means they’re still thin along the offensive line, where they’re tested by injuries. It means they’re still lacking some speed in the receiving corps.

Additions at any of those spots would’ve been welcomed. It’s a 17-week war of attrition, and the Pats could’ve used reinforcements in a variety of spots up and down the roster — even as they enter the halfway point of the season in reasonably good health. Assets like speedy depth on offense, extra defensive backs, and big bodies for the trenches don’t typically cost much, even in a seller’s market where the vast majority of teams apparently believe they’re still in the mix.

But whatever it would’ve cost Tuesday, Belichick apparently didn’t think it was worth it. Or maybe, more simply, he didn’t think it would’ve constituted an upgrade. While many outside of Gillette Stadium saw the win over the Chargers as a signal that this .500 team was worth investing in, maybe the man in charge took it to mean his investment was starting to pay dividends. Maybe, in the wake of this surge, he’s realized he already had in-house what he needed to make a run. That his offseason spending spree, and the plan hatched back then, is worth following through.

Actions speak louder than words, and on Tuesday afternoon Belichick acted with a confidence in his team that surely didn’t seem to be there a month ago, when they called the Panthers. The coach appears to believe in this group. That message should be hammered home inside the building this week. Well, that, along with a reminder to not throw at No. 9 very often on Sunday. That guy’s pretty good, after all.

Conversation

This discussion has ended. Please join elsewhere on Boston.com