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The Patriots Are Buying Low and High on Potential

With the trade for tight end Dwayne Allen and the signing of cornerback Stephon Gilmore, New England acquires two talented players for vastly different prices

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The Deals

The Patriots reportedly acquired tight end Dwayne Allen and a sixth-round pick from the Colts in exchange for a fourth-round pick. They also reportedly signed free-agent cornerback Stephon Gilmore to an undisclosed deal rumored to land around $14 million annually.

The Appeal

After a strong rookie season in 2012 put Allen on what looked like a path to stardom, the 6-foot-3, 255-pound tight end’s career has foundered in Indianapolis. He’s struggled with various injuries since, sitting out all but one game in 2013 with a hip injury and then missing eight games over the past three years with various ailments. But he’s still just 27 and comes reasonably cheap: New England inherits the three years and $17.8 million left on the four-year deal he signed with the Colts last year. Plus, Allen caught 35 passes for 406 yards and six touchdowns in 14 games in 2016, a big improvement over a dismal 2015 season in which he caught just 16 passes for 109 yards, so his arrow may still be pointing up.

With Gilmore, the upside New England gets is an elite, lock-down cornerback with good size (6-foot, 190 pounds) and outstanding athleticism on the outside. After a rough start last year, the former Bill showed those traits in the second half, ending up with a career-high five interceptions on his way to a Pro Bowl nod.

The Fit

Here’s Bill Belichick back in 2014: “I’ve been really impressed with Allen’s blocking. I think he’s one of the best blocking tight ends we’ll see.” So New England likely views Allen as a top-tier blocking tight end, with the bonus potential as a red zone threat and chains-mover on third downs.

The Allen move also signals the end of tight end Martellus Bennett’s tenure in New England. Allen should become Rob Gronkowski’s backup but also function as a complementary dual-threat tight end, capable of lining up and blocking in the run game or splitting out wide to run routes in the slot or on the wing. He gives New England insurance in case of another Gronk injury, and he also provides offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels with the opportunity to continue running the two–tight end looks we saw last year before Gronk got hurt.

Meanwhile, as of now, Gilmore looks slated to replace cornerback Logan Ryan in base personnel on the outside as the no. 2 corner. But if a reported deal that would send Malcolm Butler to the Saints for wide receiver Brandin Cooks does happen, Gilmore may inherit the no. 1 job in New England.

The Verdict

With Allen, the Patriots are buying low on a player they likely feel still has a high ceiling. A fourth-round pick isn’t much to give up for a reliable role-playing contributor with upside as a starter. With a $4.9 million cap hit in 2017 and none of his deal guaranteed beyond this year, Allen comes cheap, too. In all, it’s low-risk move with a lot of potential.

Gilmore heads to Foxborough carrying a great deal more risk. With a price tag around $14 million a year, New England will be expecting to get the version of Gilmore that showed up in the second half of last season, and if the Patriots do, they’ll be getting one of the best cover cornerbacks and ball hawks in the league. But over his first eight games in 2017, Pro Football Focus ranked Gilmore 82nd among NFL cornerbacks as he struggled in coverage, far too often getting beat deep over the top. Gilmore bounced back in Buffalo’s final eight games after being called out by head coach Rex Ryan, but that inconsistent play is a big red flag for the Patriots. A little inconsistency from Gilmore might be acceptable if he’s New England’s no. 2 corner, but if New England deals Butler, it’s going to be asking the former Bill to do something he’s never done before: put together a full season of elite-level cornerback play while lining up against every opponent’s best receiver.