NFL News & Analysis

NFL Rumor Roundup: Trade candidates, Mac Jones-Bailey Zappe status with Patriots and more

Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) at the line of scrimmage against the Carolina Panthers in the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

  • Mac Jones’ health: The New England Patriots QB is 85-to-90% and has been open to playing through his high ankle sprain.
  • Trade deadline candidates: Patriots wide receiver Kendrick Bourne is dealing with turf toe that won’t require surgery and has drawn interest from other teams ahead of the NFL trade deadline.
  • Seattle Seahawks‘ draft haul: Seahawks rookies are playing a high rate of snaps even earlier than the team expected.
Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

MAC JONES GETTING CLOSER TO FULL HEALTH

Jones has missed the New England Patriots’ last three games due to a high ankle sprain, but one source close to the situation put his health at 85-to-90% as of Tuesday afternoon. Jones suffered the injury at the end of Week 3, and his timeline for recovery was expected to take six weeks. The Patriots will get an extra day of rest before taking on the Chicago Bears at Gillette Stadium on Monday night in Week 7. Ultimately, the decision on Jones' availability for Monday will continue to come from the team’s medical staff. Jones has been open to playing through injury.

The Patriots are 2-1 in Jones’ absence. They lost a Week 4 matchup against the Green Bay Packers in which Brian Hoyer started but suffered a concussion early in the game. Rookie Bailey Zappe relieved Hoyer and took the game to overtime, but some conservative decisions by New England came back to bite the team in the loss.

Zappe has gone on to win his two starts against the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns, and head coach Bill Belichick hasn’t disclosed whether Jones will regain his job when fully healthy.

As one source described the approach, whether or not Belichick is actually serious that Zappe could continue to start when Jones is fully ready, it would be best for Jones to interpret it that way.

“Competition is a good thing.”

And no, Belichick isn’t doing this because Jones is getting big-headed or “needs to be humbled,” as The Boston Globe’s Ben Volin surmised Monday. Jones is a confident player, but there's no concern about his level of commitment. Jones eats and (barely) sleeps football.

However, it has been interesting to see the Patriots’ offense shift under Zappe. As I wrote in Tuesday’s “buy or sell” piece, New England is leaning much more on play action, screens and short passes with Zappe at quarterback, and that’s led to both fewer big-time throws and turnover-worthy plays from the rookie.

The Patriots installed elements of a new scheme this summer under the leadership of Belichick, offensive line coach Matt Patricia and quarterbacks coach Joe Judge, and New England ran it with Jones at QB through the first three weeks of the season. Then when Jones went down with his ankle injury, they went back to a simplified version of their offense with Zappe and found success. New England ranks third in EPA per play over the last two weeks. They were 22nd in Jones' three starts.

A source indicated that Jones would welcome a middle ground between the aggressive approach New England was using with him at quarterback and the safer and more efficient plays Zappe has been running. More play action, in particular, would benefit Jones. In Sunday’s win over the Browns, it was interesting to see the Patriots use play action to get their two tight ends involved. Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith combined for two catches on three targets for 84 yards with a touchdown using play action.

For Zappe, as I wrote in Tuesday’s column, one high-ranking AFC personnel executive believes New England will eventually be able to fetch a draft pick in a trade for the 2022 fourth-round pick. One reason why? He’s proven that he’s not simply a one-game wonder. It was significant to see Zappe not only continuing to play well in Week 6 but also significantly improving. He also was able to spread the ball around in New England’s offense on Sunday.

The Patriots traded quarterback Jacoby Brissett to the Indianapolis Colts for wide receiver Phillip Dorsett before the 2017 season, which was just Brissett’s second year in the NFL. It’s possible the Patriots could take a similar approach if they elect to trade Zappe, but it was a slightly different situation. Brissett hadn’t played as well as Zappe as a rookie in 2016 and struggled during training camp the following summer. Zappe could be a cheap and effective backup for Jones through the 2025 season.

It’s interesting to look back at the trade that netted New England Zappe during the 2022 NFL Draft. The Carolina Panthers traded up from No. 137 overall using a 2023 third-round pick in a deal with the Patriots for the 94th overall pick. Carolina wound up selecting quarterback Matt Corral, who’s now out for the season with a foot injury, out of Ole Miss at No. 94 overall.

The Patriots stayed put at No. 137 and selected Zappe. The third-round pick that New England received in the deal is currently the 64th overall selection in the 2023 NFL Draft. What a steal.

It seems completely out of the realm of possibility for the Patriots to trade Jones at this point, but they could probably fetch a significant haul since 60 percent of his rookie contract has already been paid out by New England.


TRADE DEADLINE CANDIDATES

RB Cam Akers , Los Angeles Rams

Rams head coach Sean McVay said Monday that they’re looking to move Akers to a new team. One source believed LA could get a pick swap back for the 2020 second-round pick. 

Why? “He's talented and that's a plug-and-play position this time of year.”

CB Bryce Hall, New York Jets

Hall was identified as another potential trade candidate by a source. He started all 17 games last season as a second-year veteran and has been a healthy scratch for five straight weeks now.

The 6-foot-1, 202-pound Virginia product earned a 64.5 overall coverage grade last season and didn’t allow a touchdown in man coverage.

Green Bay Packers WR options

In what’s become an annual tradition, one league source identified the Packers as a team that could make a splash move at wide receiver. It’s worth noting that they showed interest in Odell Beckham Jr. — who’s once again available — when he was a free agent last season. They’d have to be willing to increase their offer this year, however. It seems incredibly unlikely that the Panthers would be willing to trade wide receiver D.J. Moore after just signing him to an affordable contract extension this offseason, but he’d fit Green Bay’s offense well.

New England Patriots‘ trade options

We reported last month that the Patriots had drawn trade interest in their wide receiver corps, and that, understandably, includes the wide receiver Kendrick Bourne‘s services. Why? Bourne has proven to be a starting-caliber wide receiver, and he’s fallen out of favor in the Patriots’ new offensive hierarchy. He’s also affordable with under $9 million due over the next two seasons. One source didn’t think a trade was likely, however, since Bourne is a good player on a team-friendly contract.

He’s currently dealing with a turf toe injury that won’t require surgery, according to a source. He’s day-to-day with the ailment, and it will ultimately be up to the Patriots whether they want to play him. Bourne’s injury, plus a hamstring ailment that kept Nelson Agholor sidelined in Week 6, has made New England’s once deep wide receiver look more shallow.

The Patriots still have Jakobi Meyers, DeVante Parker and rookie Tyquan Thornton healthy on the active roster. They also have Lil’Jordan Humphrey, Lynn Bowden Jr. and Tre Nixon on their practice squad. Humphrey and Bowden both have regular-season experience.

Out of the Patriots’ wide receiver corps, Meyers and Agholor both are set to hit free agency next offseason, which would leave Parker, Thornton and Bourne on the active roster.

Agholor remains the most logical wideout for New England to trade, but getting a team to take on his $9 million salary would prove to be difficult.

Patriots right tackle Isaiah Wynn is struggling this season after moving over from the left side this offseason. He’s making $10 million this season, and that would be a difficult contract to move in a potential trade. New England also would be left shallow at offensive tackle with Trent Brown and Marcus Cannon on the active roster and Yodny Cajuste on injured reserve. Starting right guard Michael Onwenu can also play offensive tackle.

CB William Jackson III, Washington Commanders

Jackson denied reports he wants to be traded Tuesday. One source believed Jackson’s contract would be difficult to move in a deal, as well. He’s due $15.9 million over the next two years.


SEATTLE SEAHAWKS’ IMPRESSIVE DRAFT HAUL

Seahawks rookies have the most combined offensive and defensive snaps over the first six weeks of the season with six starters – running back Kenneth Walker, left tackle Charles Cross, right tackle Abraham Lucas and edge defender Boye Mafe in addition to cornerbacks Tariq Woolen and Coby Bryant – coming from the 2022 draft class. Those players are actually stepping up even sooner than the team expected, according to one source.

The Seahawks didn’t make any changes to their approach in the draft, according to a source. They were looking for their typical players who would come in to compete with the goal “to be great.”

It seems like they landed at least six of them in what could turn out to be their best draft class since 2012, when they landed Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner and Russell Wilson, among others.

Seattle drafted Russell Okung, Earl Thomas, Golden Tate, Kam Chancellor, K.J. Wright, Richard Sherman, Irvin, Wagner and Wilson over a three-year span from 2010 to 2012. Some of their draft hauls since have been more meager, but 2022 was a vintage return to form for general manager John Schneider, head coach Pete Carroll and the Seahawks scouting department.

Woolen is currently +800 to win defensive rookie of the year with four interceptions in the last four weeks. He has the fourth-shortest odds behind New York Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner, New York Giants edge defender Kayvon Thibodeaux and Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Devin Lloyd. Walker is +750 to win offensive rookie of the year behind Jets running back Breece Hall and Houston Texans running back Dameon Pierce.

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