The Cincinnati Bengals traded fourth-year linebacker Marquis Flowers to the New England Patriots and so far I’ve come across three different reactions.
1) There’s fans that have praised the team for getting something in exchange for a guy who wasn’t going to make the roster.
2) There’s people who believe the Patriots robbed Cincinnati.
3) There’s people who think Flowers should have stayed in town with Vontaze Burfict suspended for the first three games of the season.
This piece is for the latter two groups of fans.
The Pats have a reputation of pulling amazing trades out of nowhere. They’ve obviously had some success; a lot of the contributors to all their Super Bowl runs have been players they actually traded for or drafted with a pick they got in a trade. That, combined with their coaching staff and team culture, has media and fans thinking the Patriots win every trade. As Bill Belichick loves to trade, there’s been many opportunities through his years in Foxboro to help sustain that mantra.
Flowers could add to that list of successes. He’s a very athletic linebacker who hasn’t played much with the Bengals during the early part of his career but has been a good special team piece, and we know Belichick loves his special teams.
The Cincinnati Enquirer reported an interesting nugget with regard to Flowers. Last season in the lead up to the Bengals versus Patriots, Belichick included the linebacker when discussing Cincinnati’s special teams.
“They have a good group of core players as well. Certainly [Vinny] Rey is one of the top linebackers in the league,” Belichick said. “They have a good group there with Flowers and [Clayton] Fejedelem.”
The former sixth-round pick is also enjoying his time in New England so far, so it seems like he could have a bigger role with the reigning Super Bowl champions in their title defense that starts on Thursday.
But the Bengals had good reasons to make the deal. Flowers was well behind rookie Jordan Evans and second-year player Nick Vigil and the coaching staff is in love with undrafted free agent Hardy Nickerson Jr. Flowers is set to become a free agent at season’s end, so either now or in a few months he was going to leave anyway. To get a seventh-round pick out of him is smart, especially since he wasn’t making the roster regardless of this trade, which is why the Bengals executed the move.
Was he under-coached in Cincinnati as some claim? I don’t know, but he’s had a few years to prove his worth and has failed to do so. Can an arguably better coaching staff take advantage of his athleticism? Maybe, but it’s no guarantee.
The Patriots trades don’t always work out. Sometimes even Belichick is unable to get the best of an athlete. You don’t have to go far back in time. In August, the Patriots traded with the Panthers for Kony Ealy and then released him days later. Just last season, they dealt for former first-round pick Barkevious Mingo and he was as disappointing as he’d been in Cleveland in the first three years of his career in the NFL. In 2015 they got former second-round pick Jon Bostic from Chicago and he got half a tackle in 11 games for New England. Defensive tackle Jerel Worthy was waived two weeks after getting traded from the Packers. So was wide receiver Greg Salas, formerly of the Bills. And Chad Johnson and Albert Haynesworth were low-risk bets that went wrong for the Patriots, too.
Along the way they got LeGarrette Blount, Aqib Talib and Martellus Bennett, but when you’re willing to deal often, there’s also a fairly long list of cost-controlled failures. They usually recover picks by trading back in the next drafts, so it doesn’t matter much if they waste a sixth-round pick. Other teams draft a kicker with a second round and then cut him the following season, cough...the Buccaneers.
Flowers could become a key special teamer for the Patriots, and that has value, of course, but unless he cracks the starting lineup and turns himself into a contributor on defense, the Bengals should have no regrets in letting him go.
He may have been able to help the Bengals with Burfict out for the first three games of the season, of course. But when Burfict was suspended in 2016 Flowers didn’t play a single snap, despite the fact that Rey Maualuga was horrible and Karlos Dansby was already past his prime. That wasn’t going to change this year. Cincinnati plays a lot of nickel and Vincent Rey, Nick Vigil and recently signed Kevin Minter will get almost the entirety of the snaps at linebacker in the first three games.
So, you can think the Patriots got a steal here, but Cincinnati didn’t have Flowers in the team’s plans anyway and a seventh-round is better than nothing. They can either package it and trade up in the next draft, or they can now maintain a seventh round pick since they’ll be sending their own seventh rounder next season to Jacksonville in exchange for Chris Smith (a trade the Bengals made earlier this offseason, which is looking great).
Just because the Patriots have had tremendous success under Belichick and just because they’ve managed to get some steals among all the trades—130 or so, that they’ve pulled in the past 17 years or so—doesn’t mean this is an ill-advised deal for the Bengals.