The Patriots have arrived in Miami with the team making a few roster moves for Sunday's divisional matchup against the Dolphins.
The Patriots have downgraded pass-rusher Josh Uche (ankle/toe) and OL Vederian Lowe (ankle) to out. Those two did not make the trip with the team to South Beach. The team also elevated veteran OT Conor McDermott from the practice squad for Sunday's game vs. the Dolphins. As a refresher, the six players who made the trip that remain questionable are DL Christian Barmore (knee), OT Trent Brown (ankle/knee), DB Jonathan Jones (knee), CB Shaun Wade (shoulder), DL Keion White (concussion), and DL Deatrich Wise (shoulder).
As fellow 2020 day-two pick Anfernee Jennings has played well in his absence, trade rumors are swirling around pass-rusher Josh Uche with the NFL trade deadline on Halloween this season. Now, Uche will miss his second consecutive game. According to ESPN's Jeremy Fowler, Uche's name has come up in trade discussions with teams around the league.
The former second-round pick has two sacks with 17 quarterback pressures in six games, which isn't eye-popping production, but it's still decent enough coming off a double-digit sack season to create a market. With top pass-rusher Matthew Judon out for the foreseeable future, trading Uche would certainly test New England's depth on the edge of its defense. Jennings is becoming a solid contributor, leading all edge defenders with 11 stops since Week 3, and rookie Keion White will have a role moving forward. Still, behind those two, there isn't much depth if you essentially remove both their name-brand rushers from the equation.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick needs to be realistic about this season. If the former second-rounder isn't part of the team's plans as a pending free agent, Belichick has to consider offers for Uche. However, as a productive rusher when available, the return still matters. We wouldn't take anything less than a 2024 fourth-round pick for Uche and would drive a hard bargain for a day-two pick in return.
New England still wants to be competitive this season, and it's not inconceivable for them to make a playoff push. The pass rush hasn't been impactful in two out of three games since Judon went down with a torn biceps in Week 4. Although he doesn't completely tip the scales, an Uche trade leaves the cupboard barren of impact edge rushers who create one-on-one mismatches. We'd answer the phone and listen, but again, the return has to make sense in the short and long term — shrewd teams don't give away good players.
There's a growing narrative that the Patriots won't re-sign Uche in the offseason, making a trade more plausible. Sure, his stats could price him out of New England, while the Pats view him as a situational pass-rusher rather than a three-down player. But with plenty of projected cap space next offseason, there's also a world where other teams agree that Uche is a part-time player, or the sacks don't come for him this season, and he has a softer market.
Ultimately, we shouldn't make any grand proclamations. None of us can see into the future, and there are sound arguments for trading and keeping Uche. The argument for keeping him, other than his on-field contributions, is that a 32-year-old Judon will be entering a contract year in 2024 following a "hold in" this past summer. Judon's situation is very similar to Stephon Gilmore's in the 2020-21 seasons when the Pats ended up trading Gilmore in the final year of his contract. It's not a 100% fact that Uche won't be on the Patriots roster in 2024.
Returning to Dolphins prep, the Patriots elevated OT Conor McDermott from the practice squad. With the team ruling out backup tackles Calvin Anderson and Vederian Lowe, and starter Trent Brown banged up, the Pats shore up their depth by elevating McDermott for this one.
McDermott, who was released from injured reserve in September, signed with the Patriots practice squad last week after the terms of his injury settlement were met. Last season, McDermott made six starts at right tackle for New England, allowing zero sacks and 11 quarterback pressures. The veteran journeyman is an upgrade over Anderson and Lowe as a backup. But the best guess here is that the Patriots will stick with the offensive line combination that sparked an offensive breakthrough in last week's win. That means Michael Onwenu will remain at right tackle, with rookie Sidy Sow at right guard and a now fully healthy Cole Strange at left guard. Left tackle Trent Brown told reporters he expects to play, while captain David Andrews will be at the pivot as usual.
Based on last season, McDermott is a starting option at right tackle if the team feels like moving Onwenu back to guard, with Sow returning to the bench is their best five. However, that would be the Pats seventh starting offensive line combination in eight games, so with an eye toward continuity, continuing with last week's group makes the most sense.
The last piece to the puzzle offensively will be at the wide receiver position. The Pats have seven healthy wideouts on the 53-man roster, along with WR/RB Ty Montgomery. Typically, the Pats would dress five wide receivers plus Montgomery, meaning two receivers would be healthy scratches if that pattern continues this week.
With the Patriots signing former first-rounder Jalen Reagor to the active roster, it would make sense for the groupings to look similar to last week. That suggests rookie Kayshon Boutte will be a healthy inactive for the seventh-straight game, leaving either JuJu Smith-Schuster, who is healthy after clearing concussion protocol, and second-year WR Tyquan Thornton as possibilities to be inactive.
According to ESPN's new metric, Smith-Schuster ranks 109th out of 109 pass-catchers in overall efficiency as one of the least effective wideouts in the NFL. Thornton, on the other hand, only logged three snaps vs. the Bills, with Reagor passing him on the depth chart. The Pats may have six active wide receivers, but it wouldn't be shocking if Smith-Schuster or Thornton were a healthy inactive.
For the Dolphins, Miami has activated star cornerback Jalen Ramsey from injured reserve. Ramsey is now on track to make his season debut after missing the first seven games with a knee injury. However, Miami ruled out starting safety Javon Holland (concussion), a break for the Pats, as Holland is one of the best safeties in the NFL.
The Patriots options for the game-day roster are now set ahead of a divisional matchup with the Dolphins on Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium.