For the second time in the final weeks before the 2016 regular season, the New England Patriots traded for another team’s disappointing draft pick. This time, the Patriots acquired defensive back Eric Rowe from the Philadelphia Eagles.
Rowe, 23, was a second-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, but battled through a rough start to his professional career. In his first extended action, the former Utah standout was tasked with stopping Calvin Johnson, but the Detroit Lions receiver finished with three touchdowns in a Thanksgiving Day domination.
The cornerback didn’t step up his play in the offseason, though. He struggled to improve his technique, slipped on the depth chart and new Eagles coach Doug Pederson talked about Rowe battling through "hiccups."
"He's learning a new defense and new techniques this year from [Jim Schwartz’s defense]," Pederson told reporters at the beginning of training camp. "And there were some hiccups in the road a little bit this offseason and he was pulled back a little bit, but you just want to see that growth and that development with any player on your roster."
At 6’1, 204 pounds, Rowe has been between cornerback and safety, and never completely settled in to either position. While the Eagles pegged him at cornerback, it remains to be seen if the Patriots see him the same way.
Acquiring Rowe is a roll of the dice for the Patriots. In return, they gave up a 2018 fourth-round pick that could turn into a third-rounder. (At first, it was reported that guard Josh Kline was headed to Philadelphia, but the Patriots released him instead.)
But taking risks on talented, but underwhelming players is a staple of Bill Belichick’s Patriots.
Less than two weeks ago, New England sent a fifth-round pick to the Cleveland Browns for Barkevious Mingo, a former top-10 draft pick who never panned out as an elite pass rusher. It remains to be seen how he’ll do with the Patriots, but the early returns are very promising.
Back in March, the Patriots picked up another 2013 top-10 pick by trading away Chandler Jones for Cooper.
But long before the 2016 offseason, the Patriots took chances on other teams’ early draft picks like Aqib Talib, Jonathan Bostic, Jerel Worthy and Akeem Ayers. Some of the moves proved to be prophetic, as Talib turned his career around to become one of the NFL’s most elite cornerbacks before leaving to join the Denver Broncos in free agency. But most of the players didn’t figure things out in New England.
For a franchise with a reputation for swindling teams out of draft picks, the Patriots haven’t shied away from sending away selections. But after 13 consecutive seasons of double-digit wins in the regular season, Belichick has earned the benefit of the doubt for every move he makes.