Last night I predicted that the New England Patriots would definitely address their need at defensive tackle rather than focusing on the receiver position, and sure enough, this afternoon, they picked up a massive defensive lineman. .
Like last year’s trade for Aqib Talib, the Patriots waited until the waning moments of the deadline to deal a 5th round pick to the Philadelphia Eagles for nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga and a 6th round pick.
Even if Sopoaga is a total bust, the Patriots barely gave up anything for him, moving down what will probably be around 10-15 picks for the 32-year old lineman. He takes up barely any cap space as well, as the Patriots will only pay him $529,000 this year, and then two nonguaranteed years afterwards at $3.5 million. At the very least, the Patriots gave up very little for a big body.
The upside, however, is that Sopoaga could very well be much more than that. Sopoaga, who was drafted by San Francisco in 2004, played for 8 seasons in their base 3-4 defense, primarily as a run-stuffing nose tackle, and was part of San Francisco’s dominant defensive units that propelled them to a deep playoff run last year.
So what do we expect out of the new acquisition? Well, while he may be built like Wilfork (6-2, 330), New England fans shouldn’t be expecting Sopoaga to be a complete replacement for the Patriots’ defensive leader. His production with Philadelphia was pretty limited, and they seem content in handing the reins over to rookie DL Bennie Logan in his stead. That being said, he’s a veteran player who should mesh very well with the Patriots locker room, and will definitely be an improvement in stopping the run on 1st and 2nd down.
One interesting repercussion could be whether or not this move will shift the Patriots to a 3-4 base defense instead of the 4-3 which they’ve utilized for a chunk of the season. We could see Rob Ninkovich move to OLB, while either Joe Vellano/Chris Jones shifts to the end position, or they pair Andre Carter with Chandler Jones, and have Sopoaga in the middle. I’m also confident that, if asked to, Sopoaga could play well in the 4-3 should they want to keep Vellano or Jones in the middle (especially because of their apparent talent for getting to the QB) or to pair him with a returning Tommy Kelly.
What Sopoaga does bring to the Patriots is depth and options. Will he be a game-changing presence in New England? Maybe not. But he’s a vet, he’s huge, and he’s played on a team in San Francisco that valued run defense quite highly. And for what they gave up for him, Sopoaga is the perfect low-risk/high-upside acquisition.
For the second year in a row, it seems that Bill Belichick and co. have pulled a home run trade at the last seconds of deadline day.
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