In a rare trade within the AFC East, the Patriots are dealing receiver Demaryius Thomas to the Jets in exchange for a 2021 sixth-round draft pick, ESPN reported on Tuesday.
In many ways, the move makes sense. Thomas, 31, is a solid veteran who had his best years in Denver under now-Jets head coach Adam Gase, who was the receivers coach and then offensive coordinator for the Broncos during much of Thomas’s time there.
Thomas also was caught in a logjam at receiver with the Patriots, who cleared a pathway for first-round pick N’Keal Harry to get playing time when he comes off injured reserve.
In one way, though, it’s surprising. Bill Belichick has never traded with the Jets as head coach of the Patriots. In-division trades are rare in the NFL, but Belichick has made two of them in the past two weeks. He traded with the Bills to acquire center Russell Bodine, who was released last Friday a week after he was acquired. Before the Thomas trade, the Jets were the only NFL team the Belichick Patriots had not traded with.
New York will be Thomas’s fourth team in less than a year. He began last season in Denver but was traded midseason to the Texans. He finished the year on IR after tearing his Achilles’ in December, then signed a one-year deal with the Patriots in April.
Thomas spent most of training camp on the PUP list but made his debut in the fourth preseason game, where he caught 7 of 8 targets for 87 yards. The Patriots didn’t include him on their initial 53-man roster but re-signed him on Sept. 2, two days after his cut day. The maneuver allowed New England to avoid putting Harry on season-ending IR and instead put him on the designated-to-return IR list.
“I actually feel a lot better now,” Thomas said after his lone preseason performance. “Before the injury, I was a little smaller. But I’m a little heavier, a little stronger. The program we’ve been doing here has helped out a lot, so I feel great.”
When the Patriots agreed to terms with Antonio Brown on Saturday, it was difficult to envision Thomas being a major part of the offense. Before the trade, New England had seven receivers on its roster in Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon, Brown, Thomas, Phillip Dorsett, Jakobi Meyers, and Gunner Olszewski. They also have insurance in the form of Harry and Cameron Meredith on IR and PUP, respectively.
“I wish we could just wave a wand and all of that would happen, but unfortunately I don’t really see how that would happen,” Belichick said last week when asked if there was a simple way for receivers who missed time in camp to catch up. “We’ll have to do whatever everyone that’s been here for a number of weeks has been doing, go out there and get the reps together and get our timing and develop that consistency and continuity and confidence on the field.”
Thomas wasn’t active Sunday against the Steelers, an indication he would have had a hard time getting snaps even without Brown, and before Harry potentially returns. The Jets were looking to upgrade their receiving corps, which makes the trade a good fit. Belichick also has a good relationship with Gase.
Still, given the Patriots know better than anyone where Thomas is physically, there had to be some trepidation in New York over making the deal.