The New England Patriots traded running back Pierre Strong Jr. to Cleveland for offensive tackle (OT) Tyrone Wheatley Jr. It's less earth-shattering than a minor tremor. It's also an acknowledgment of another draft flop.
Strong was drafted in 2022 in the fourth round. That's a significant, if not a premium, investment in the player. He did little last season with a mere 100 yards on 15 carries and a touchdown and seven catches for 42 yards. Even for a rookie, as a fourth-round pick, that left a lot to be desired.
Strong evidently didn't impress the new offensive Coordinator, Bil O'Brien, much, and the Pats' pulled the trigger on the trade with Cleveland. While it takes time on occasion for a running back to impress (think James White back in the day), the team decided nevertheless to quickly part ways with Strong.
The "good news," if there is any in the deal, is that the Patriots are finally getting off the dime and seeking to address a position numerous observers have pointed out: the offensive tackle position. How well they did is yet to be seen, and nothing is guaranteed.
New England Patriots trade for offensive tackle Tyrone Wheatley Jr.
This deal comes on the heels of the Pats' recent signing of offensive tackle Micah Vanderpool. Waiver-wire types predominate at right tackle and as the Patriot's backup tackles. Vanderpool fits the description. But what about Wheatley? Can he be a difference-maker?
The bad news is that Wheatley was undrafted last season and spent the entire year on the Denver Broncos practice squad. Don't expect him to light the world on fire. Yet, sending a 4th round pick out the door after only one season has its implications.
First, it acknowledges another draft gaffe by Bill Belichick and company in a hurry. With that in mind, they must really have thought very little of the player. He evidently had been surpassed on the depth chart by diminutive but exciting J.J. Taylor, who will likely make the 53-man roster.
Also, to trade a fourth-round pick for an undrafted player who has never played an NFL down also makes a similar statement. Wheatley has to be considered as no more than throwing mud against the wall and hoping some of it sticks. At least the idea makes some sense since the New England Patriots have totally botched bolstering the OT position in the 2023 offseason.
New England Patriots must see something in Wheatley
Cleveland fans will be whooping it up and laughing over securing a fourth-round pick (if not value) in Strong for a practice squad player, as they should. On the surface, the optics for the New England Patriots are horrendous.
This smacks of another desperate move by the Patriots, but not the one(s) they need. The team didn't sign a top free agent tackle to pair with Trent Brown, and then they totally neglected drafting any tackles whatsoever with any of their 12 draft picks as current backups and for the future. The Pats went on the cheap, signing or re-signing waiver-wire types who can't play.
As for Wheatley, he fits the size profile at 6'6" tall and weighing 320 pounds. Yet, he's also older at 26 years old. Hopefully, Pats' former offensive line coach par excellence, Dante Scarnecchia, was involved in scouting this deal. Otherwise, this is nothing more than another flier on a player who no one else thinks can play much at all. So much for a big signing.
There is a glint of good news. At least now, finally, the seemingly perplexed Patriots' personnel operation realizes they bungled the second most important position on the offense, the tackles. The team has been wracked with sacks allowed by the depth pieces in the pre-season.
They'd better hope that Brown stays healthy and someone can step in to play right tackle. If not, expect quarterback Mac Jones to be flattened early and often. If so, the only refuge will be to install Malik Cuningham as the starter (if they keep him on the roster!) and take your chances with a dual-threat type who can evade the rush.
Maybe Wheatley will perform, maybe not, But if he can't make the final 53-man roster, it's nothing more than a languid attempt by Bill Belichick to bail the team out. It's been an offseason littered with miscues and fails at the offensive tackle position. And they've done little to rectify the predicament at all.