The lightning bolt that came of the clear blue sky this past weekend — Matt Cassel and Mike Vrabel to Kansas City for a second-round draft pick — got us thinking about the biggest deals in Patriots history. In no particular order, here’s our list of the five biggest trades in the history of the franchise, and how they worked out for New England:
1. April 29, 2007: Patriots send a fourth-round pick in that year’s draft to Oakland for wide receiver Randy Moss. The move was a stunner — Moss, thought to be a toxic character, joining Bill Belichick and New England? Wonder how long that’s going to last. But the combination of Moss and the Patriots has been brilliant. The last two years, the wide receiver has 34 touchdown catches, including a NFL-record 23 during the 2007 season. Working with Tom Brady, New England provided the perfect environment for Moss to resurrect his career, and he has given the Patriots’ franchise the first true deep threat since Stanley Morgan 30 years ago. He’s even managed to win over critics who’ve called him selfish by agreeing to re-work his contract on multiple occasions. Oakland used the fourth-round pick on John Bowie, a cornerback out of Cincinnati that is now a footnote in football history. Analysis: Moss has been everything the Patriots hoped he would be. Grade: A.
2. April 21, 2002: Patriots send quarterback Drew Bledsoe to Buffalo for the Bills’ first-round pick in 2003. Through the 1990s, Bledsoe was an integral part of the rise of the franchise, eventually helping them to an AFC title. But that all went out the window during the 2001 season. After suffering an injury in September 2001, Brady stepped in, and the rest was history. By the end of the season, the writing was on the wall: Bledsoe had one foot out of town by the end of the run to Super Bowl XXXVI — he skipped out on the celebration at City Hall. With Brady’s success, the former face of the franchise was expendable, and it was hardly a shocker when he was traded as part of a draft-day deal. The surprise came when he was packaged to an AFC East rival in Buffalo for the Bills’ first-round pick the following spring. Things looked bleak after the season opener when Bledsoe and fellow ex-Patriot Lawyer Milloy combined to carve up the New England 31-0, but by the end of the season, Buffalo was a mess. Bledsoe spent three years in Buffalo before moving on to Dallas and then, into retirement. The Patriots ended up packaging the pick Buffalo returned to them in exchange for Bledsoe (the 14th overall selection) as part of a deal with the Bears that netted them defensive lineman Ty Warren with the 13th overall pick in the 2003 draft. Analysis: A puzzling move in the short-term (dealing a quarterback to a division rival had some puzzling over Belichick’s sanity) turned out to be a great long-term move. Warren has become an important part of New England’s defensive front. Grade: A.
3. February 28, 2009: Patriots send quarterback Matt Cassel and linebacker Mike Vrabel to Kansas City for a second-round pick. See here for the details. Grade: Incomplete.
4. April 5, 1976: Patriots send quarterback Jim Plunkett to San Francisco for four draft picks and quarterback Tom Owen. New England shipped the Heisman Trophy winner to the 49ers for a whopping four selections — two first-round picks later that month, and a first- and a second-round pick in 1977 — which it parlayed into defensive back Tim Fox, offensive lineman Pete Brock, defensive back Raymond Clayborn and running back Horace Ivory. The sheer number of impact players merits inclusion on any list of memorable Patriots’ deals. Analysis: Plunkett would go on to win a Super Bowl with the Raiders, but the four players acquired with the draft picks were a sizable part of the nucleus that led to the success New England enjoyed in the late 1970s. Grade: B-.
5. November 11, 1983: Not technically a trade, but we’ll throw it in here because it involved a future Hall of Famer in Mike Haynes, who played out his option with the Patriots in 1982. In November 1983, his contract was awarded to the Los Angeles Raiders in a settlement that gave New England a No. 1 draft choice in 1984 and a No. 2 pick in 1985. The Raiders’ first-round choice in 1984 was eventually traded to Cincinnati (along with three other choices) for the first overall pick in the 1984 draft, which was used to select wide receiver Irving Fryar. Haynes, who was taken with New England’s first pick in the 1976 draft, was a magnificent talent. The future Hall of Famer had eight interceptions as a rookie, and eventually made the Pro Bowl an amazing nine times. Meanwhile, the talented but erratic Fryar had a star-crossed nine-year run in Foxborough that included a Pro Bowl and a conference championship, but also featured a car crash and a fight with his wife that resulted in Fryar’s hand being slashed the week of the 1986 AFC Championship. After the Patriots traded him to Miami in 1993, the wide receiver ended up making a remarkable turnaround, ultimately enjoying 17 years in the NFL and retiring in 2000 with 851 career receptions. Analysis: The deal turned out to be a lousy one for New England, but would have been better if Fryar had gotten his act together when he was in New England. Grade: D.
Honorable mention — April 19, 2004: Patriots send a second-round pick in the 2004 draft to Cincinnati for running back Corey Dillon. Much like Moss, Dillon was considered a malcontent, an untouchable that would poison the atmosphere in New England. And while the running wasn’t always the most positive guy in the locker room, he produced on the field, churning his way for 1,635 yards in his first (and best) season with the Patriots. In his three years in New England, Dillon finished with 3,180 rushing yards, 39 touchdowns and 8,032 uncomfortable situations with the New England media. The Bengals used the pick they got from the Patriots to take cornerback Madieu Williams, who has played for Cincinnati and Arizona in his five years in the league. Analysis: Dillon gave the Patriots one great year and a couple of mediocre ones at the end of his career. But when you consider what the Patriots gave up to get him, it was worth it. Grade: A.
Also receiving votes — October 13, 1987: Patriots obtain quarterback Doug Flutie from Chicago in exchange for their 1988 eighth-round selection. April 27, 1982: Two deals took place that involved two of the franchise cornerstones through the late 1970s and early 1980s. The first one saw the Patriots send Fox to San Diego for the Chargers’ second-round draft choice in 1982 and their third-round choice in 1983. In addition, on that same day, the Patriots sent tight end Russ Francis and their second-round draft pick in 1982 to San Francisco for the 49ers first, both seconds and fourth-round draft choices in 1982. One of the two second-round picks was used on future Hall of Fame linebacker Andre Tippett.
Christopher Price covers the Patriots for WEEI.com.