Training camp is just around the corner and for most players on the New England Patriots, this signifies a new chance for another great season. However, that could not be further from the truth for Malcolm Mitchell. According to several reports, Mitchell is currently on the trade block and the Patriots are testing out his market. While Mitchell has shown flashes of brilliance in his young NFL career, he has also struggled to stay on the field. This begs the question, what could the Patriots receive in a Malcolm Mitchell trade?
The #Patriots have been seeking a potential trade partner for WR Malcolm Mitchell, per sources. Flashed talent with 32 catches in 2016 but injuries have been frustrating. May be odd man out in New England, even with Julian Edelman’s suspension.
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) July 23, 2018
Examining the Malcolm Mitchell trade market
The Sellable Asset
If the Patriots are going to market Mitchell, they will definitely center the conversation around his fantastic rookie season. Mitchell first arrived in New England as a fourth-round draft pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. As a rookie, Mitchell exceeded all expectations, hauling in 32 passes for 401 yards and four touchdowns. 2016 was a success by just about every measure, as he had one of the most successful rookie seasons of any receiver in the Bill Belichick era.
Mitchell’s finest stretch of 2016 came from weeks 9-12, when the rookie recorded 21 receptions for 263 yards and all four of his touchdowns. While a knee injury limited his production later in the season, Mitchell returned for the playoffs and had a phenomenal Super Bowl. Mitchell recorded six receptions for 70 yards, with the majority of his production coming in the fourth quarter during the Patriots 28-3 comeback. His ability to beat man coverage and consistently win on the perimeter was paramount to the Patriots historic comeback. Were it not for Mitchell, the Atlanta Falcons would have been Super Bowl 51 champions.
Nobody can deny Mitchell’s natural talent. When he healthy, he has the potential to be a consistent chain mover on the perimeter. He has the size and strength to beat man coverage and runs tight, precise routes. If he can stay on the field, Mitchell has the value of a solid number two receiver. However, keeping him on the field has been a problem.
While Mitchell has the skillset to thrive in the NFL, there’s a very real chance he’s already played his last snap. The receiver suffered a knee injury during the 2016 season and has yet to recover from it. While he played through it for the 2016 playoff run, he’s remained sidelined ever since.
It’s also a terrible sign that Mitchell has re-injures his knee every time he tests it out. Mitchell appeared in one game during the 2017 pre-season in an effort to be ready for the season opener. Instead, Mitchell re-aggravated the knee and was put on the injured reserve. Mitchell returned to the practice field late in the 2017 season and looked like he could return for the playoffs. However, for the second time, Mitchell’s knee acted up and he couldn’t return to the field.
This troublesome trend continued into 2018. Mitchell was present and practicing during the first session of New England’s off-season training activities. While his knee was heavily bandaged, he was still able to perform basic drills with his teammates. Once again though, that was the last anyone saw of Mitchell. The oft-injured receiver missed the rest of OTA’s and the entirety of the mandatory minicamp.
Where We Are Now
Training camp starts up in a few days, and things still look bad for Mitchell. While New England kept him off the Physically Unable to Perform list, his season is in jeopardy. According to Mark Daniels of the Providence Journal, Mitchell has undergone yet another knee surgery. While he could still play in 2018, it doesn’t look likely.
Malcolm Mitchell isn't expected to be on the field to start training camp. He had a procedure on his knee today, according to a source. His season looks to be in jeopardy.
— Mark Daniels (@MarkDanielsPJ) July 23, 2018
Knee injuries have always been part of the deal with Mitchell. Mitchell underwent two serious knee injuries in college, including an ACL tear in 2013. His injury-prone knees were a big reason for his slide in the NFL Draft. Even if Mitchell can overcome the injury which sidelined him for over a year, chances are another injury is just around the corner. The Patriots know this, and any team wanting to trade for him know this too.
So What’s His Value?
So what can the Patriots expect to get for Mitchell in any sort of a trade? Mitchell is a special talent when healthy, but there’s no guarantee he’ll ever be healthy again. Players like this have a very interesting market. On the one hand, the Patriots won’t want to give up a solid player for nothing. On the other hand, any team interested in Mitchell won’t give up any major assets for a guy who may never see the field.
Interestingly enough, the Patriots have been down a similar road before. Back in the 2016 off-season, New England tried to trade away center Bryan Stork. While Stork wasn’t as good a center as Mitchell is a receiver, the two players underwent similar career paths. Stork missed the early part of his rookie season before stepping into the starting lineup in Week Four of the 2014 season. His presence helped solidify a then-terrible offensive line in route to a Super Bowl victory.
However, a series of concussions kept Stork out of the lineup for large stretches at a time. New England eventually decided to test Stork’s market and shipped the center to the Washington Redskins for a conditional seventh-round pick. However, Stork failed his physical and the trade fell through. The Patriots ended up releasing Stork and the center has been out of football ever since.
Expect a similar market for Mitchell. No team will give up any meaningful resource for a guy like Mitchell. While he has a higher ceiling than Stork, his injury woes are probably worse. While concussions are no laughing matter, Stork was able to make it on the field, albeit inconsistently. The same cannot be said for Mitchell.
What Should New England Do?
Since the price of Mitchell is so low, it’s probably best for the Patriots to hold on to the injury-prone receiver. While there’s no guarantee he’ll ever be healthy again, he’s too good to give up for essentially nothing.
Mitchell is still on his rookie contract, so it’s not like he’s taking up much cap space. Per OverTheCap.com, cutting Mitchell would only create $630,000 in cap room. In today’s NFL, that’s essentially nothing. If he can’t play in 2018, New England should just put him on the injured reserve for a second consecutive season. The only reason the Patriots should look to trade him is if they are convinced he can never play football again. A conditional seventh-round pick and minimal cap savings don’t offset the cost of losing Mitchell’s potential.
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