The New England Patriots are 3-4 after a brutal home loss to the Chicago Bears on Monday night. A supposedly healthy Damien Harris barely saw the field, ceding most of the touches to the younger Rhamondre Stevenson. The question, then, is whether New England will trade Harris before the Nov. 1 trade deadline.
The following walks through why the Patriots would make such a move, and which teams might pay the most for Harris’ services.
Will the Patriots Trade Damien Harris?
Several factors contribute to the strong probability that Harris will play for another team by Week 9. Here’s the rationale for New England parting ways with a 25-year-old who dominated last season, thrived early this season, and still presumably has plenty left in the tank.
Impending Free Agent
Harris’ rookie contract will expire early next year. Last preseason, with a backfield chock full of talent, this franchise unloaded 26-year-old, two-year starter Sony Michel for a fourth- and sixth-round picks. The move made room for rookie Rhamondre Stevenson to flex his muscles in a backfield now led by Harris. It also ensured the Pats received value for a capable RB who would have walked after the season.
Fast-forward 14 months, and we’ve come full circle — except this time, Harris is the impending free agent. And while the backfield is no longer “chock full of talent,” New England likely planned for this contingency all along.
Two Rookie RBs
The Patriots knew what they were doing when they selected Pierre Strong Jr. and Kevin Harris in the 2022 NFL Draft. Or at least, we need to assume they knew what they were doing.
While questions remain about Strong’s and Harris’ readiness, New England made what might have seemed like odd choices by taking Strong and Harris in the fourth and sixth rounds, respectively — despite already having Harris, Stevenson, and not-yet-retired James White in the fold.
Why bypass guys like Romeo Doubs, Khalil Shakir, and Tariq Woolen (although hindsight is always 20/20) to beef up an already functional RB corps? And by “beef up,” I mean add guys who might not see the field for a season or two.
Unless this team planned to elevate one much sooner than 2023.
It’s strange to call this a rebuilding year for a franchise still closely linked to its dynastic decades. But with 10 rookies, a somewhat underwhelming second-year QB, and a patchwork receiving corps comprised mostly of cast-offs and overachievers, I don’t think this organization believed they’d be Super Bowl contenders.
The Bills already were a steep hurdle to overcome in the AFC East. When Miami acquired Tyreek Hill in May, the writing was on the wall. After sneaking into the playoffs last season at 10-7, the Patriots would be lucky to match that record this season in an increasingly competitive division with no cakewalks.
New England is focused on 2023 and beyond. They have to be. Monday’s inexplicable blowout loss to the normally offensively challenged Bears compounded this reality. The Patriots are a team in transition.
They invested heavily in this year’s draft. Next year, in addition to their normal complement of picks, the Pats will have an extra third-rounder, an extra fourth-rounder, and two extra sixth-rounders.
Harris won’t help them get better. His value lies primarily with helping another team get over the top, just like Michel did for the Rams last season. The Patriots have no incentive to keep trotting out Harris in a lost season, while he prepares to trot off to another team next offseason.
Damien Harris Landing Spots
The following is a rundown of teams that need an RB rental like Harris, who can serve as a bell cow, a 1A lead back, or a 1B subordinate back behind an established star.
Los Angeles Rams
Hey, it worked once. Why not again? Harris arguably is a better RB this season than Michel was heading into last season. Harris’ career 4.7 yards per carry places him near the top of the Patriots’ career list. Additionally, his targets have “spiked” to two per game. For context, last year, Harris averaged only 1.4. Modest improvement is still improvement.
MORE: Jets Trade for Jaguars RB James Robinson
With Cam Akers on the trading block, and with the Rams’ season hanging in the balance, securing someone like Harris could put LA’s struggling running game back on track. In fact, would we be surprised if the Patriots decided to take Akers in return? This could be another win-win for these squads.
New York Giants
The 6-1 Giants have won a lot of close contests. In fact, all of their victories have been within eight points. They’re third-worst in passing yards per game, but they’re prevailing because Daniel Jones can run, Saquon Barkley can run even better, and their improved defense is keeping them in games.
If Barkley gets hurt, for all intents and purposes, this team will be toast. No offense to Matt Breida. Barkley is a special talent. Always has been. Durability is the key.
Barkley is leading the NFL in rushing attempts and is on pace for a whopping 408 touches. The Giants probably don’t care. Like Harris, he’ll be a free agent after this season. So will Jones. This is a win-now club by happenstance. Most of us never saw this coming, but here we are.
So adding Harris to this backfield would help ease Barkley’s workload while still generating significant value.
Although this move might not make sense at first, I see the Vikings as a more established version of the Giants. This isn’t an upstart club. Kirk Cousins, Dalvin Cook, Adam Thielen, and others have been part of this mediocrity era for years.
In the past four seasons, they’ve never been better than 10-6 and never worse than 7-9. In bad times, not bad enough to sell. In good times, not great enough to buy.
This year is different. At 5-1, Minnesota is up 2.5 games up on the Packers and Bears. Minnesota’s eyeing no worse than the 4-seed in the NFC standings, with a great shot at the 2-seed and a couple of all-important home playoff games.
The phenomenal Cook has missed at least two contests in each of his four NFL seasons, including four games last year. While Alexander Mattison remains one of the sport’s top RB handcuffs, there’s no less room for error for a club that needs to seize the moment.
Just as with the Giants, the Vikings could use backfield support. While Cook looks as spry as ever, this franchise must be prepared for the possibility of a 21-game season, including the playoffs. Cook’s never exceeded 14 games. This franchise shouldn’t need to roll the dice on Cook’s health or on Mattison’s ability to fill in admirably when the stakes are highest.
At a minimum, Harris could complement Cook as a 1B option. At most, Harris could be one of the best spot starters in the league if Cook were ever sidelined.