Patriots' trade for LB Marquis Flowers shows club's priority on special teams

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- On the surface, the New England Patriots’ acquisition of linebacker Marquis Flowers from the Cincinnati Bengals won’t move the needle much. But it sparks multiple thoughts that are important for the team:

Run of injuries on special teams. With linebackers Shea McClellin, Elandon Roberts and Harvey Langi, defensive end Geneo Grissom and safety Nate Ebner all having been sidelined in recent days/weeks with injuries, the Patriots have taken some significant hits, personnel-wise, in the kicking game. Specifically, giving up a seventh-round pick for Flowers makes me wonder about McClellin’s timetable for a return. Flowers should immediately step in as a member of the team’s core special-teams group. Also, special-teams captain Matthew Slater just returned to practice on Monday after nearly a four-week absence; he might need some time to get back up to speed.

Have you seen the Chiefs’ returners? With the Kansas City Chiefs coming to town on Sept. 7 for the NFL opener, the thought of slowing down punt returner Tyreek Hill and kickoff returner De’Anthony Thomas is probably costing Bill Belichick some hours of sleep. Each week, Belichick identifies the primary things the Patriots must do to win the game, and limiting big returns on special teams figures to be close to the top of the list. When reporters analyze a team’s roster, depth/quality on special-teams coverage and return units is often overlooked. But internally, the Patriots’ actions speak volumes of how they value special teams.

Shades of White trade in 2010. Prior to the 2010 season opener, the Patriots made a similar trade in acquiring veteran linebacker Tracy White and a seventh-round draft pick in exchange for a sixth-rounder. Just like the trade for Flowers, the deal for White didn’t generate much buzz, but White went on to play 42 games for the team over three seasons as a core special-teamer. That made the draft-pick compensation to acquire him a worthy investment. At the least, the Patriots will have Flowers on their team for 2017, as his contract expires after the season. If Flowers can improve the club’s special teams units, like White did, the trade will be a success for New England. They obviously value his skill set and didn't want to risk losing him to another team on waivers (where they are last in the claiming order). In turn, the Bengals are wise to secure an asset for a player they probably were going to release anyway.