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Eric Rowe's playing time in '17 will determine pick Pats ship to Eagles

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When it comes to cornerbacks and the New England Patriots this offseason, there has been no shortage of headlines, from Stephon Gilmore to Malcolm Butler and, most recently, media-based speculation on how interested the club might be in Richard Sherman.

When considering that 2016 top pick Cyrus Jones is hoping to turn the page from a disappointing rookie season, and that the 2017 draft is considered deep at the position, it adds a few more layers to the cornerback discussion.

All the pieces will eventually fall into place, and one of them that comes to the forefront is how Eric Rowe fits into the team's 2017 plans.

The answer will ultimately determine what draft choice the Patriots send to the Philadelphia Eagles next year. If Rowe plays more than 50 percent of the snaps this season, New England ships its third-round pick to Philadelphia. If it's less than 50 percent, it's a fourth-rounder.

Rowe, who was acquired by the Patriots in a September trade, played in nine games in 2016 and totaled 43.4 percent of the defensive snaps. His size (6-foot-1, 205 pounds) gave defensive coordinator Matt Patricia a different matchup option against bigger receivers that complemented the club's other top corners, Butler (5-foot-11, 190) and Logan Ryan (5-foot-11, 195).

Ryan has since departed as a free agent for Tennessee, and if the Patriots ultimately trade Butler this offseason, Rowe would be the leading in-house candidate to play opposite Gilmore as the team's starting 1-2 combination.

That would be a scenario that the Eagles favor, increasing the odds they would receive a better pick from New England.

Meanwhile, as the 2017 draft approaches and the Patriots consider various scenarios, this is another one to keep in mind: Knowing they will have a mid-round gap in 2018 by giving up either their third- or fourth-round pick for Rowe, they can explore trade possibilities to replenish that pick, similar to what they did last year in a deal with Seattle.