With Dont'a Hightower out, Shea McClellin's return to Patriots similar to trade acquisition

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower has a torn pectoral muscle, and the NFL's trade deadline is at 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday, so an obvious question is whether the team might acquire a player to help fill the void.

Some thoughts on the possibility:

1. The Patriots are essentially acquiring a linebacker when six-year veteran Shea McClellin is eligible to play Nov. 12 against the Broncos. McClellin opened the year on injured reserve, returned to practice last week and could quickly rise to the No. 2 or 3 spot on the depth chart upon his return (barring a medical setback). He played 34.5 percent of the defensive snaps in the 2016 regular season.

2. If the Patriots do acquire a linebacker, it would be more about upgrading the talent on the roster than anything else. The team still has depth at the position, which is reflective of how veteran David Harris had been a healthy scratch for two games and played sparingly in four of five other games. The playing time percentages for Patriots linebackers this season: Kyle Van Noy (95.3), Hightower (50.1), Elandon Roberts (38.3), Harris (5.5) and Marquis Flowers (5.1).

3. Because Hightower spent time on the edge of the line, his absence also has a trickle-down effect of sorts to defensive ends such as Trey Flowers, Deatrich Wise Jr. and Cassius Marsh. The Patriots, from this view, are thinner at that position than they are at off-the-line linebacker. The return of someone like retired Rob Ninkovich could help fill that void, but the club hasn't seemed inclined to look in that direction to this point.

4. The Patriots also have to consider the impact of continuing to trade future assets to fill present needs. They will be sending what is likely a 2018 fourth-round pick to the Eagles to complete last year's trade for cornerback Eric Rowe and already gave up 2018 fifth- and seventh-round picks to Seattle to acquire Marsh. They also gave up a 2019 sixth-round pick in a deal with the Lions for cornerback Johnson Bademosi. Though the Patriots will bolster their assets with compensatory draft picks, there is always an aspect of being careful of mortgaging too much of the future, unless there is certainty it will help the team in the present.

5. The team also has some injury-related concerns at other positions that might need to be addressed in the short term. Starting defensive tackle Malcom Brown was still hobbling on his injured ankle this week, which could lead the team to consider bringing up Angelo Blackson from the practice squad. Receiver Danny Amendola missed practice Wednesday with a knee injury, and perhaps the team considers that a spot of need (receivers Cody Hollister and Riley McCarron are on the practice squad). Every move has a domino effect, as there are only 53 spots on the roster, so the Patriots have to balance the effects of Hightower's loss against other needs.