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Pierre Strong trade to Browns signifies faith in Patriots' backfield

The Pats add another depth piece for their offensive line in exchange for last year's fourth-round pick. PIC: AP

It should be no secret that the New England Patriots have been attempting to solve a vexing mystery over the past couple of years: their running back room. After all, the Pats haven't a 1,000-yard rusher since Sony Michel's breakout 2019 season.

It certainly has not been for lack of trying, as Bill Belichick has been fairly aggressive in the past three seasons in attempting to source the next generation of running back talent.

Today, the Pats announced they'd be moving on from Pierre Strong, who is about to enter his second year at the pro level. Cleveland was the suitor, sending offensive tackle Tyrone Wheatley Jr. to New England.

Ultimately, this move signifies Belichick's satisfaction with the current running back room. Many were concerned heading into August, as there was no clear #2 behind Rhamondre Stevenson after the departure of Damien Harris, who historically filled the lead RB role. But the signing of Ezekiel Elliott a few weeks ago solidified the tandem that will likely receive majority of the snaps. That, of course, means less to go around for the rest of the room; Ty Montgomery, JJ Taylor, and Kevin Harris were all candidates to see time, and Strong was simply the odd-man out of the equation as each had some shades of potential during the preseason.

Strong, who rushed for over 4,500 yards and 40 touchdowns at South Dakota State, was the Patriots' fourth-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. Many were bullish on his potential, especially after leading all FCS programs with nearly 1,700 rushing yards in 2021. But despite some decent performances (even with minimal reps) last season, Strong really never got over the hump in his first year in the NFL.

Potentially an overlooked impact of this trade could be the special teams minutes that Strong logged last year. He routinely appeared in the kicking game, as well as the kick return and punt return; Strong logged just over 31% of all possible special teams snaps.

Tyrone Wheatley, Jr. now joins a large offensive line group that is fighting for one - or, at most, two - spots. He'll have to compete with veteran Riley Reiff, rookie Andrew Stueber (2022 pick who missed last season with a torn hamstring), and a host of others for the right tackle job. The 6'6", 320-pound tackle has appeared in preseason and exhibition games, but has yet to make his NFL debut; he certainly has the build to succeed.

Overall, it's a prospect-for-prospect trade with low risk and at least some level of upside for each team. We'll see who can make the most of it.


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