Tyquan Thornton’s steady ascension during Patriots training camp hasn’t just been a figment of our imaginations, apparently. The team is reportedly impressed with the second-round receiver’s progress and wants to see how he responds to getting more first-team reps, according to Pro Football Focus’ Doug Kyed.
Some experts even think a bigger role for Thornton might have consequences for some people ahead of him on the depth chart.
One source Kyed spoke to suggested one of the Patriots’ veteran receivers might be traded or released to make room for Thornton if the rookie’s progress continues. With DeVante Parker having just arrived and Kendrick Bourne and Jakobi Meyers among the team's most trusted offensive players, Nelson Agholor might be most likely to find himself shopped or let go.
"A source close to the situation expects one of the Patriots’ veteran wide receivers to be traded or released, and that source believes Agholor is the prime candidate," Kyed wrote Thursday morning. "Agholor counts for $14.9 million against the salary cap this season. New England would save $9.9 million by trading him and $4.9 million by cutting him."
However, the situation isn't quite as straightforward as N'Keal Harry's, where a trade or cut was all but inevitable. New England is reportedly "optimistic" about Agholor having a bounce-back second season in Foxborough, with the offensive changes moving him around formations more and giving him opportunities to catch the ball in space.
Then, there's the money part. The Patriots would likely want teams to take on Agholor's $9 million base salary in a trade scenario, which one source deemed unlikely to happen. Also, New England would take on $10 million in dead money to cut him, which would be a tough and somewhat unnecessary hit to take even if they saved some cap space. Furthermore, sources suggested Parker's spotty injury history and Thornton still being an unproven rookie might convince the Patriots to hold onto Agholor for insurance purposes.
Given those facts, it's more likely that Agholor remains a Patriot to start the season than not. But if the team wanted to package his salary in a trade to take on another player -- say, disgruntled Chicago Bears linebacker Roquan Smith (highly unlikely, but that's another post) -- that might create a more likely avenue to move the veteran receiver.
In the short term, let's see if Thornton can truly force the Patriots' hands to give him more playing time -- and potentially send one of his more experienced teammates someplace else.