The Patriots Trading for Dwayne Allen Is Another Masterful Move

Another year, and another masterful trade made by the Patriots. We should be used to this by now.

Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots have done it again.

Last offseason, they swung a trade for tight end Martellus Bennett, a great move that eventually helped them win Super Bowl LI. With Bennett likely to strike gold in free agency, the Patriots went out and traded for another tight end. This time, it was Dwayne Allen of the Indianapolis Colts.

Allen became expendable in the Colts’ mind after they re-signed impending free agent Jack Doyle to a three-year, $18.9 million contract on Tuesday night. It’s possible Indy was looking to move on from the tight end they awarded a four-year, $29.4 million contract to not long ago. That was under Ryan Grigson, though, and it’s clear the new regime under Chris Ballard prefers Doyle.

New England, on the other hand, moves from one underrated tight end to another to pair with Rob Gronkowski. They did so by making the exact same trade they did with the Bears -- the Patriots are giving up a fourth-round pick while also acquiring their tight end of choice and a sixth-round pick.

In many ways, this trade is going to be compared to last season's deal that netted Bennett. There’s a chance it becomes just as successful, too.

Underrated Production

So here’s the thing about Allen: he’s actually quite good.

His raw numbers might not be very impressive on the surface -- he had 406 receiving yards on 35 catches with 6 touchdowns last year -- but if we look a little deeper using our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, a different story starts to be told.

Including Allen, 32 tight ends saw at least 50 targets last season. Among them, none had a higher Reception NEP per target than Allen’s 0.95. Bennett was fifth at 0.78 and Doyle was 18th at 0.57. The average of this group was 0.62.

Let’s drop that minimum, though. Let’s make it 30 targets, which adds another 11 tight ends to the mix. With those additional players getting a slightly lower workload, there’s only one that comes out better than Allen -- Gronkowski at a ridiculous 1.32, who is now his new teammate.

Allen was bad while battling injuries in 2015 -- a pitiful 0.25 Reception NEP per target -- but he was again one of the most efficient tight ends in football when healthy in 2014. His 0.90 Reception NEP per target was third among 44 tight ends with 30 or more targets.

Plug and Play

Now in New England, Allen will slide into Bennett's role, which only really asks for situational play. While the narrative exists that Bennett took over when Gronkowski was out, it didn’t actually show up in the numbers.

In reality, touchdown production was the only thing that increased without Gronk on the field. Check out Bennett’s per-game averages with and without Gronkowski playing last season, courtesy of the RotoViz Splits Tool.

2016 Games Targets Receptions Yards TDs
With Gronk 8 5.12 4.12 49.75 0.38
Without Gronk 8 4.00 2.75 37.88 0.50

Bennett wasn’t suddenly getting force-fed the ball. The Patriots had enough weapons -- including receivers and running backs -- to not only keep the passing game afloat, but also help it be great.

New England was the second-best passing offense by Adjusted NEP per play in 2016.

Instead, Bennett excelled at the little things, like blocking in the run game, something Belichick greatly values in a tight end and a skill Allen possesses. With Gronk on the field, the Patriots can continue deploying matchup nightmare formations with two tight ends lining up all over the field. And without Gronk, Allen has the ability to do exactly what Bennett did.

One Step Ahead

This trade is just another reason why the Patriots are able to keep a roster that remains among the best in the league every year.

While many teams balk at trade prices or taking a gamble on other teams’ players, the Patriots embrace it. Since the start of the 2016 league year, there have been 26 trades involving a player under contract. Of those 26, the Patriots have been involved in nine, more than any other team.

If all of the picks included are for 2017, the Patriots and Colts are swapping the 137th overall pick and the 200th overall pick for Allen. Using the draft pick value calculator at Football Perspective, the 137th pick is worth 3.3 Approximate Value -- which accounts for the expected return during the first five years of a draft pick’s career. The 200th overall pick is worth 0.3 AV, which leaves us with a 2.4 AV difference as the “price” of Allen in the trade.

Allen was worth 4 AV last year alone, according to Pro-Football Reference. The Patriots can easily expect him to outproduce what they would get from the 156th overall pick, which is the single-pick equivalent to 2.4 AV.

With the trade, the Patriots now get a tight end who will count less than $1 million on the cap than Bennett did during 2016. They also get two years younger at the position with Allen under contract for the next three years. The most expensive cap hit is $8.4 million in 2019, which is less than Bennett is currently seeking per year on the free agent market.

There’s been no better team at turning players into useful assets and fringe assets into useful players than the Patriots. This trade is just another in a long list of examples.