The Panthers announced Friday that the Patriots have shipped their second-round pick south in exchange for pass-rusher Kony Ealy and Carolina's third-round selection.
It's a move that adds depth and youth to New England's defensive line at a manageable price.
The 25-year-old Ealy is coming off an up-and-down season that saw him log five starts over 16 appearances with five sacks along the way. Looming this week as a possible cut for the Panthers, the Super Bowl 50 standout gives New England a body on the edge to pair with Trey Flowers. The Patriots also have Shea McClellin and Rob Ninkovich to chase down quarterbacks in New England's multiple-front defense.
It's a low-cost move for coach Bill Belichick, who slipped down just eight spots in the draft from No. 64 to No. 72 to grab a player entering his prime.
Ealy's absence, meanwhile, won't sink the Panthers. Carolina boasts a deep front seven with Mario Addison, Charles Johnson and Wes Horton at the end position. The team also brought back 37-year-old Julius Peppers, their first-round draft pick from 2002.
Ultimately, it's another case of New England using the offseason months -- really, every month -- to churn the roster, swing deals and add players who Belichick sees as a proper fit for his championship roster.
Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman is also one of the best around, shipping away a player he didn't need for better draft position. Still, Ealy's career will be monitored closely by the Carolina faithful.
Patriots trade away almost nothing and steal pass rusher Kony Ealy from Panthers
The New England Patriots have started to refurbish their pass rush by trading for Carolina Panthers EDGE Kony Ealy, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
The 6’4, 275 pound Ealy is 25 years old and was the Panthers 2nd round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. The Patriots are sending the 64th overall pick to the Panthers in exchange for the 72nd overall pick in the third round, per ESPN’s Field Yates.
Ealy has 14 sacks over 47 games in a rotational role for the Panthers. Ealy played 37% of the snaps as a rookie and had played nearly 60% of the Panthers snaps over the past two season. He also registered 3 sacks, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and an interception in a Trey Flowers-esque performance during Super Bowl 50 against the Denver Broncos.
Over the first six weeks of the 2016 NFL season, until the Panthers bye week, Ealy played 67% of the Panthers defensive snaps and recorded just 1 quarterback hit and 1 pass defended. After the bye week, Ealy’s role was reduced to 53% of the snaps, but his production surged with 5 sacks, 1 quarterback hit, 1 interception, 1 pass defended, and 1 forced fumble.
Ealy will join Flowers and Rob Ninkovich as the Patriots edge players and could play a similar role to Jabaal Sheard in 2015. The Patriots could still add another pass rusher in the draft or in free agency, but Ealy certainly helps fill a need on the Patriots edge and is a perfect fit for the Patriots 4-tech defensive lineman role in the 5-man front, allowing Flowers to possibly take on a more aggressive pass rushing role.
And even if Ealy is nothing more than the 4th pass rusher in the rotation, he only cost the Patriots 8 draft places in an extremely deep draft. This is a brilliant trade by the Patriots.
The Patriots now own the 72nd, 96th, and 103rd picks in the third round.