Well, things certainly have changed in a hurry around the New England Patriots. Suddenly the talk has ceased about “how deep is the rift between Bill Belichick and his players” and centered on what is happening now with the upcoming NFL Draft.
The surprising trade of Brandin Cooks to the Los Angeles Rams has netted the Patriots the Rams 1st Round draft pick #23 later this month. The teams also swapped fourth and sixth round picks. But now the Patriots have jumped into the realm of being a major player later this month with four picks in the first 63 selections of the draft.
The team has options. So, for you older folks who remember classic television shows, we’ll play a version of “Let’s Make A Deal” with the draft.
Behind Door #1:
The team could package both first round picks and ship them to the New York Giants for the very talented and equally mercurial wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. That’s what the Giants are asking for him and although they won’t get that, it is where any talks would begin.
This would make a large segment of the fan base ecstatic as the quest for the “name player” never ends. And if you’re playing Madden NFL, the idea of Brady, Gronkowski, Beckham Jr. and Edelman would certainly be a fun way to play a video game.
This won’t work for a couple of reasons. First, the NFL isn’t a video game nor fantasy football. The Patriots aren’t going to pay Beckham anywhere close to what he’ll want and you’d have him under your control for one season. At which time, he would most certainly be gone. Two first round picks for a one-year rental? That was a large part of the reason to trade Cooks in the first place.
The team already has nine wide receivers on the roster with Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Phillip Dorsett, Kenny Britt, Cordarrelle Patterson, Riley McCarron, Cody Hollister and Matthew Slater.
While Beckham is a special player, wide receiver isn’t a glaring need and those first-round picks could be much better served in filling other needs.
So, what’s behind, Door #2?
The Patriots could package those picks (23,31) and move up into the Top 15 to snag a quarterback of the future, like a Josh Allen, Josh Rosen, Lamar Jackson or Baker Mayfield, if they fell down the board for any reason.
Jackson is a popular pick for New England lately, he played in the Erhardt-Perkins offensive system that the Patriots use. That alone will make the learning curve much simpler for him to become in-tune with the offense.
The issue here is, will any of those players still be on the board then? Most mocks have those QBs all gone by #12. Would the top two picks the Patriots now possess (23,31) be enough capital to jump that high? Probably not, so they’d have to sweeten the pie quite a bit to jump in.
And of course, the team would have to be all-in on the quarterback that they select. And by all-in, that would have to include Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels. For if the succession plan is indeed in effect, then the QB taken will have to be someone he believes in. And it may not necessarily be the pocket passer they currently have with Brady. Jackson could easily be the guy they see as their next franchise QB. McDaniels, remember drafted a guy named Tim Tebow in Denver. So it could be a kind of QB that necessarily isn’t a clone of the Brady-type.
A lot would have to fall perfectly for the Patriots to get that type of move and the trade probably wouldn’t happen until the night of the draft. They’d see the board playing out in a certain way that they could make a move and then do it and swoop in for the next QB of the future.
And then there is finally Door #3:
In this scenario, the Patriots keep one or both picks and trade back for other draft capital. They have needs at Linebacker, on the edge, at OT, TE, RB and of course QB for the long-term.
There are plenty of good prospects that may be available to them at #23 that wouldn’t at #31, especially at linebacker, Rashaan Evans and Leighton Vander Esch have been widely thought to go between #25 and #28 with the Titans and Steelers, if not earlier.
They could then look for a QB in the 2nd or 3rd rounds (Luke Falk, Kyle Lauletta, Mason Rudolph) who they can develop over the next two or so seasons behind Brady.
This falls in line with the traditional M.O. of Bill Belichick who has said that the draft is an inexact science and the more chances you have at taking players, the better chance you do of hitting on those picks.
The Patriots draft board consistently only has about 15-20 players that Belichick believes are immediate starters, so they’re much more willing to trade back than to reach for a higher draft pick on a player that they don’t have rated that high. And finally, the Patriots are about building a 53-man roster, they’re not building a fantasy football team.
Belichick has made plenty of deals during the draft, and right now, they don’t have a 4th or 5th round draft pick after the deal with the Rams for Cooks. Expect that to change.
While the possibility for Door #2 most definitely does exist, look for the Patriots to go for Door #3. It fits with their traditional M.O. and will better serve their overall needs while still giving them a shot at a franchise QB later.