Patriots’ free-agent bonanza has draft implications


The New England Patriots kicked off the authorized tampering interval of free company with a spending spree the likes of which we’ve by no means seen from them.

Is it doable they observe that up with a draft technique that’s additionally very un-Patriots-like?

Say what you’ll about Invoice Belichick’s observe file in each areas, however the mastermind is at all times adapting. For years we wrote that the Patriots have by no means been large spenders in free company, however that’s not precisely true.

Within the 2001 offseason, after Belichick’s preliminary season as coach, they signed 20 free brokers. Granted most of them had been bottom-barrel signings, together with a number of mid-level additions. It ended up being the core of the group’s first championship roster.

Alongside the way in which, they’ve been selectively lively. Rodney Harrison and Rosevelt Colvin each arrived the identical week for large {dollars}. They went onerous after prime corners equivalent to Darrelle Revis and Stephon Gilmore. It’s also possible to throw Adalius Thomas and Antonio Brown onto the listing.

They’re aggressive after they have to be. And after a 7-9 season — Belichick’s first dropping file since that maiden marketing campaign — they actually felt the necessity.

In every week’s time, they’ve agreed to a flurry of offers to land, offensive deal with Trent Brown, tight finish Jonnu Smith, cross rusher Matt Judon, nostril deal with Davon Godchaux, defensive again Jalen Mills, and extensive receivers Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne.

Extra is perhaps coming.

How does this have an effect on the 2021 NFL draft. May the indicators be pointing towards extra aggression in April?

Bill Belichick still needs to address quarterback this offseason for the Patriots. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Invoice Belichick nonetheless wants to deal with quarterback this offseason for the Patriots. (AP Picture/Charles Krupa)

A fuller, deeper roster

The Patriots had been hit the toughest by COVID-19, as that they had a league-high eight gamers choose out. (Cam Newton additionally wasn’t the identical participant after he went on the COVID reserve listing.)

The overwhelming majority of these opt-outs are anticipated again, together with linebacker Dont’a Hightower, security Patrick Chung, operating again Brandon Bolden, extensive receiver Marqise Lee and fullback/H-back Dan Vitale.

That helps. Mix that with a nine-man draft class from a yr in the past, nearly all of which determine to be again within the fold, together with a number of undrafted free brokers, and you may see how the roster is beginning to replenish.

Positive, the Patriots have some free brokers of their very own, they usually’ve already watched Joe Thuney take a cope with the Kansas Metropolis Chiefs. Just a few extra is perhaps headed out, though middle David Andrews and defensive deal with Lawrence Man determine to be priorities to maintain if they’ll make all the cash work.

That’s quite a lot of veterans. The Patriots presently have 9 draft picks. Would they take one other nine-man draft class? Lots of wants are already checked off. In the event that they had been to stay with the picks they presently have, perhaps the Patriots land two or three part-time contributors as rookies.

So all of this maneuvering leads me to at least one large thought — and one very out-of-character transfer primarily based on Belichick’s historical past.

Indicators level towards a draft QB

Many know that Belichick has by no means drafted a quarterback in Spherical 1. Not in New England, nor in Cleveland within the Nineties. His highest-drafted QB? Jimmy Garoppolo, again in 2014, at No. 62 general.

That has led some to imagine that the Patriots will discover assist on the place with a veteran, giving Newton competitors. What if the true plans are to maneuver up from No. 15 in Spherical 1 and goal one of many Huge 5 QBs in 2021?

The Patriots have traded down in — and sometimes out of — the primary spherical. They did that final yr, in reality. They’ve moved up in Spherical 1 earlier than, but it surely’s uncommon. Daniel Graham required an 11-slot transfer in 2002, and Ty Warren was a one-spot hop the subsequent yr. The Patriots additionally did it twice in 2021, shifting up for Chandler Jones and Hightower in 2012.

The gaping void in 2012 was on protection. The Patriots misplaced within the Tremendous Bowl to the New York Giants the season earlier than, and albeit New England was fortunate to get there with a protection that ranked within the backside 5 (and in some circumstances, the underside two) in a number of main classes.

This time round, there’s one place that stands above the remainder so far as main wants go. Oh, certain, that protection wasn’t excellent final season, and it’s no assure that Judon, Godchaux and Mills make it an elite unit tomorrow.

However the place we’re leaning right here …

Newton is perhaps in a much better place to succeed this season, having recovered from COVID, having spent a yr within the system and having higher folks round him. However he’s going to be a considerably oldish 32 in Might, having suffered from main foot and shoulder accidents prior to now 5 seasons and taking a decade’s value of beatings as a run-heavy QB.

Even when Newton is in place to succeed this season, the long-term stability of the place is unsure to say the least.

Jarrett Stidham hasn’t proven a lot. Brian Hoyer, as we all know, isn’t the reply. And whereas there is perhaps a fervent Jacob Dolegala fan membership on the market someplace, he’s little greater than an obscure undertaking at this level.

In his first yr, Belichick drafted Tom Brady to guard in opposition to a declining Drew Bledsoe. And even after Brady changed into a famous person, Belichick wasn’t achieved drafting quarterbacks — 10 of them, in reality — from 2002 (Rohan Davey) to 2019 (Stidham).

So whereas most of these picks got here within the later rounds, the Patriots don’t have the luxurious of realizing Brady was going to be their rock for years. They need to complement the place in a serious approach, and sticking at No. 15 doubtless gained’t enable them to try this.

Which QB may the Patriots goal?

Trevor Lawrence goes first general to the Jacksonville Jaguars. That’s been chalk since December. The rival New York Jets, selecting second, are more likely to go QB as nicely. Let’s pencil them BYU’s Zach Wilson for a hoot.

In order that leaves 12 spots forward of the Patriots’ choose the place maybe three quarterbacks may hear their names referred to as: Ohio State’s Justin Fields, North Dakota State’s Trey Lance and Alabama’s Mac Jones.

For months, we’ve seen Jones’ identify plastered on numerous mock drafts to New England at 15, and we get why. Heck, even Jones’ former Bama teammate, Tua Tagovaloa, instructed Yahoo Sports activities he sees the parallels between Jones and Brady.

However Jones isn’t the QB New England will find yourself with. For all of his acumen and instincts and, yeah, Brady-ish traits, we simply don’t see anyplace close to as excessive a ceiling for him as the opposite two.

And for all of Newton’s struggles final season, Belichick couldn’t assist however take discover of the potential of what totally different dimensions a wholesome and totally supported Newton may have added to New England’s offense. It simply didn’t work out.

That mentioned, including a expertise with some crossover abilities to what Newton brings to the desk actually would make some sense.

Lance is damned intriguing. In time, he may rival Lawrence for the very best QB on this complete class. Or, if issues go sideways in his improvement, Lance may find yourself a bust. Touchdown in the precise spot, with the precise teaching workers and the precise succession plan, is big for his forecast. After a mere 17 FCS begins, it’s quite a lot of guesswork — and lots of people are going to look silly on reflection on his analysis, whether or not they find yourself being too excessive or too low on him now.

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - JANUARY 11: Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback Justin Fields (1) throws the ball during the College Football Playoff National Championship football game between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Ohio State Buckeyes on January 11, 2021 at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, FL. (Photo by Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

MIAMI GARDENS, FL – JANUARY 11: Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback Justin Fields (1) throws the ball through the Faculty Soccer Playoff Nationwide Championship soccer recreation between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Ohio State Buckeyes on January 11, 2021 on the Laborious Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, FL. (Picture by Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire by way of Getty Photos)

Whereas Lance is smart, Fields makes extra from this vantage level. One potential motive is worth.

The thrill proper now means that Lance might be taken greater than Fields. It wouldn’t be surprising. If that had been to occur, the fee for the Patriots to maneuver up from 15 can be cheaper, even when it was to a spot one or two picks after Lance was taken.

Fields is a quiet murderer, the sort of participant we may see Belchick falling for. Positive, he’s not an ideal prospect — activate the tapes of the Indiana, Michigan State or Northwestern video games from final season for proof of that. However there’s a excessive stage of expertise, toughness and an simple confidence in Fields, and the main strides he has taken since he was a run-first QB at Georgia are simple. He has adopted a little bit of a Dak Prescott-like ascension the previous few seasons, if not a fair steeper climb than the Dallas Cowboys’ $40 million QB loved by his senior season in school.

Plus, Belichick can lean on his Ohio State sources for intel on Fields that he may not have the ability to with Lance. Heck, he may as nicely even get his buddy City Meyer’s recommendation on the matter. If Urbs isn’t going to take Fields first, he may as nicely be sincere with Belichick over why he isn’t planning to — and why Fields is perhaps sensible for New England.

In truth, Fields and Newton are already fairly shut, related by their place, by their play kinds (one scout instructed Yahoo Sports activities this yr that Fields reminded him of Newton) and by geography, having each been raised in Georgia.

It feels prefer it might be a mentor-understudy relationship that might pay enormous dividends, underneath the watchful eye of Belichick and Josh McDaniels.

How the Patriots can transfer up

We completely can image Belichick calling Philadelphia Eagles normal supervisor Howie Roseman and providing a swap of firsts. The Eagles have loads of wants. Perhaps they’ll even take a 2022 draft choose to make it occur.

Two latest comps give a ballpark thought of what it may cost to get from No. 15 to six.

In 2016, the Cleveland Browns shipped the eighth general choose to the Titans (and Belichick disciple Jon Robinson) for the fifteenth and 76th general picks that yr, plus a 2017 second-rounder. Two years later, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers despatched the seventh choose to the Buffalo Payments for Nos. 12, 53 and 56 general in 2018 within the deal that landed them Josh Allen.

Determine it prices New England a shade greater than both of these offers. They presently have one choose in every of the primary three rounds (Nos. 15, 46 and 97 general), two every within the fourth and sixth rounds and one every within the remaining rounds. The Patriots even have all their 2022 picks in Rounds 1 by 5.

They’ve loads of ammo to make a play for Fields, or maybe for Lance — whichever one will be had on the proper spot for the precise worth. Simply because Belichick has by no means achieved such a factor earlier than does not make it not possible. Take a look at Monday’s free-agent free for all as proof to not assume to know his line of considering.

And contemplating the place the Patriots presently are, having watched Brady lead a Tremendous Bowl run in Tampa whereas their very own group struggled to throw the ball, no worth is simply too excessive to unravel their most evident void.

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