How lockout could affect Pats' strategy

In a conversation over the weekend, Bill Belichick shared his belief that every draft is unique. A case could be made that this year's draft is most unique, primarily because of the NFL's lockout.

This is the topic of a piece now posted on ESPNBoston.com, which shines the spotlight on draft strategy and how the lockout could affect the Patriots' decision-making.

Some key strategic questions to consider:

1. Potential lack of offseason work. Belichick annually makes the point that rookies are behind the rest of the team on the day they arrive. When considering that rookies could miss offseason camps, they would be that much further behind. That could affect how many of the nine selections the Patriots end up making, or trading into future years. "Last year, we saw what happened when you take a guy and everybody else can come in, but because of the school calendar system, he can't. There is a little bit of that [this year]," Belichick said, referencing 2010 third-round pick Taylor Price.

2. Placing more emphasis on adaptability. Because rookies likely won't have a full offseason to integrate into a team's system, some teams have already said they will be placing a higher priority on prospects who show an ability to adapt quickly. So a safe pick like Florida guard Mike Pouncey, who projects as a Day 1 starter, might be more enticing to the Patriots in a year like this.

3. More noticeable need areas. Because there is no free agency before the draft for the first time since 1993 (when free agency began), team needs are more noticeable across the board. This could produce a draft where teams focus more closely on need vs. best player available. "It affects your strategy going into the draft," Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland said. "Normally by this time, you have hit some musts or some needs. Now it is kind of wide open."

4. Quarterback-needy teams and contract length. Specific rules for contract length of draft prospects could change in a new collective bargaining agreement. But at this time, picks 1-16 can be signed for a maximum of six years; picks 17-32 can be signed for a maximum of five years; and the remaining picks can have a maximum of four years. This could make the Patriots' pick at No. 28 more desireable than No. 33 for a team seeking a quarterback, because they could be gaining an extra year of contract length at the game's most important position.