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Picking late, Patriots look elsewhere for elite traits -- such as Danny Shelton deal

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:

1a. Because the Patriots are usually drafting late in the first round, they often miss the chance to bring aboard highly touted prospects with elite traits, so they have to explore other avenues to do so. Their agreement Saturday to acquire defensive tackle Danny Shelton from the Browns is the latest example, as it follows last year’s deal for receiver Brandin Cooks and the big-bucks, free-agent signing of cornerback Stephon Gilmore.

All three players were off the board early in their respective drafts, well ahead of where the Patriots were picking -- Shelton was the No. 12 overall pick in 2015, Cooks was No. 20 in 2014 and Gilmore was No. 10 in 2012. Prospects usually don’t go that high unless they have a special trait. Since the time they were picked they became available -- mainly due to scheme/personnel changes with their original teams that lessened their value to them -- and the Patriots pounced.

Specifically with the 6-foot-2, 335-pound Shelton, the elite trait is his size/strength combination, which fits better in a two-gap defense such as New England's than the Browns' 4-3 scheme. I spoke with someone in Cleveland who has a deep background with Shelton. Here were a few notes from that conversation:

  • He can be a dominant player against the run who regularly commands double-teams, making others' jobs easier.

  • He plays with an edge and nasty streak: “You’re not going to whip his ass, but he’ll probably whip yours.”

  • The big question is what to do on third down, because he is not a pass-rusher, which also ties into how to value him from a financial standpoint.

  • He practices hard and plays hard, although his temper has bitten him at times in the past.

After hearing that the Eagles had little fear of anyone in the Patriots' front seven entering Super Bowl LII, the addition of Shelton could be a step in the right direction for Bill Belichick’s team. Shelton is a potential blue-chip player in the Patriots’ scheme.

1b. Entering the offseason since 2013, the following are the top picks the Patriots owned each year: 29, 29, 32, 60 (top 2016 pick taken away by NFL), 32.

2a. The fifth-round pick the Patriots will acquire from the Browns along with Shelton is expected to be their lower pick in the round, No. 159 overall. Let’s revisit New England’s 2018 selections and explore why that small part of the deal has significance to the team:

  • First round (31)

  • Second round (43)

  • Second round (63)

  • Third round (95)

  • Fourth round (136)

  • Fifth round (159)

  • Sixth round (205)

After making just four draft picks last year (well below their recent average of nine), and then making what turned out to be a bad deal last September for defensive end Cassius Marsh (released two months later) in which they gave up 2018 fifth- and seventh-round picks, the Patriots need more draft-pick volume in 2018. And with the possibility of gaining a solid compensatory draft pick in 2019 depending on how things unfold, they could replenish the ’19 third-rounder they shipped to Cleveland in the Shelton deal.

3. The Patriots hope to have receiver Danny Amendola return in 2018, but as is usually the case with all of their free agents, it seems fair to say they won’t stray too far from their financial discipline in determining the price they feel best fits his role. The Patriots have had Amendola as a No. 3/4 option in recent years when everyone is healthy, carefully managing his workload so he’s at his best down the home stretch and into the playoffs, when his clutch play often shines. What could potentially be developing after Amendola’s impressive 2017 season, when other receivers were out with injuries, is that another team views him more as a pure No. 3, with an expanded role in mind, and might be willing to pay him at that higher level. With the business side of the game on his mind, it could be a harder-than-anticipated decision for the 32-year-old Amendola to make on his future.

4a. Here is one sleeper free agent I am keeping an eye on for the Patriots: Titans off-the-line linebacker Avery Williamson (6-foot-1, 246 pounds). He’s the right age (26), has been durable and productive, runs well, is considered a high-character leader and would fill arguably the team’s biggest need, even though he is viewed by some as being a bit better against the run than the pass. It would be a surprise if the Patriots make a big splash in free agency, but if they can land a player such as Williamson or former Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro, I think it could really help them.

4b. While it was fun to speculate on the possibility of free-agent cornerback Richard Sherman joining the Patriots, the idea never gained traction in Foxborough. Seeing the deal Sherman agreed to with the 49ers (three years, up to $39.15 million) might explain why, as it's hard to imagine the Patriots being in that neighborhood with other priorities in mind (e.g. attempting to re-sign starting left tackle Nate Solder, Amendola, running back Dion Lewis, etc.).

5. Patriots No. 2 tight end Dwayne Allen has been one of the few players showing up at Gillette Stadium on a regular basis in recent weeks, which one could say is, in part, why the club views him as a team-first guy who is the type of player they like to have in their locker room. But do they like him enough to pay him a base salary of $4.5 million after a season in which he was dominant at times as a blocker but not a huge factor as a pass-catcher (10 receptions)? That’s a fair question, and one the sides figure to be visiting in the future. I’m told nothing is imminent one way or the other, and part of the reason might be that Allen’s salary wouldn’t be guaranteed until he’s on the roster for the first week of the season.

6. As the Patriots’ free-agent moves are analyzed over the next week-plus, one thing that is easy to forget is they are already in the plus column after signing running back James White to a three-year extension last April. White, the team’s trusted “passing back,” would have become an unrestricted free agent last Wednesday.

7. Patriots free-agent-to-be linebacker Marquis Flowers was a guest on Hot 96.9 FM in Boston on Friday morning and shared his thoughts on tight end Rob Gronkowski’s future after Gronkowski said he would weigh his options after losing in Super Bowl LII. Flowers doesn’t seem concerned. “Gronk is my guy. Gronk is a competitor, and sometimes after games like that, you kind of sit and have to think about it,” Flowers said on the “Ramiro, Pebbles, Melissa & Wiggy Show.” “I don’t know, I haven’t talked to [anyone] about this, but Gronk is the ultimate competitor. Gronk is going to come back, and he’s going to be the best at his position. Patriots fans have nothing to worry about; that’s just me thinking [it].”

8. The Patriots have had notable success drafting quarterbacks who are represented by agent Don Yee -- first with Tom Brady (2000, sixth round) and then with Jimmy Garoppolo (2014, second round) -- which provides a springboard to relay this fun, draft-related note: Perhaps we should be keeping a closer eye on 6-foot-4, 219-pound Princeton quarterback Chad Kanoff. A non-combine invitee known for his accuracy and for setting Princeton’s all-time passing record, Kanoff participated in the College Gridiron Showcase all-star week and is projected as a later-round draftee or priority free agent. He had turned down a scholarship to Vanderbilt (when James Franklin was coach) to play in the Ivy League, and on Friday, he performed in front of 15 scouts (from 12 NFL teams) at Princeton’s pro day. The Patriots were represented by scout D.J. Debick. One specific trait that will likely be noted by all teams: Kanoff’s hand size measured 10ΒΌ inches, which is above average and sparks thoughts of what Scott Pioli once said about the importance of hand size for quarterbacks playing in New England, where inclement weather is often a factor.

9. This flew under the radar last week, but the Patriots have an opening in the personnel department after pro scout Frank Ross departed to become assistant special-teams coach with the Indianapolis Colts under Ray “Bubba” Ventrone. A John Carroll University alum, which is also the alma mater for Josh McDaniels and Nick Caserio, Ross had two separate stints with the Patriots -- he was a scouting assistant (2011-12) and more recently a scout/pro scout (2015-17). The mustache he grew in November as part of “Movember” was said to be legendary in the Patriots' scouting offices.

10. Something to file away: The Patriots will have to decide by early May whether to pick up the fifth-year options for Shelton, fellow defensive tackle Malcom Brown and receiver Phillip Dorsett. The options will be the average of the salaries of the third- to 25th-highest-paid players at their positions, which projects to about $7 million for defensive tackles and about $9 million at receiver. I’d be surprised if the Patriots don’t pick up the option on Shelton after what they traded for him, and the safe play is to do the same for Brown, while Dorsett seems like a long shot.