The NFL is holding its annual meeting starting Monday in Orlando, and while the hottest topic of discussion figures to be a potential change to the league's overtime format, some of the biggest news from a Patriots perspective will be what additional draft choices the team receives.
Already armed with eight selections -- including four within the top 53 -- the Patriots are in line to land possibly four more through the league's awarding of compensatory draft choices.
It's far from headline-grabbing stuff, especially when the selections could all be at the end of the seventh and final round. Yet when considering the Patriots' track record in Bill Belichick's tenure in that area of the draft -- which includes picks such as receiver Julian Edelman (232nd overall, 2009), quarterback Matt Cassel (230th overall, 2005), receiver David Givens (253rd overall, 2002) and running back Patrick Pass (239th overall, 2000) -- it also shouldn't be overlooked.
The Patriots' best-ever compensatory draft choice? It's an easy choice -- quarterback Tom Brady (sixth round, 199th overall, 2000).
Compensatory draft choices are awarded to teams who lose more or better compensatory free agents than it acquires the prior season. A team can receive a maximum of four compensatory picks, and they could fall anywhere between the end of the third round and the end of the seventh round. They can't be traded.
In 2009, for example, the Patriots received the highest possible compensatory draft choice, 97th overall, one year after cornerback Asante Samuel signed with the Philadelphia Eagles. They selected linebacker Tyrone McKenzie, who missed his rookie season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
The actual picks are determined based on a formula that factors in salary, playing time and postseason honors. Some teams -- such as the Patriots -- factor in the potential awarding of compensatory picks on a yearly basis when they plot their offseason strategy.
Former Patriots vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli, now the Kansas City Chiefs' general manager, used to keep a projected breakdown of compensatory draft choices on the whiteboard in his office each year. Another former Patriots executive, current Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff, felt more comfortable trading a 2010 second-round draft choice for tight end Tony Gonzalez knowing that his team is likely to receive a high compensatory selection after cornerback Domonique Foxworth signed a four-year, $28 million contract with the Ravens last season.
Since 2000, Belichick's first year as head coach, the Patriots have made 19 compensatory draft choices, one of the highest totals in the league over that span. That total reflects, in part, the value the Patriots place on compensatory picks.
This year, receiver Jabar Gaffney figures to net the Patriots their highest compensatory draft pick after he signed a four-year, $10 million contract with the Denver Broncos. Fullback Heath Evans (Saints), running back LaMont Jordan (Broncos) and long snapper Lonie Paxton (Broncos) could also yield picks.
With the possibility of making 12 selections this year, coupled with 12 from last year, the Patriots are in position to have the last two drafts be the primary vehicle for an all-important roster turnover that keeps their talent pipeline flowing. Spotty picks from 2006 to 2008 have placed added importance on the 2009 and 2010 drafts as the team tries to regain its perch atop the AFC East.
As for other Patriots-specific happenings at the annual meeting, head coach Bill Belichick is expected to address reporters as a group Tuesday morning at the AFC coaches' breakfast. That could shed light on several moves the team has made over the last two months, starting with the unusual move not to name offensive and defensive coordinators.
It will also be interesting to hear Belichick's opinion on the possible change to the overtime format. In the past, he has been an advocate of playing a timed overtime period instead of sudden death.
The league also could be announcing some prime-time games on kickoff weekend, as well as this year's Thanksgiving slate. The Patriots are anticipating visiting the Lions on Thanksgiving and, given their national appeal, could also be part of a prime-time opener like last year, when they hosted the Buffalo Bills on "Monday Night Football."
Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.