FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Trader Bill strikes again.
As he usually does in the NFL draft, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick was wheeling and dealing on Thursday night, shipping the team's first-round draft choice (29th overall) to the Minnesota Vikings in exchange for second-, third-, fourth-, and seventh-round draft choices.
The four-for-one exchange helped replenish the team's draft-pick supply, which was at an all-time low entering the draft (five picks). According to Pats director of player personnel Nick Caserio, the move puts the team in position to capitalize in one of the "value" areas of the draft.
"There are certainly a number of good football players that are still up on the board. I think there are some players that potentially could have very easily gone in this round," Caserio said late Thursday night. "We feel good pretty good going into [Friday]."
The Patriots, who historically enter the draft among the league leaders in selections, now have two second-round picks (52nd, 59th), two third-round picks (83rd, 91st), a fourth-rounder (102) and three seventh-rounders (226th, 229th, 235th).
The second and third rounds of the NFL draft begin at 6:30 p.m. Friday ET. Rounds 4-7 are at noon ET Saturday. Both will be broadcast on ESPN.
The 2013 draft was widely viewed as being thin on stars, with its redeeming quality the depth into the second round and, to some, the third. Caserio seemed to subscribe to that line of thinking as well.
"We thought there was some degree of value in the draft [and] we're in a situation right now where, hopefully, we can capitalize on that," he said. "It just gives us the flexibility to do a few different things [Friday]."
The Patriots covet such flexibility, as Belichick has now made 52 draft-day trades in his 14-year tenure as head coach and chief personnel decision-maker. The only year in which he didn't make a draft-day trade was 2004.
Receiver is one area the Patriots figure to strongly consider on Friday, and New England fans hoping for a big-play, outside-the-numbers threat surely took note that the No. 29 selection traded to the Vikings was used to tab Tennessee receiver Cordarrelle Patterson.
Just three receivers were selected in the first round -- West Virginia's Tavon Austin (Rams, eighth), Clemson's DeAndre Hopkins (Texans, 27th), and Patterson -- so there are plenty of options for the Patriots to consider in what is viewed as a deep class. Southern Cal's Robert Woods, Oregon State's Markus Wheaton, California's Keenan Allen and Marshall's Aaron Dobson are some of the top receivers still on the board.
The Patriots also could potentially trade one of the additional picks into 2014, which is traditionally something Belichick explores with a long-range view, while possibly taking a gamble on a player with an injury risk (Florida State defensive end Tank Carradine?) now that there is more margin for error with additional picks.
Caserio said the Patriots were prepared to select a player Thursday night at No. 29, but felt the Vikings deal represented better value. It apparently came together quickly.
"I think it was a pick or two out, we got on the phone and went back and forth," Caserio revealed, later adding that there were no big surprises in the team's view from the first round. "I think it's very indicative I would say of how trades are consummated. It's very player specific and it's player-based, based on the team's level of interest, the team's perceived need."
Before the draft began, Patriots owner Robert Kraft tipped off the team's intentions, noting that depth would be a primary focus. He said the overall quality of the draft was lower than the norm.
"It's going to be very hard for someone who gets drafted to come in and start on our team. You never know, maybe there are 2-3 players who have an opportunity to do that," he said. "The NFL is a business about quality depth management; I've been saying that since the beginning. If you want to be successful year in and year out in this business, you have to have depth and you have to have a plan."
The Patriots have 68 players under contract. If they make their eight draft picks, that would give them 76, and then they could sign as many as 14 rookie free agents to get to the 90-man offseason limit. Rookie free agency is an area in which the Patriots traditionally have had some success, signing players such as running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
"A big part of it comes when the draft is over and homework we've done on all the players that are eligible, street free agents we'll get," Kraft said. "There is an area where there's tremendous value and probably people could make our team in various roles."