Movin' On Up?
PATS IN POSITION TO MOVE UP IF OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS
The beauty of having five of the first 93 selections in the NFL draft is the flexibility it provides. For a poker player like Bill Belichick, this is like going to the casino with an extra-thick money clip in his back pocket. He can play big.
There's no reason he shouldn't if the right opportunity presents itself.
The Patriots have selected 33 players over the last three drafts, which is a lot. They're also coming off a mid- to low-level free-agent binge in which they signed more players than any team in the league, with the idea to improve the middle class of the roster.
Now, the 2012 draft offers a chance to dramatically improve the odds of adding to the upper class, which is a unique spot to be in for a top team like the Patriots.
If the right player slides into range -- say, someone such as Alabama safety Mark Barron -- why not pounce to address a trouble spot with a player who projects as a day one starter? Quarterback Tom Brady only has so many years left, and if there is strong conviction that a young defender could be an immediate difference-maker, why hold up?
No question, a lot of things have to fall into place for the Patriots to move up. The right player has to be there. The other team has to be willing to trade. There needs to be an agreement on trade compensation.
Then again, the last two parts may not be as hard as one thinks. ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter tweeted the following on Monday: "One NFL GM went so far as to say today, 'Picks 3-16 are all trying to trade back.'"
If that is indeed the case, the Patriots could be in an even more advantageous position than initially thought, one in which they could move up and potentially just redistribute their picks and not lose any of them. So perhaps they trade their two first-rounders (No. 27 and 31) for a first-rounder (projected Nos. 11-13) and fourth-rounder.
As noted by NFL Network's Mike Lombardi, the reason this hasn't happened often in recent years is that Belichick generally avoids falling in love with one player. Also, economics were a factor, although that is now out of the picture based on the rookie wage scale.
But it wouldn't be a first if it did happen. When looking at Belichick's full body of work, he's traded up in the first round twice (2002 for Daniel Graham and 2003 for Ty Warren). Other times he's traded down, or even into the next year. Each decision has been made based, in part, on where he felt the team was at that time.
If he agrees that the current club is one defensive difference-maker away from where it needs to be, he should deliver it with a bold move up the board.
EXPECT BELICHICK TO STOCKPILE, NOT MAKE A MOVE UP
There's no doubt the Patriots have the ammunition to move up in the first round. They have done it before and they will do it again. It just won't be this year.
The team enters this draft with just its original selections through the first three rounds in 2013. You can bet that will change, as it is Bill Belichick's best chance at continuing to parlay his current assets into an advantage in future drafts. With his eye toward 2013, it is a near certainty that he will have stockpiled additional picks for next season before the lights are turned off on Friday night.
Moving into the 2013 draft will require using the draft choice assets Belichick has now, which naturally will diminish his ability to move up in the draft. The Patriots also lack what can be key sweeteners in any draft-day trade: late-round picks. The Patriots have no picks past the fourth round in this year's draft. With draft-day trades almost never involving players (one exception for the Patriots being 2009, when Ellis Hobbs was shipped to the Eagles), Belichick's merchandise that he can offer other teams to trade up is just not there.
Trading up worked for Belichick in 2003, when he jumped up the board to pick Ty Warren, a key cog at defensive end for several seasons. However, a year earlier, in 2002, Belichick slid up the draft board to select tight end Daniel Graham, whose career in New England was nothing but pedestrian.
The draft is a risky, inexact science to begin with, and trading up only adds to the danger for even an established team such as the Patriots. Last year, Belichick called up his protégé, Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff, to advise him against trading up for talented wide receiver Julio Jones. His philosophy has not changed, and it has only been hardened by experience.
The rookie wage scale has been used as Exhibit A for why Belichick might consider trading up. But the other side of the deal is just as important. A top-15 team now has a chance for a more affordable, top-tier player under the rookie wage scale. No longer will teams be dumping high draft picks over concerns about bloated contracts. Belichick will have to work the phones even harder than in the past to find a trading partner, and behind the eight ball is not a position Belichick likes to find himself in.