This week, an excerpt from Michael Holley’s “War Room” resurfaced, as it ties two of the biggest names in Super Bowl LI together in a fascinating way.
With the Falcons prepared to move up 21 slots in 2011 by trading two first-round picks, a second and two fourths across two drafts in order to select Julio Jones, Bill Belichick told former New England colleague and then/current Atlanta GM Thomas Dimitroff it was a bad idea.
“Thomas, I’m just telling you as a friend,” Belichick said. “I wouldn’t do it.”
Holley detailed that the Pats weren’t as blown away by Jones as other teams were, but he also noted that the Pats didn’t think taking a receiver that high provided great value considering the depth of that position in that draft class. Belichick thought Jonathan Baldwin, in Holley’s words, was "just as good if not better than Jones.” Whoops.
(Tom E. Curran also shared a story about Belichick’s thoughts on drafting receivers high from 2001. During that season, Curran asked Belichick why he hadn’t opted to get Drew Bledsoe a receiver in the previous draft when David Terrell was on the board at No. 6. Belichick responded by asking Curran who the best rookie receiver was at the time and answering it himself: Chris Chambers, a late second-round pick. As Belichick saw it, it was harder to find an elite defensive lineman -- such as Richard Seymour, whom the Pats took with the pick -- at the top of the draft than a potentially elite receiver.)
Right now (and especially considering how poorly the Browns spent those picks), Dimitroff’s gutsy trade is looking pretty smart, but was Belichick warranted in advising against it? He had teams far more stacked than the 2010 Falcons leading up to that point, yet he didn’t throw all his picks at one player, receiver or otherwise.
What if he did? Who would have been where? Who would have won what? Admittedly, these are major hypotheticals that take giant steps into Nonsense Town. There’s no saying such trades could have even been made, but hey, this is a 13-day stretch without games. Plus, you read mock drafts.
Using the pieces of that trade -- a late first-round pick, a second-round pick, a first the next year and fourths in two years -- here’s a look at which Patriots would have never ended up in New England had the Pats ever made a splash as big as the Falcons did in 2011.
2004: Larry Fitzgerald, third overall
If the Pats traded the first of their two late firsts in 2004 (No. 21), they would have missed out on Vince Wilfork, who played a big role in two Super Bowl championships. The trickle-down effect would have been interesting as well, as having Larry Fitzgerald in 2006 might have meant another Super Bowl and, in turn, a lack of the receiver-heavy offseason that followed in which they added Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Donte Stallworth.
But wait! That’s not it. If the Pats moved those picks, they also wouldn’t have gotten Logan Mankins in the first round the next year. They also spent a 2005 fourth-rounder on James Sanders, who proved to be a player.
2005: Braylon Edwards, third overall
Man, thank goodness they didn’t have designs on anything like that. If the Pats traded a Jones-like haul to move up and take Edwards, it would have meant no Mankins, Sanders, Laurence Maroney (kind of a blessing) or Stephen Gostkowski. The Patriots ended up trading their second-rounder in 2005, but they drafted Ellis Hobbs with one of the picks they got back from the Ravens.
And if there’s confusion as to why they’d be going for high-end wide receivers in these make-believe scenarios given that they had Deion Branch and David Givens, the Falcons had Roddy White in his prime. Tony Gonzalez wasn't a bad target either. Again, you read mock drafts. Ease up.
2007: Calvin Johnson, second overall/LaRon Landry, sixth overall
This is roundabout as hell, but it would mean either no Brandon Meriweather (whom the Pats chose 24th that year) or no Jerod Mayo (the Pats traded the 28th pick to the 49ers for a 2008 first, which ended up being seventh overall; they moved down to take Mayo at No. 10). That 2008 draft in which they drafted Mayo also had the Spygate punishment, so they didn’t have the 31st overall pick.
The Pats also didn’t have picks in the second or fourth rounds that year. They traded their second and a seventh for some guy named Welker. Their fourth went to Oakland for Moss. In the fourth round of the 2008 draft, they took Jonathan Wilhite.