If you thought the New England Patriots were just going to stay at No. 15 and take whichever defensive player was available in the 2021 NFL Draft, you weren’t completely wrong.
I mean, you were one million percent wrong because that’s not what they did, but your logic wasn’t totally off. In a year that included five top-rated quarterback prospects, Bill Belichick didn’t feel like he needed any of them. He got one, but he was content with the alternative, where all five would be gone before New England was on the clock.
There’s a thing we do around here where we pretend everything the Patriots do is what was supposed to happen and that everything’s part of the master plan. It isn’t, but I respect the fandom.
Bill Belichick didn’t know Mac Jones was going to fall to him. As Justin Fields and Jones fell to No. 7, then No. 8, he took his chances. He could have moved up to get either, especially when Fields — the superior prospect in the eyes of most — was just four picks away at No. 11.
Belichick didn’t trade up -- and no, it wouldn’t have cost what the Chicago Bears gave up, because the Pats would have been moving from No. 15, not No. 20 -- but whatever. Maybe he had his limits or maybe the Pats didn’t like Fields for some reason.
Then came a run of three straight picks for teams that didn’t need quarterbacks, meaning any one of them could have traded out to a team interested in Jones.
If Belichick couldn’t live without the Alabama QB, he wouldn’t have let another team get No. 14 from the Minnesota Vikings, which they did. It was traded to the New York Jets, who had already taken a quarterback, but that deal just as easily could have been made with the Washington Football Team or Pittsburgh Steelers.
From this vantage point, the Jones selection appeared to be more about fit than truly coveting the player. The team needed a quarterback and Jones is a person who plays that position. If the Patriots didn’t like Jones, they could have taken a different player or traded down, but they liked him enough. Not enough to make sure they got him, but enough.
Fields’ tumble saw the stars align for the Patriots. They had an unusually high pick, and a player fell for seemingly no good reason — a top quarterback, nonetheless — to within their range. Maybe it’d cost their third and next year’s second and fourth to move up, but if they loved Fields, it would have made sense.
So did the Patriots just not love this particular class — maybe they’d have done something for Zach Wilson or Trey Lance — or do they just not want to spend on a quarterback? Is Belichick, the guy who more or less drove Tom Brady to the airport without a contingency plan, just not interested in making any sort of grand gesture for the sport’s most important position?
I keep going back to the part in Jeff Benedict’s “The Dynasty,” where Bill Parcells tells Drew Bledsoe, “I don’t want a celebrity quarterback on my team. I hate celebrity quarterbacks.”
Doesn’t that ring some sort of bell with how the Pats handled Brady at the end? With how they just took on a reclamation project last season? Tweak the “celebrity” part because they’re all celebrities; has that mindset of not making it all about the quarterback grown on Belichick over the years?
Maybe I’m just used to asking a million questions about the Patriots and the quarterback position because that’s all we’ve done for going on two years now. By at least taking one, Belichick answered the most important quarterback question: whether the team has one for the future.
Make no mistake, though: Belichick didn't go into this draft hell-bent on getting one of these guys.