Going into the offseason, the smartest strategy for the Patriots was to build a roster that was a quarterback away: Fill the roster’s many holes and make sure the pieces on offense can actually play. Then, perhaps in a year, go out and draft your quarterback.
A bonkers free agency approach may have accelerated that timeline, because looking at the team now, one could argue they’re already a quarterback away.
Initially, it looked like quantity over quality, which was a fine strategy. Adding Hunter Henry to Monday’s group meant they also added some star power, if they hadn't already. The worst tight end group in the league last year has now been supplemented with a very good tandem of Henry and Jonnu Smith. Receiver was addressed in bulk, though not with anyone special. Multiple defenders were brought in, including a two-time Pro Bowler to improve the pass rush.
The Patriots’ biggest remaining need is the most important position on the field. Holding the No. 15 overall pick, it’s unrealistic to expect a top quarterback to fall to them. Last week, it would have seemed irresponsible to package premium picks -- current and future -- to move up for a top quarterback, but now? It shouldn’t sound so crazy.
As you probably know, this draft is considered strong at quarterback, but there’s also a ton of teams in the hunt. Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson and Justin Fields are all considered premium prospects, with Trey Lance serving as a high-risk, high-reward player and Mac Jones representing the low ceiling, potential buyer beware QB based on the weapons he had in college.
If the Patriots fancy one or more of these players (remember, Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels skipped Lance’s pro day) they’ll have Nos. 15, 46 and 96 to dangle over the first three rounds. They could also trade next year’s first if they’d rather make another high-ish pick this April.
Here’s a quick look at what Rich Hill’s modern value chart says the Patriots could get by packaging certain picks. Keep in mind it could likely cost more to get a deal over the finish line:
No. 12 (49ers): 15 and 96
No. 7 (Lions): 15 and 47
No. 5 (Bengals): 15, 47 and 96
No. 4 (Falcons): 15, 47, 96, 109
Two things to consider: One is that New England can get more draft capital by trading Stephon Gilmore. The other is that, while they could theoretically move up higher by moving a first or second from next year’s draft, they have to consider the trade partners.
The Jets have the second pick and the Dolphins have Houston’s pick at No. 3. In a different draft, moving from No. 15 to No. 2 or 3 would be plausible, but can you really imagine the Jets or Dolphins essentially trading a top quarterback to the Patriots?
New England could wait to see if the Dolphins stay put and draft a receiver or lineman, at which point they could give Atlanta a call. That would be ideal if they like the guy who’s there (presumably Fields).
Short of that, there’s only one other way to see the Patriots getting a top-three QB: with the first overall pick. Lunacy, yes, but perhaps more realistic than getting No. 2 or 3, isn’t it?
Let’s enter Crazy Town for a minute. Maybe Urban Meyer really likes Lance or Jones and he reckons he can get a haul for No. 1, then move back up (the Jaguars also have Nos. 25, 33 and 45). If the Pats love Lawrence or Wilson, what are they giving up?
We’ll peg the Patriots’ future first-rounders at 25th overall. In addition to Nos. 15 and 46, giving up their firsts in 2022 and 2023, plus another future second would at least satisfy the value chart. Would you do it? More importantly, would Belichick?
Beyond the difficulty of moving into the top 3, another reason not to make a big leap is the state of the receiver room. If Nelson Agholor is what he was in a career year last season, he’s an OK No. 2. Otherwise, he’s a No. 3, which is also what Jakobi Meyers and hopefully Kendrick Bourne are. The Patriots may have two good tight ends, but they definitely don’t have a No. 1 at receiver.
So do the Pats stay put at No. 15 (or move up a little) and get a Jaylen Waddle or Rashod Bateman? That would truly make the passing game a quarterback away and New England would still have its draft capital going forward.
Or the Patriots can try to do both. If they like Jones (which I don’t really, but to each their own), they can move up a little for him in the first, then target someone like LSU receiver Terrace Marshall in the second.
The fact that we’re even considering scenarios like this is a good sign. Ideally, the team would have drafted better and recent years and thus wouldn’t have entered the offseason with so many needs. They’re filling them, though, and that leaves the door open to make perhaps their biggest move yet.