In 18 NFL drafts, Bill Belichick has made nearly 60 trades during the selection weekend.
He is, without much argument, the most influential and active mind when it comes to modern football economics and like a powerhouse investor, the best teams in the league tend to lean in whichever direction he’s going while the rest scramble to work their way through yesterday’s fad.
It’s no surprise that New England had the fewest selections in what was considered a relatively middle-of-the-road crop of players last year (both the Patriots and the Bears had five picks in the draft, but New England forfeited its fourth-round pick as part of the Deflategate punishment). Instead, Belichick dealt his highest picks for proven talent like Brandin Cooks and 2017 became the year of the free agent, with the Eagles and Jaguars both loading up on veteran, middle-tier talent to help hoist them to a Super Bowl.
However after trading away Cooks to the Rams, Belichick could, for the first time in his coaching tenure, select players with his two first-round picks and two second-round picks. He has previously picked twice in the first round in both 2012 (Dont’a Hightower and Chandler Jones) and ’04 (Vince Wilfork and Ben Watson). By my count, he has packaged picks to trade up in the first round a total of three times (2002 for Daniel Graham, ’03 for Ty Warren and ’12 for Jones and Hightower).
If he keeps those picks, there’s no doubt it says something about this year’s class. But what, exactly?
Let’s join the rest of the NFL world in trying to figure it out…
Because Belichick lost Jimmy Garoppolo via trade, and because it seems that he has a better idea of Tom Brady’s physical and emotional windows than anyone else in football, it makes sense that the Patriots would be in on what is billed as a once-in-a-decade quarterback class.
However, it would be difficult to imagine Belichick bundling his ammo and sneaking his way into the top five to snag a passer seeing as his first-round picks are 23 and 31, respectively. Also, a future Patriots first-round pick would be a risky proposition for a team. Who is going to assume that a Brady-led unit ends up picking in the top 10 to make a deal worthwhile, especially with other teams already paying such a high premium to get in the mix? The Patriots have done one private workout with a quarterback that we know of so far this draft season—Princeton signal caller Chad Kanoff. They had Jimmy Garoppolo in for an on-campus visit back in 2014, though I’ve spoken to several Patriots players who were drafted by Belichick over the years that never received so much as a phone call from the organization—which is no different than most other teams.
The beauty of having picks 23, 31, 43 and 63 and 95 is that they seem to be in ideal territory for one of Belichick’s small school wonders, like Richmond’s Kyle Lauletta (Lauletta, aside from being compared to Garoppolo by a few analysts, has a father and uncle who played at Belichick’s favored Naval Academy). But…stranger things have happened.
THE ALL-WORLD EDGE RUSHER
Because of Belichick’s consistent success, he’s never had opportunities to pick high (after 2002, his lone top-10 pick was linebacker Jerod Mayo in ’08). We’ve never seen him paired with a player who draft analysts have deemed a once-in-a-generation prospect, but this year provides a unique window to do so.
Belichick was front and center at Chubb’s pro day workout and told him afterward “We’re picking 31st, so no chance.” It was probably just light-hearted conversation and a chance for a coach to appreciate someone he was high on up close.
That being said, follow my twisted logic here:
The Giants pass on Chubb at No. 2, either trading out of the pick altogether or selecting a successor to Eli Manning. The Albert Breer-imagined four-quarterback scenario plays out and the Colts are on the clock at No. 6. While Chubb would be a slam-dunk pick here, Chris Ballard is a general manager in no hurry to make a splash and he could triple his presence in the top 100. Meanwhile, Belichick gets his hands on the brightest raw pass rushing talent he’s had during his 17 years with the Patriots—and perhaps still has some capital remaining to pick at Tier 2 of the quarterbacks.
THE SENSIBLE POTPOURRI
I loved Pro Football Focus’ three-round mock for the Patriots before the Cooks trade: Defensive back Isaiah Oliver from Colorado, Alabama linebacker Rashaan Evans, Lauletta of Richmond and Kolton Miller, offensive tackle from UCLA. It seemed so tidy, with sensible replacements for lost starters across the board—but that’s what also gives me pause.
I think the 23rd pick puts New England in range of a few other common sense targets, like Mike McGlinchey (OT) out of Notre Dame, Dallas Goedert (TE) and Leighton Vander Esch (LB). Selecting players based on immediate need would be by the books in the mock draft world.
And maybe that would be the most Belichick-ian move of all. Knowing full well that quarterback hysteria will essentially push the remaining 85% of the first round back four or five picks, giving him potential access to players he would not have been able to touch at his original position, he stays home and cleans up. A new Jimmy Garoppolo, Rob Gronkowski and Nate Solder in the pipeline. Now that’s something that would scare the rest of the NFL.