NEPD Editor: Matthew Jones
The Patriots currently hold five selections in the 2013 NFL Draft; the current sentiment is that New England will either stay put or attempt to accumulate additional picks by trading down, but is there a chance that Bill Belichick will trade up instead? Read on for more information regarding this possibility.
Last year, New England abandoned their typical routine of trading down or out of the first round in order to trade up twice, using their improved draft positions to select defensive end Chandler Jones and linebacker Dont’a Hightower, both of whom developed into effective starters during their rookie seasons. The additions of Jones and Hightower were two of the driving forces behind a vastly improved Patriots defense which improved from ranking fifteenth in points per game allowed (21.4) to ninth in 2012 (20.7). New England’s defensive unit also improved from thirty-first to twenty-fifth in terms of yards per game allowed.
These additions seem to suggest that the Patriots should consider making another move up draft boards in 2013, whether to continue their defensive overhaul by targeting one of the draft’s top talents (whether in the defensive front seven or in the secondary), or to inject youth into their wide receiver group (and potentially offset Wes Welker’s departure should he sign elsewhere.) This route is even more attractive when considering that many other playoff teams have similar needs and could be drawn to the same prospects New England may take an interest in.
However, the Patriots are missing selections in the fourth, fifth, and sixth rounds this season, owing those picks to Tampa Bay (for cornerback Aqib Talib), Washington (for defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth), and Cincinnati (for wide receiver Chad Johnson.) Trading up (and sacrificing additional draft picks in order to do so) would limit New England’s opportunities to collect affordable young talent from the draft pool, making it unlikely that the Patriots’ front office will make such a move.
Then again, it’s difficult to put anything past Bill Belichick at this point. If New England were to trade down later in the draft, they could potentially recoup some of the picks sacrificed in a trade. The Patriots have a fairly deep roster which may benefit more from top-end talent than from additional rotational or reserve contributors.
New England’s free agent maneuverings are expected to expose their draft plans more than in previous years. With significant players such as Wes Welker, Sebastian Vollmer, Kyle Arrington, and Aqib Talib set to become free agents, the Patriots will be unable to avoid tipping their hand to some extent, as the players which leave town will need to be replaced during the offseason in order to limit the damage incurred by their dearture(s).
It stands to reason that the more valuable players New England loses, the more draft picks they will need to replace those players. That is, unless they are active in this offseason’s free agent period. Bill Belichick has long been a fan of low-risk free agent signings (Fred Taylor, Torry Holt, Shawn Springs, etc.) and could opt to delve into the free agent pool once again to find some temporary solutions.
Adding veterans on short term, team-friendly deals would be a wise strategy regardless of New England’s draft strategy; it would allow the team greater flexibility to trade up if necessary, or otherwise select the best player available without being restricted to addressing any major weaknesses on the roster. Trading up seems unlikely at this point, but if the Patriots enter the draft with few needs, they could potentially afford to do so.
Regarding compensation, even if the Patriots open holes at wide receiver, offensive tackle, or cornerback by losing some of their top free agents, they may be able to swing trades involving future draft picks, especially because any free agents they lose to other teams would provide New England with compensatory picks. This strategy would have to be accompanied by financial austerity, as the distribution of compensatory picks is influenced by a team’s free agent signings as well as its losses.