We've come to expect the Patriots to trade down in the draft. Bill Belichick and the War Room staff do a fantastic job of picking up future draft picks in later rounds and still grabbing their guy. For example, the Patriots out of the first round in the 2007 NFL Draft, picking up future draft picks which they converted into Jerod Mayo, Shawn Crable and Randy Moss. During the 2009 Draft, they traded down out of 23rd overall (and away from Michael Oher and Clay Matthews) and a 2010 6th round pick, and in return they looted Darius Butler, Brandon Tate, Julian Edelman, and Rob Gronkowski. In the same 2009 Draft, they traded down out of the 89th overall pick (3nd round) to pick up a 2011 2nd round pick (Carolina's. 33rd overall.), Brandon Spikes, and Zoltan Mesko.
In last year's draft, the Patriots traded down from 22nd overall and packaged their 4th round pick (119th overall) for Devin McCourty (the best rookie CB in the draft, also performed like one of the best in the league), Taylor Price (unknown), and Aaron Hernandez (one of the top 5 rookie tight ends in a tight end heavy draft). Basically, the Patriots have done a phenomenal job of manipulating the draft to get the players they want, as well as more future buying power.
It seems as if the Patriots are locked and loaded to splurge all of their built of draft picks on the draft this year. With three selections in the first 33 picks, the Patriots could get three immediate star players. Well, don't hold your breath. The Patriots are going to be trading into the future.
Read "why" after the jump!
Belichick doesn't mean for this season to be the culmination of a three year rebuilding/reloading process. Instead, Belichick has found a Midas-touch of sorts when it comes to the draft; he can create his own draft picks from thin air. He has found a way to reload the team every season from here until he retires and I don't see him giving up that kind of power. In a sense, Belichick has cornered the market- if anyone wants a trade, they know the Patriots would be willing to consider an offer. That sort of brand power allows the Patriots to get offers and make trades more easily than other teams because teams know that Belichick isn't going to short-change them. If you review the trade scenarios, all of the values were fair. It's just the aptitude of the franchises that weigh heavy on the final results.
Where trades should be balanced, leadership of other teams make poor management decisions with their draft picks and take poor prospects. At the same time, Belichick and the Patriots continue to maneuver their way through the draft and, even if they don't pick up an elite player, they collect a bountiful amount of prospects.
Regardless of the final product on the field, the draft trade values remain fair. As a result, Belichick will continue to trade his draft picks in order to pick up players for the future. He will cash some of his value now, while saving some for later. He continues to put money in his "Rainy Day Jar", even though the rain will never come. He'll take some money out of the jar if there's a player he really likes, but, if not, the money will stay on top of the fridge.
So here we are in 2011. The Patriots possess the 17th, 28th, 33rd, 60th, 74th and 92nd overall selections- that's six picks in the first three rounds. Seems too good to be true. However, look to the future because you can be certain that Belichick, for all his "one day at a time" talk, is looking very far down the road. The Patriots are slated for only five draft picks (one in each of the first five rounds) in the 2012 NFL Draft. Five. That's not very Belichick-like. As a result, you can be certain that some of the Patriots' 2011 Draft picks will go back into the rainy day fund for next year.
Here's a potential scenario, based off of past trades by Belichick. The Patriots trade down from 17th to the mid 20s, picking up an early 3rd round pick. They trade out of the 28th pick and into the early portion of the second round, picking up a mid-round 3rd. They trade their 33rd pick overall for a 2012 first round pick and a 2011 fourth round pick. They package their 60th pick with one of their acquired 3rd round picks to move up into the early portion of the second round. They trade their other acquired 3rd round pick for a 2012 second round pick. They trade their acquired 4th round pick for a 2012 third round pick.
The result of the trades:
First Round: Mid-20s selection.
Second Round: Mid-30s, Mid-30s,
Third Round: 74th, 92nd
First Round Pick
Second Round Pick
Third Round Pick
Now I understand it may be hard to see the Patriots in a prime position to make some moves upwards in the draft, but you have to understand the reasoning. Belichick is drafting for the franchise, not the upcoming season. He will take the best player for the franchise, regardless of need. Yes, they will often be the same, but he will always be thinking of how to better the club.
Also, examine what actually happens in the trades. A lot of times, Belichick's trades don't hit you until the dust settles. Basically, the Patriots trade their 17th and 60th for a mid-30s pick, as well as a 2012 First, Second and Third round pick. I think every franchise would take that deal in a heartbeat. Belichick is just one of the few draft guys that will make those deals actually happen.
The 2011 Draft is one that is pretty heavy in "late first-early second round talent", which means that Belichick will try and take advantage of a player's value. Maybe someday the draft will be swimming with top talent that can't be missed. Maybe someday, but it certainly isn't this draft. When that time comes and the draft is pouring talent from the sky, the Patriots will be ready.
That's why there's a jar over the fridge.