As we're all painfully aware by now, tonight is the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft. And since, as usual, I have absolutely no idea what the New England Patriots will be doing, I'm not even going to try to make any kind of practical predictions as to what I think will happen. The easy assumption is that, due to the depth of this year's draft combined with the uncharacteristically low amount of picks the Patriots have, Belichick will return to his roots of trading back, stockpiling picks, and looking for the best value.
But what's the fun in that?
Odds are that any prediction I make for this weekend is going to be wrong anyway, so why not swing for the fences? I mean, if I'm going to be wrong, I may as well be WRONG. Like the wrongiest wrong that every wronged kind of wrong. And what better way to completely miss the mark on Draft Day than to suggest some fairly off-the-wall, but somehow mildly plausible trade scenarios?
I just haven't been able to shake the feeling, ever since Wes Welker left, that New England has some kind of trade up their sleeve; call it instinct, paranoia, or just overall nincompoopery, but I simply have a feeling that the Patriots will be making a trade over the next few days that involves more than just draft picks. And while I have no way of knowing what that trade will be, I have some crackpot theories that I figured I'd share with you. Below are some fairly unlikely, but not completely ridiculous, draft day trade scenarios.
Patriots trade Ryan Mallet and a high draft pick to the Eagles for Desean Jackson. Michael Vick is going to get hurt this season; it isn't a matter of if, just a matter of when. His backup, Nick Foles, showed flashes early, but hasn't proven himself reliable enough to run the offense consistently should Vick go down. Acquiring Ryan Mallett would not only give the Eagles some insurance, but it would also give them a quarterback they can groom for the future. Desean Jackson is one of the best pure deep threats in the game and would represent the final piece of the New England offensive puzzle. He won't be going over the middle or laying out for the ball anytime soon, but he is an absolute burner and is the exact kind of deep route runner that this team needs. Plus, we already have experience with a receiver who cringes at the thought of contact, and Jackson is significantly better than Brandon Lloyd.
Why it won't happen. At this point, Mallett is little more than a high-upside backup with virtually zero NFL experience. At no point during the preseason or his garbage time minutes has he shown himself to be anything more than a young quarterback who needs some grooming before he's ready to take over an offense. So why would the Eagles want to give up one of their premier receivers for him? Furthermore, if Chip Kelly brings the offensive philosophy he had at Oregon to the Eagles this year, he'll need his QB to be a little more mobile than Mallett is. Jackson is likely to be a key cog in Kelly's offense, so trading him for Vick insurance and a 2nd rounder makes very little sense. From a Patriots standpoint, they would also be inheriting a five year, $51 million contract given to a receiver who has been known to quit on his team in the past, so it's definitely a huge risk. They may be better off looking for a receiver in the draft or elsewhere.
Patriots trade Logan Mankins to the Dallas Cowboys for draft picks and Miles Austin. Dallas just put a lot of money into Tony Romo, and keeping him upright is a priority. He spent way more time than he should have last season scrambling around and taking hits, which is not the recipe for longevity in this league. Mankins is one of the league's top guards (a draft priority for Dallas) and while I would hate to see him go, the Patriots have proven time and time again that offensive linemen are fairly replacable, and the team has decent depth at that position. Dealing Mankins for a high draft pick(s) and Miles Austin would both give the Patriots more flexibility in the draft and give them another legitimate weapon for Tommy B. Austin has struggled to stay healthy in the past, but he is a very good receiver with legit deep threat ability. He can also run more shallow routes and would work very well on the outside and bring a lot to the offense. Finally, Austin recently restructured his contract, which means he won't be a major cap hit to bring in.
Why it won't happen. Usually when a player restructures his contract, it means that he is in a team's long-term plans and the desire to keep him around is mutual. Furthermore, losing Austin would leave the Cowboys incredibly thin at receiver, as he and Bryant are the only two proven commodities at the position right now. Receiver is one of the Cowboys' biggest areas of need right now along with offensive lineman, and so it wouldn't make much sense to get rid of one of their top playmakers in exchange for a player that they can likely develop via the draft. Plus, the Patriots currently have their entire offensive line from 2012 in tact, and Logan Mankins is the leader of that group and the one who gives them their teeth. Not only that, but Mankins' contract isn't something that the Cowboys would be likely to pick up, as they are tight on money as it is.
Patriots trade Brandon Spikes for draft picks. Spikes is coming to the end of his rookie deal, and it's likely that he is going to command a fairly decent payday once he becomes a free agent. And while Spikes has been a run-stopping, fumble-inducing, concussion-causing force for the Patriots linebacking corps as of late, he is a fairly huge liability in coverage and is part of a deep 'backer rotation. I can see the Patriots getting value for him while they still can, converting Rob Ninkovich to more of a full-time linebacker role, using Adrian Wilson as the 3-4 run stuffer, and perhaps using one of the draft picks they get for Spikes to acquire his replacement. There is nothing that Bill Belichick hates more than losing players for nothing, and so now might be the time to move him and get a linebacker who is less one dimensional
Why it won't happen. Unlike draft picks, Spikes is a proven commodity; he's big, he's mean, he plays well, and he gives this defense attitude. Spikes and Adrian Wilson seem primed to be the kind of enforcers that we haven't seen around here since Dean Portman and Fulton Reed took the ice in The Mighty Ducks 2, and I would imagine Belichick would prefer to try and find a way to extend Spikes' contract this year during the season so as to prevent him from even testing the market. Even though the Pats have a decent number of linebackers currently on the roster, Spikes, Mayo, and HIghtower are the core starters, and losing one of those three could be detrimental to the overall cohesion of the defense.
Patriots mortgage their future, their draft, their homes, and the deed to Gillette Stadium to acquire Larry Fitzgerald. Larry Fitzgerald is the best wide receiver in football. Yes, Calvin Johnson is more of a physical talent and a better pure athlete than Fitz, but Megatron can't touch Larry in terms of hands, route-running, defensive awareness, and overall knowledge of the position. Furthermore, Fitzgerald's talents are going to waste in Arizona, the Cardinals are still rebuilding, and I can't think of any receivers currently in the league that would make a better Patriot than Fitz. In a position where the best of the best are known for being divas, malcontents, and selfish whiners, Fitzgerald is a class act all the way - hard worker, team-first player, lunchpail mentality, and positive locker room presence. Fitzgerald would make the Patriots offense literally unstoppable, and a player of that caliber deserves a quarterback like Tom Brady throwing him the ball. Brady only has a few years left, and if getting Tommy B another ring or two means that the Pats devolve into an absolute mess a few years down the road due to impractical contracts and backloaded salaries, it may be a tradeoff the front office is willing to make. But getting Fitzgerald is going to take A LOT.
Why it won't happen. I can't fathom any scenario where the Cardinals would be willing to give Larry Fitzgerald up. They just signed Carson Palmer in hopes of finally giving him the quarterback he hasn't had since Kurt Warner retired. Furthermore, acquiring Fitzgerald would have the Patriots on the hook for the remainder of the eight year, $128 million contract he signed in 2011, which would put a huge strain on their cap in a few years. Not only that, but the way the contract is structured, Ftizgerald is guaranteed $50 million by the Cards over the course of the deal, meaning that Arizona would owe him even if he were to leave town. Taking a cap hit like that while losing a player of that caliber, especially when you just went and (in theory) got him a strong-armed quarterback, is bad business for the Cardinals. Honestly, it would probably take AT LEAST a combination of the above two trades to make this move happen: the Patriots trade Brandon Spikes to Jacksonville for their 2nd rounder and maybe a 5th rounder, which they then use as a bargaining chip to acquire Jackson from Philly. They then trade their own 1st round pick and newly acquired Desean Jackson to Arizona (which isn't even legal) for Larry Fitzgerald. In addition, Belichick agrees to hand wash the entire Cardinals roster's jock straps all season and Bob Kraft attends every Patriots game in 2013 wearing a leisure suit and fedora. If all that happens, then maybe there's a shot.