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Why the Patriots keep trading away their late round draft picks for players with NFL experience

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The Patriots are taking advantage of the compensatory pick process to bolster their roster.

The New England Patriots have traded a 2018 4th round pick to the Eagles for DB Eric Rowe. They sent a 2017 5th round pick to the Browns for LB Barkevious Mingo. They shipped their 2016 4th round pick to the Bears for TE Martellus Bennett (and a 6th round pick).

Why are the Patriots so keen on getting rid of their mid-round picks?

Head coach Bill Belichick has traded away the team’s 5th round pick for six straight years, a clear indication that he doesn’t believe there is much value to be had in that round. He’s right, too. The success rate of a late 5th round pick- roughly when the Patriots draft on an annual basis- is negligibly different from the success rate of 6th and 7th rounders.

So why not trade a pick with very low odds of turning into a contributing player for a player with NFL experience and possible upside? Belichick has openly discussed the difference in scouting a player out of college, versus a player with NFL experience, and how the latter allows for a better evaluation in projecting success.

“It's always good when you can...evaluate players against known players,” Belichick said in an August press conference. “It's one thing to play them in the fourth quarter [of the preseason] against other players who don't really have much of a track record in the NFL, whereas if you put them in at other points of the [preseason] game you'd be able to see them against a guy that you have a lot better idea of what their skills are and how a young player would matchup on that.”

Bennett, Mingo, and Rowe have all had various levels of success in the NFL, but the key unifying factor is that they’ve competed in the NFL. Belichick knows how they look on an NFL field and believes they can add value. Bennett and Mingo will be free agents after this season, while the Patriots have Rowe under control for through the 2018 season.

5th round picks aren’t guarantees to make the roster, while 4th rounders are rarely a lock beyond their rookie season. So if the Patriots can acquire a player that can contribute for one great season, then they’re likely getting a better return (albeit at a higher salary, in the case of Bennett) than they would have by using the late mid-to-late round picks on a rookie.

Additionally, the Patriots are feeling pretty confident they will recuperate these mid-to-late round draft picks via the compensatory pick process- and we have to remember that these compensatory picks are now tradeable starting in the 2017 draft.

The Patriots have a huge free agent class after this season, with players that will yield top draft picks if they depart.

Linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins, and edge defender Jabaal Sheard would likely fetch the Patriots a 2018 3rd round compensatory pick. Cornerback Logan Ryan will yield a 4th or a 5th round pick, based on his upcoming season, while safety Duron Harmon will likely result in a 5th or a 6th round pick. I would expect tight end Martellus Bennett to also net the Patriots a 6th or 7th round compensatory pick.

Fact is, the Patriots are extremely likely to add these late round picks through the compensatory process. If the Patriots can develop a prospect into a viable starter that leaves in free agency, then the Patriots will pick up a mid-to-late round compensatory pick- and it would seem that the Patriots have a good success rate at converting these trade pieces into viable starters.

The Patriots sent a 4th round pick to the Buccaneers for CB Aqib Talib, who signed with the Broncos and earned the Patriots a 3rd round compensatory pick. This pick was the recently released ED Geneo Grissom, but I think this just reinforces the notion that scouting NFL players is easier than projecting college players into the next level.

The Patriots acquired ED Akeem Ayers and a 7th round pick from the Titans for a 6th rounder, and LB Jonathan Casillas and a 6th round pick from the Buccaneers for a 5th rounder. Ayers and Casillas net the Patriots a 6th and 7th round compensatory pick after they left in free agency.

Just last season, the Patriots traded 4th string tight end Michael Hoomanawanui to the Saints for DT Akiem Hicks. Hicks just signed with the Bears in free agency and, if the Patriots release TE Clay Harbor by week 10, the Patriots would receive a 5th or 6th round compensatory pick.

So the Patriots have been acquiring these players with NFL experience in exchange for mid-to-late round draft picks knowing that these NFL players have better tape for projecting success, and also knowing that these picks will likely be recuperated down the road if the coaching staff turns these players into success stories.