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From Aqib Talib to Corey Coleman: Bill Belichick’s pursuit of top draft picks

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How else can the team add talent?

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Cleveland Browns Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots addition of former Cleveland Browns 15th overall pick and wide receiver Corey Coleman shouldn’t come as a surprise to fans of the team because the transaction follows a familiar pattern.

An early draft pick burns out with a different team while still on their rookie deal. Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio thought highly of the player coming out of the draft and thinks the player might be more successful in a different situation. The Patriots add the former top draft pick with varying levels of success.

There are plenty of previous examples of these trades, but the Patriots seemed to really commit to this style of talent acquisition in 2012 when they acquired cornerback Aqib Talib from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the final year of Talib’s contract.

New England is rarely able to add elite talent in the draft because the team is so successful year after year and have late picks. One workaround for the team is to take major risks on players with injury histories, like Rob Gronkowski and Dominique Easley. These blue chip players would have gone much earlier in the draft had they remained healthy. Instead, the Patriots took a risk and drafted them later.

The other way to add the top talent is by acquiring players still on rookie deals from other teams (or through free agency).

The Patriots acquired former 39th overall pick Akeem Ayers from the Tennessee Titans for peanuts in 2014 and former 50th overall pick Jonathan Bostic from the Chicago Bears in 2015.

Then they hit hyperdrive in 2016, trading for former 6th overall pick Barkevious Mingo from the Browns, former 7th overall pick Jonathan Cooper from the Arizona Cardinals, former 40th overall pick Kyle Van Noy from the Detroit Lions, and former 47th overall pick Eric Rowe from the Philadelphia Eagles en route to winning Super Bowl LI.

The Patriots went back to that well in 2017, trading for former 20th overall pick Brandin Cooks from the New Orleans Saints, former 29th overall pick Phillip Dorsett from the Indianapolis Colts, and former 60th overall pick Kony Ealy from the Carolina Panthers.

Some of these trades, like for Talib, Ayers, Van Noy, and Cooks were rousing successes. Other were complete busts, like for Cooper and Ealy. But the Patriots were generally giving up late round picks for these players, so the success rate has been pretty stellar given the cost.

The Patriots are hoping for a similar success rate this year with the acquisition of former 12th overall pick Danny Shelton from the Browns and we could easily put former 29th overall pick Cordarrelle Patterson and his relatively cheap $3.25 million contract in a similar category, along with the newly signed Coleman.

Even if just one of these players pans out as a top contributor, the Patriots gave up what should be a late 2019 3rd round pick for Shelton, Patterson, Coleman (for free!), and the 210th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft (Braxton Berrios). That’s incredible value, especially given the relatively average success rate of a late third round pick.

So Coleman could be cut later this week. Maybe he’ll stick around once Julian Edelman returns. Maybe he’ll get a couple hundred yards over the course of the whole season. Maybe the Patriots will extend him beyond this year if he fits in with the system and team culture.

Who knows. The Patriots team-building strategy is set up so the team won’t have to mortgage away their future in order to find out.

Update: The Patriots cut Coleman after six days to make space for another former top draft pick, wide receiver Josh Gordon. On and on we go.