Contrary to popular belief, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots have been among the best drafters in the NFL. One of the reasons he has been so successful is his willingness to trade picks — he views them as assets, and will take a player if he thinks the value is good, otherwise, he won’t hesitate to move back, never fearing the players they might miss out on. The draft is simply part of his plan, which is, and always will be, to make the team better.
Belichick has made at least one trade in every draft since 2001, so let’s now take a look back at some of his most successful draft weekend moves. It’s important to note that this list will only include deals made during the draft, so trades like the ones for cornerback Aqib Talib or wide receiver Josh Gordon, for example, are not included.
Traded: Picks #39 and #173
Received: Matt Light and pick #112
One of Belichick’s first draft day trades with the Patriots turned out to be a great one. Technically, it took two trades to get Matt Light, but you get the point. Belichick traded #39 to Pittsburg for #50 and #112. Then, while Light was on the phone with the Jets, who were drafting at #49, Belichick packaged #50 and #173 to move up to draft Light 48th overall. Not only did he draft an excellent left tackle, and eventual Patriots Hall of Famer, but he got to screw over the Jets while doing it. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Traded: Drew Bledsoe, Tebucky Jones, Picks #19, #75, and #193
Received: Ty Warren, Eugene Wilson, Dan Klecko, Vince Wilfork, Tully Banta-Cain, and Corey Dillon
Two first round trades here. Also, I know I just told you I wasn’t including non-Draft weekend trades, and here I am talking about Drew Bledsoe and Tebucky Jones. The reason why is because they acquired #14 from the Bills for him and they used that pick, along with #193 to move up to #13 and take Ty Warren. Then, they traded their other first rounder (#19) to Baltimore for #41 and a 2004 first round pick. They then packaged #41 with #75 to move up and take Eugene Wilson, and acquired Dan Klecko in the process. With the 2004 pick, they took Big Vince Wilfork. You’re talking about two players that were huge on the defensive line for the Pats, and Wilson played a good chunk of snaps at safety as well.
They also traded Tebucky Jones to the Saints for #78, #238, and a 2004 fourth rounder. They then traded #78, a third round pick, to Miami for a 2004 second rounder (#56), which they sent to Cincinnati in exchange for Corey Dillon, who only went on to set the record for rushing yards in a season by a Patriot. They also selected Tully Banta-Cain with #238, and he was an important edge rusher and special teamer for years.
Traded: Pick #28
Received: Randy Moss and Jerod Mayo
The Patriots dealt #28 to San Francisco in exchange for a fourth round pick (#110) and a 2008 first rounder. They then traded #110 to Oakland for a receiver by the name of Randy Moss, ever heard of him? The first round pick in 2008? Just a former team captain, and current assistant coach, Jerod Mayo. Probably the best trade in Patriots history, and other than the Herschel Walker deal maybe among the better ones in NFL history.
Traded: Picks #23 (and #26)
Received: Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, Darius Butler, Brandon Tate
The Patriots traded back in the first round twice. The second one being the infamous Clay Matthews deal that Felger and Mazz have probably brought up 57 times this week. They get back a second round pick and two third round selections. After taking Darius Butler and before drafting Brandon Tate with #83, the Patriots traded #73 to Jacksonville for a seventh rounder (#232) and a 2010 second rounder. At #232 the Patriots selected a quarterback-turned-wideout, Julien Edelman, and in 2010, they packaged the second rounder with a sixth round selection to move up to take future Hall of Famer Rob Gronkowski. Isn’t it interesting how Felger and Mazz never mention that the Clay Matthews trade ended up getting the Patriots two of their best offensive weapons for the past 10 years?
Traded: Picks #28, #60, and #93 (2012)
Received: Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley, Marcus Cannon, and Chandler Jones
The combination of two trades in the 2011 draft and one trade in 2012. The first, they traded back with the Saints: trading #28 for a second rounder (#56), which New England used to draft Shane Vereen, and a 2012 first rounder. The next year, they would package that first (#27) along with a third (#93) to make a trade with Cincinnati for #21, where they took Chandler Jones.
Going back to 2011, they traded down in the second (#60) with Houston for third and fifth round picks. Those picks turned into Stevan Ridley and Marcus Cannon. Maybe not sensational players, but Ridley was certainly serviceable for a few years, and Cannon has been a valuable part of the offensive line after Dante Scarnecchia came out of retirement in 2016.
Traded: Picks #31 and #126
Received: Dont’a Hightower
I already mentioned the Chandler Jones trade, and here’s the other deal the Patriots made in the first round that year. In case you didn’t already know, when they target someone, they aren’t afraid to go after them. They knocked their evaluations out of the park in 2012, taking Jones, who, although things didn’t work out here in the long term, is considered an elite pass rusher, as well as Dont’a Hightower, who is the leader on the Patriots defense, and has consistently been the best defender on the field in the most important games for the club. Think of just the big plays he made: the strip sack in Super Bowl 51 and the tackle in Super Bowl 49 — and those are just the tip of the iceberg.
Traded: Pick #29
Received: Jamie Collins, Logan Ryan, LeGarrette Blount
Once again, the Patriots traded out of the first round. This time with the Minnesota Vikings, who were trading up to draft Cordarrelle Patterson — who eventually ended up in New England anyway last year. In exchange, the Patriots got second, third, fourth, and seventh round picks. They selected Jamie Collins with the second rounder, took Logan Ryan in the third, and then traded the seventh to Tampa Bay for LeGarrette Blount. That’s one heck of a haul for a kick returner.
Traded: Chandler Jones
Received: Joe Thuney and Malcolm Mitchell
Again, another offseason trade that resulted in a draft pick, and the second time Chandler Jones appears on this list. The Patriots traded Jones to the Arizona Cardinals for pick #61, which they then traded to New Orleans for a third and fourth. The third was used to draft Thuney, and they took Mitchell with the fourth. Thuney has been a solid contributor for the Patriots and developed into one of the most reliable young guards in football — he was the team’s most consistent offensive linemen during the 2019 season. Mitchell only played his rookie season season, but New England doesn’t win Super Bowl 51 without him.
Traded: Picks #51 and #95
Received: Trent Brown, Ja’Whaun Bentley, 2019 second round pick (#56), 2019 third round pick (#73)
The 2018 draft was a great example of the Patriots willingness to make a seemingly unlimited amount of moves to maximize the value of their assets. First, Jimmy Garoppolo got traded mid-year, and they get a second round pick (#43) back from San Francisco. They then traded #43 to Detroit for #51 and a fourth. Then they traded back again, this time with Chicago for a 2019 second and fourth (#105). At #105, they traded down again, this time with Cleveland for #114 and #178 (Christian Sam). Then, they traded #114 to Detroit (again) for a 2019 third rounder. Oh, and by the way, they packaged the other fourth with their own second to trade up for Duke Dawson. Dawson did not pan out, but the haul was still a good one, especially considering this: it all started with ONE SINGLE DRAFT PICK!
Okay, now onto the Brown trade. They sent #95 to San Francisco for Trent Brown and a fifth (#143), where they drafted Bentley. Brown was fantastic at left tackle for the Patriots during their 2018 championship run, and subsequently became the highest paid offensive lineman in NFL history last offseason. Bentley looked like a promising young linebacker before an injury ended his rookie season. He served as New England’s number three off-the-ball option in 2019, but could push for a starting role this year.
Traded: Picks #56, #64, #73, #101, #162 and #239
Received: Joejuan Williams, Chase Winovich, Hjalte Froholdt, Damien Harris, Jarrett Stidham, Yodny Cajuste, Byron Cowart, 2020 4th (#125)
If this looks like the Patriots’ entire draft haul, it’s because it almost is. The Patriots made seven deals overall last year, two of them involving the 101st selection, and 4 (FOUR!!!) of them involving No. 162. They moved 56 — acquired in a 2018 draft day trade — and 101 to move up and get Joejuan Williams. Then they traded 64 for 77 (Chase Winovich) and 118 (Hjalte Froholdt). Before they would draft Winovich, they traded 73 (the final piece of the Jimmy Garoppolo deal) for 87 (Damien Harris), 162, and a 2020 fourth-rounder. They then packaged 162 with 97 for 101 (Yodny Cajuste) and 133 (Jarrett Stidham). And lastly, after traded back for 162 again, they package it and 239 to move up to 159 and select Byron Cowart.
Whew, that’s a whole bunch of trading, and a ton of prospects they picked up. Overall, it’s obviously an unknown how these turned out, but things do look promising. Stidham is projected to be the Patriots’ starter at quarterback this year, Winovich showed a lot of promise on the edge last season, and Cowart was part of the rotation on the D-line before getting hurt. If they continue their progress, and production comes from Harris, Cajuste, and Froholdt this season, all that wheeling and dealing may have paid off in a big way.
Oh, and the Garoppolo trade stays alive, with the Patriots still having pick 125 in this year’s draft. Here’s hoping Bill trades it for a pick next year, just so we can keep it going!
The next time you’re wondering how the Patriots have been so good for so long, remember what Bill Belichick does on draft day, and the offseason in general. Remember, this article doesn’t include any players they acquired any time other than the draft and also does not includes trades include the Logan Mankins deal, which got them the pick where they eventually ended up selecting Trey Flowers back in 2015.
Now, they have obviously not all been winners. Belichick traded up for Chad Jackson, for example, and gave up a third- and fourth-rounder to trade up for the late Ron Brace. He also traded out instead of drafting Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant (I agree with those, but you may not). But, as you can see by the expansive list above, his plan has worked more often than not.
So, as you watch the draft this weekend, remember, even if you don’t love what they’re doing, it’s all a part of Belichick’s master plan. If you can’t trust that by now, you haven’t been paying attention.
Pat is a host of The Patriot Nation Podcast
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