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Patriots likely can’t wait for one of the draft’s top quarterbacks to fall into their lap

Related: #PostPulpit Mailbag: Which NFL Draft prospects will be available at pick No. 15?

BYU v Houston Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Just like last year, the biggest question for the New England Patriots heading into the upcoming season is this: Who will be the team’s starting quarterback?

Last year, the Patriots lost Tom Brady in free agency and embarked into the offseason workouts with a position group consisting of Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer. Later, Cam Newton joined the group and quickly established himself as New England’s QB1. One up-and-down season later, however, the team is again at a crossroads at the most important position on the field.

Newton and Hoyer are both free agents, and no long-term solutions from New England’s perspective, while Stidham has done little so far to show that he deserves a starting role in the NFL. While there is always a chance Newton gets brought back on a bridge deal, the Patriots still appear to be in the market for a new young passer to develop into the starter either in 2021 or beyond.

The best and most cost-effective way to bring such a player on board is via the draft. Bill Belichick and company have never been afraid to invest in the position even when Brady was still around, and with the future Hall of Famer now gone have even more of an urgency to add another QB via the draft — especially if Stidham is indeed not identified as the future for the organization.

As is the case every year, numerous passers will be available to be picked. However, there is a clear drop-off in quarterback tiers when going through the list. Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence is the consensus top player available, and will likely end up with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Behind him, Ohio State’s Justin Fields, BYU’s Zach Wilson and North Dakota State’s Trey Lance are the next best options — and all could go in the early first round as well.

If the Patriots want to get their hands on one of them, they likely can’t wait around until they fall into their lap.

Just look at this graphic from Patriots Stats, illustrating where each of the first-round passers — a group that also includes Alabama’s Mac Jones and Florida’s Kyle Trask — are projected to come off the board:

Patriots Stats

While a lot can still change over the coming weeks and months — pre-draft workouts and free agency will create a clearer picture — the Patriots and their 15th overall selection are likely outside of where the top four passers will land in late April. That leaves only a handful of options for the team if it still wants a first-round QB:

  • Staying at No. 15: The Patriots risk losing out on the top four (essentially top three given that Lawrence is a safe bet to be headed to Jacksonville), but are in the range for Mac Jones and Kyle Trask if they value them as viable options to be picked in the mid-first round.
  • Trading back from No. 15: New England moving down the board to get more picks is nothing new, but could help the Patriots bolster their draft capital while still being in the range for Jones and Trask. As shown above, both are mid- to late-first round selections and could still be available if the team trades down a few spots.
  • Trading up from No. 15: This is where things get interesting because a trading up means that the Patriots a) have confidence in a player as a must-have target — think Dont’a Hightower and Chandler Jones in 2012 — and b) will have to pay a steep price to get their hands on them. How steep? Historical precedent tells us that New England might have to give up quite a bit.

In fact, let’s dig into three trades that might come close. The first is the Arizona Cardinals’ for Josh Rosen back in 2018. The team sent the 15th overall pick plus third- and fifth-round selections to the then-Oakland Raiders to move up five spots into the 10th slot. That move was a relative bargain at the time, especially considering that the other two comparable trades from the Patriots’ range both involved multiple first-round selections and that the market might be a more competitive one this year than it was in the past.

In 2017, the Kansas City Chiefs sent picks No. 27 and 91 as well as a first-rounder the following year to Buffalo to move up to No. 10 and select Patrick Mahomes. The Houston Texans, meanwhile, invested No. 25 and a first-rounder one year later to get to the 12th overall selection just a few minutes after the Mahomes trade.

Those two trades worked out for the respective teams, but the Rosen one did not. The same goes with other trade-ups for first-round quarterbacks — there have been 14 in total since the rookie wage scale was introduced in 2012. For every Mahomes there is a Johnny Manziel, for every Lamar Jackson a Paxton Lynch.

Context matters, of course, as the Patriots would likely be able to surround a rookie passer with a better organizational structure than those Cardinals, Cleveland Browns and Denver Broncos teams that whiffed on moving up the board to get their expected quarterbacks of the future. That said, every trade up is a gamble — especially at the quarterback position — and the outcome depends on numerous factors the pre-draft evaluation just cannot account for.

The draft is an inexact science, as the Patriots have found out as well over the last few year years. Still, if they identify one of the top-four top-three as a viable quarterback of the future, moving up to get them does make sense.