The New England Patriots continue to prepare for all eventualities in the 2021 NFL draft, including a potential trade up in the first round to presumably pick a falling quarterback. While that is in itself not a new piece of information we now know one team that the Patriots have already spoken to and apparently done “some groundwork” with.
According to a report by Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated, New England and the Carolina Panthers have recently been in touch about a potential trade in the first round of the draft:
[T]he Patriots have sniffed around on a trade up into the top 10, presumably for a quarterback — and I can say that if [Justin] Fields is sitting there at No. 8, there are strong ties between New England and Carolina, and some groundwork has been done on what a deal might look like.
Both the Patriots and the Panthers are seen as realistic candidates to move around the board on Thursday, albeit for different reasons.
While New England keeps searching for a long-term solution at quarterback and might therefore be prompted to act if a player of Fields’ potential slides down the board, Carolina has already made a move this offseason addressing the most important position on the field: the Panthers sent three total draft picks to the New York Jets to acquire former first-round selection Sam Darnold.
While Darnold cannot be considered a long-term solution either given his struggles in three seasons as a Jet, he gives his club a little more flexibility. This flexibility might result in Carolina possibly going best player available to help its new QB — offensive tackles Penei Sewell or Rashawn Slater could be available at No. 8 — or to pick up additional ammunition in a trade down the board.
In the latter case, the Patriots appear to be a prime trading partner given their own needs at quarterback. At the end of the day, however, the odds of a move taking place are closely tied to the asking price and whether or not the value associated with a trade up are favorable from the New England’s point of view.
That said, head coach/general manager Bill Belichick did not categorically rule out jumping ahead a few spots if an attractive opportunity presented itself.
“I’d say normally something would happen and there could very well be a player there that either you don’t expect to be there or maybe he is a couple spots, maybe at 12, 13, he’s still on the board and you really thought that he’d be gone in the top six, seven picks. Then the question comes, do you move up and try to get that player that’s fallen a little bit?” Belichick said during his annual pre-draft press conference.
Said player could be Ohio State’s Justin Fields, or one of the other top-tier passers not fully expected to be picked within the top-5: North Dakota State’s Trey Lance or Alabama’s Mac Jones. All three players have been linked to New England in the pre-draft process, and if one or more of them are available when Carolina is on the clock at No. 8 New England might decide to go get its guy.