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Trader Bill: Searching for the Patriots’ best NFL draft day trades under Bill Belichick

Related: The Patriots are casting a wide net at the quarterback position

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Arizona Cardinals v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Contrary to popular belief, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots have been among the best drafters in the NFL over the last two decades. 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 that brought back offensive tackle Trent Brown earlier this offseason, for example, are not included.

2001 Draft

Traded: Picks No. 39 and No. 173

Received: Matt Light and pick No. 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 No. 39 to Pittsburg for No. 50 and No. 112. Then, while Light was on the phone with the New York Jets, who were drafting at No. 49, Belichick packaged No. 50 and No. 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.

2003 Draft

Traded: Drew Bledsoe, Tebucky Jones, Picks No. 19, No. 75, and No. 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 No. 14 from the Buffalo Bills for him and they used that pick, along with No. 193 to move up to No. 13 and take Ty Warren. Then, they traded their other first-rounder (No. 19) to Baltimore for No. 41 and a 2004 first-round pick. They then packaged No. 41 with No. 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 New Orleans Saints for No. 78, No. 238, and a 2004 fourth-rounder. They then traded No. 78, a third-round pick, to Miami for a 2004 second rounder (No. 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 No. 238, and he was an important edge rusher and special teamer for years.

2007 Draft

Traded: Pick No. 28

Received: Randy Moss and Jerod Mayo

The Patriots dealt No. 28 to San Francisco in exchange for a fourth round pick (No. 110) and a 2008 first rounder. They then traded No. 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.

2009 Draft

Traded: Picks No. 23 (and No. 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 probably already 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 No. 83, the Patriots traded No. 73 to Jacksonville for a seventh rounder (No. 232) and a 2010 second rounder. At No. 232 the Patriots selected a quarterback-turned-wideout, Julian Edelman.

Edelman, of course, just retired, and what a career he had. There’s a serious argument for him being in the Hall of Fame, and, at the very least, he’s got to be one of the most clutch players in NFL history. Then, 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 of the past decade...

2011 Draft

Traded: Picks No. 28, No. 60, and No. 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 No. 28 for a second-rounder (No. 56), which New England used to draft Shane Vereen, and a 2012 first-rounder. The next year, they would package that first (No. 27) along with a third (No. 93) to make a trade with Cincinnati for No. 21, where they took Chandler Jones.

Going back to 2011, they traded down in the second (No. 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 had been a valuable part of the offensive line after Dante Scarnecchia came out of retirement in 2016 until he opted out last year and the Patriots dealt him to the Texans this offseason.

2012 Draft

Traded: Picks No. 31 and No. 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.

2013 Draft

Traded: Pick No. 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 in 2018. 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.

2016 Draft

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 No. 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 best guards in football. After playing under the franchise tag last season, Thuney of course cashed in with the Chiefs this offseason. Regardless, that was one heck of a pick. Mitchell only played his rookie season season, but New England doesn’t win Super Bowl 51 without him.

2018 Draft

Traded: Picks No. 51 and No. 95

Received: Trent Brown, Ja’Whaun Bentley, 2019 second-round pick (No. 56), 2019 third-round pick (No. 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 (No. 43) back from San Francisco. They then traded No. 43 to Detroit for No. 51 and a fourth. Then they traded back again, this time with Chicago for a 2019 second and fourth (No. 105). At No. 105, they traded down again, this time with Cleveland for No. 114 and No. 178 (Christian Sam). Then, they traded No. 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 No. 95 to San Francisco for Trent Brown and a fifth (No. 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. After a few rocky seasons in Oakland/Vegas, Brown is back for his second go around in New England. Bentley looked like a promising young linebacker before an injury ended his rookie season. He has yet to prove that he can play well at the NFL level, but I’m hopeful that he can carve out an Elandon Roberts-type role this season with Dont’a Hightower back from his Coronavirus opt-out.

2019 Draft

Traded: Picks No. 56, No. 64, No. 73, No. 101, No. 162 and No. 239

Received: Joejuan Williams, Chase Winovich, Hjalte Froholdt, Damien Harris, Jarrett Stidham, Yodny Cajuste, Byron Cowart, 2020 fourth-round pick (No. 125)

If this looks like the Patriots’ entire draft haul, it’s because it almost is. The Patriots made seven deals overall in 2019, two of them involving the 101st selection, and four (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 decent. Winovich’s playing time was up and down last season, but he has shown an ability to get after the passer. Cowart played in 14 games last season, but wasn’t a huge factor. Damien Harris looks to be their number one back going into this season, and ran extremely hard last season — he’s looking like maybe the best player of this bunch. Froholdt was cut by the Patriots, and I’m not sure that Yodney Cajuste is actually a real person, so the offensive linemen have been a bust.

Then there’s Stidham. He hasn’t been good, but, what he has provided is endless hours of discussion about who the starting QB of the Patriots should be, and how can you possibly put a price on that?

The 2020 pick was dealt last year, but I can’t seem to remember what happened to it. Don’t bother googling it, it’s really not worth your time. Seriously, just don’t.

2020 Draft

Traded: Picks No. 23, No. 98, No. 212, and No. 213

Received: Kyle Dugger, Josh Uche, and Michael Onwenu

Three trades here; first the Patriots traded out of the first round for picks 37 and 71. They took Dugger at 37, and then packaged 71 and 98 for 60 and 129, and took Josh Uche at 60. Then, they packaged 212 and 213 to get up to 182 and select Onwenu.

I’d say, so far, these trades have worked out pretty well. Dugger appears to be a star in the making after being forced into a bigger role following Patrick Chung’s Covid-19 opt-out. Chung has now retired, and Dugger looks ready to take on an even bigger role as a possible leader of the defense. Uche, after an injury kept him off the roster at the beginning of the season, showed some real burst off the edge that the Patriots have been missing. As for Onwenu, all he did last year was grade out as one of the best offensive linemen in football while playing multiple positions along the line. Look for him to step into the vacancy left by Joe Thuney, and be an elite level guard.

OK fine, I’ll admit it, 129 was dealt with 125 (acquired last year) for Dalton Keene, who stank as a rookie, but at least he has a cool mustache, right?

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 list above, his plan has worked more often than not.

Reports were that Belichick was going to be aggressive this offseason, and he has not disappointed so far, so I am hoping for more of the same. However, even if you don’t love what they’re doing this weekend, remember that it’s all a part of his 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. Interact with him on Twitter @plane_pats