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Can the Patriots afford to wait for a late-round quarterback in the draft?

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

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There is Trevor Lawrence, but he will be long gone. Zach Wilson seems to be headed elsewhere as well. Realistically, there will be only three quarterbacks the New England Patriots have a shot at in this year’s draft — and that is not a given either.

Ohio State’s Justin Fields, North Dakota State’s Trey Lance, and Alabama’s Mac Jones are viewed as possible targets for the Patriots in the first round of the draft, but there is no guarantee they will be in a position to select one of them. QBs will go 1-2-3 with Lawrence, Wilson and one of those three headed to the Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets and San Francisco 49ers, respectively.

There are still 11 other draft slots between the Atlanta Falcons at No. 4 and the Patriots’ selection at No. 15. Trading up to shorten the distance and grab one of the two remaining guys sounds like a reasonable approach, but it depends on plenty of factors.

Who is available? Which teams are willing to trade down? How is the competition to move up? And what is the price to pay to finalize a deal?

We know that value is the deciding factor behind every investment made by the organization, but head coach/general manager Bill Belichick himself acknowledged that over-drafting might be the way to go in certain scenarios.

“You’re obviously betting on the outcome there, you’re betting on the player’s development versus what you might actually see from another player, but in some cases the upside might be greater and the downside might be greater, too. But at some point you decide to make that investment,” Belichick said during his pre-draft press conference.

“There are always players at every spot that fall into that category that you feel like you’re going to have to draft higher than what they’ve done. But if you’re willing to do that and get the player, then you draft him at a higher spot and hope his production eventually reflects the potential that you saw.”

The quarterback position, given its unique importance in the game of football, certainly is one prone to over-drafting. There are only so many guys who can play it effectively, and no other player on the field has as direct an impact on winning or losing games than the QB. Over an entire season, having a top-tier guy can be the difference between a playoff team and one picking in the middle of the draft despite having a similar quality across the roster.

Of course, quarterbacks can be found outside the first round as well — and if New England fails to grab one of the top-five guys for one reason or another, this would then be the next avenue to explore.

The Patriots, after all, are no strangers to this. They selected Tom Brady in the sixth round, and found serviceable backups/trade chips in the second (Jimmy Garoppolo) and third (Jacoby Brissett) at a later point. Meanwhile, New England has not drafted a QB in the first round since Drew Bledsoe in 1993.

But can the team really afford to wait for a late-round quarterback this year?

In theory, it appears to be a good plan. You pick someone like Kellen Mond, Kyle Trask or Davis Mills on Day 2, allow them to develop behind incumbent starter Cam Newton, and eventually have them take over in either 2022 or 2023 — or go after another quarterback in a less competitive market next year.

However, players such as Tom Brady or fellow late(r)-round quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Dak Prescott do not grow on trees. Quite the opposite actually, as ESPN New Orleans’ Mike Triplett recently noted:

Over the past 15 years, only eight quarterbacks who weren’t drafted in the top 40 have won more than eight games as a starter for the team that chose them: Wilson (98), Prescott (42), Kirk Cousins (26), Nick Foles (21 in two stints with the Philadelphia Eagles), Trent Edwards (14), Chad Henne (13), Trevor Siemian (13) and Tarvaris Jackson (10).

Jimmy Garoppolo should also be mentioned as a success among this group, because he won two games for the New England Patriots after being selected 62nd overall in 2014 — then won another 24 after being traded to the San Francisco 49ers. ... The idea of “drafting and developing” works only if you find the golden ticket.

The odds of finding that golden ticket, however, are slim. For every Tom Brady there are a dozen Ryan Malletts or Kevin O’Connells — players who offer intriguing athletic or technical skills but eventually are unable to develop into NFL-caliber quarterbacks. New England has seen it, and so has every other team in the NFL.

The problem is that even those players are popular on draft day, because quarterback is such an important position. Even though players might be evaluated as late-round picks they often come off the board significantly earlier because of the demand for a passer, and be it a developmental one.

Take the aforementioned Mond, Trask and Mills. There is a case to be made that they probably should not be selected within the first two rounds based on talent alone. However, there is speculation that they might be drafted early on Day 2, with some mock drafts even projecting them as late first-round selections. That will probably not happen, but it shows just how unpredictable the QB spot can be.

This brings us back to the Patriots and their own search fora. long-term quarterback answer.

They have Cam Newton as the projected starter, with Jarrett Stidham and Jake Dolegala as backups behind him. Stidham, a former fourth-round pick, and Dolegala also deserve the developmental label at this point in their careers. While adding a mid-round passer to the fold to grow behind Newton can certainly work, the odds are not in New England’s favor on a historical scale.

Granted, New England will likely be a better destination for someone like Mond, Trask or Mills than others simply due to the coaching staff and circumstances, but that does not mean they will work out. The same obviously goes for first-round targets such as Fields, Lance and Jones, but either the floor or the ceiling — or both — are higher in those cases.

So, can the Patriots afford to wait for a late-round quarterback?

If they trust their evaluation and ability to develop quarterbacks even beyond the first round, absolutely. Past precedent in New England and beyond, however, suggests that going after a passer on Day 1 might be the safest play to find the long-term solution owner Robert Kraft was mentioning earlier this year — even if it comes at a much steeper price.