Another Super Bowl victory, and an off-season filled with intrigue and storylines have given this draft the potential to be one to remember for New England. We are almost two months removed from a historic comeback and a famous war-cry for this coming season: “No days off.”
The Patriots began free agency by wheeling and dealing, locking up free agent cornerback Stephon Gilmore for the most guaranteed money New England has ever given a defender. They were clearly priced out for Martellus Bennett, so they quickly supplemented his departure by exploiting the Colts situation: a recently signed tight end that made Dwayne Allen expendable. Allen is the classic Patriot player–not flashy, not overly dominant, but serviceable in multiple roles and purchased at a bargain rate.
Next, with the recent departures of Chandler Jones and Chris Long and Rob Ninkovich aging, Belichick needed to find a pass rusher. Enter Kony Ealy, former Carolina Panther that was had for the Panthers swapping 2’s with New England, which amounts to 8 selections. Ealy comes off a down year, a year that was expected to be a dominant one after he nearly outshined Von Miller in Super Bowl 50. Finally, they made a move that culturally is against the grain, but still produces a tremendous player in Brandin Cooks. Rumored to be apart of a deal for Malcolm Butler, Cooks comes to New England in exchange for their 32nd pick in the draft and a few smaller components. Butler is still in RFA tender limbo, with the Patriots publicly stating their commitment to resigning him, while New Orleans looks to bring him in through an offer sheet. There are several layers to that deal, with specific and deep compensation potentially on the table for the Patriots.
I don’t think anything is close to set in stone for the Patriots 2017 draft. I cannot imagine a world where Belichick makes his first draft selection at #72. With Jimmy Garoppolo and leverage out the wazoo, theres the potential for Belichick stealing picks from QB needy teams like Houston, San Francisco or Cleveland, the last of which holds five picks in the top 65 and two in the top 15.
MOCK DRAFT TRADE
With that being said, I am going to mock a draft trade between the quarterback rich Patriots and the desperate Cleveland Browns. The Browns have the capital, and the Patriots have a quarterback prospect that the entire market covets. For this transaction, I am going to use Chase Stuart’s draft value chart as a reference, and assign a value to Jimmy Garoppolo. Taking into consideration the uncertainty of this years QB draft class, it’s fair to assume Garoppolo has value comparable to the best QB of any given class, and thus would warrant the number 1 selection. That sets his draft value at 3000. The Browns draft capital in the first 65 selections of this years draft is 5475, while the Patriots total capital this year–including the approximate value of Garoppolo–is 3416.6, with their 7th round selection being unlisted on the value chart.
Assume the Browns are going to make the obvious move and retain the #1 pick to select Myles Garrett–that makes their value of their additional top 65 picks 2475. I cannot find any information that denotes value of a future 1st-round selection, but assume the Browns dole a future 1st out to the Patriots, with a value equal to the average of all 32 first round picks. That pick has an assumed value of 1158.3, adding to the total value of picks 12 through 65 and bringing it to 3633.3. If the Browns continue to be as analytically inclined as they have been, this trade makes sense:
Patriots Receive: 2017 drat selection #12, #52 and 2018 1st round pick
Browns Receive: QB Jimmy Garoppolo and 2017 draft selection #72
The value is comparable and the needs of both teams are satisfied. The Patriots climb back into the 1st round in order to replace Malcolm Butler (possibly even compliment the additional 1st round picks they receive from the Saints signing Butler) or they draft a blue-chip pass rusher like Taco Charlton. Point being, it affords the Patriots the flexibility and value that Belichick loves. With Brady apparently leaning towards another six years of football, Garoppolo’s value would be wasted if they did not trade him this off-season, when the craze for his services is at fever-levels.
With all that being said, their roster needs right now are conditionally attached to Malcolm Butler. With the departure of Logan Ryan and now a murky future for Butler, the Patriots may be inclined to add a blue-chip prospect to their defensive back room. On the other hand, they have recently added former Eagles CB Eric Rowe, and the jury is still out on former 1st round pick Cyrus Jones. A potential early move at cornerback would be indicative of Belichick’s feeling on Jones.
By examining the expiring contracts for next season, a few things stand out. One is the INCREDIBLE flexibility of their salary cap, as they could save nearly $13M by restructuring the deals of Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. Brady has shown an unusual willingness to restructure in the past, and Gronkowski’s injury history makes him a prime candidate for restructuring or releasing. The talent and output is too great to give up on what would be a 29-year old Gronk, so I assume the Patriots bring him back at a new figure. Additionally, they will already start out with over $40M in cap space. As it pertains to the draft, these facts are notable because it will afford the Patriots a greater chance to retain their free agents. In that case, searching for potential replacements for cap casualties or walking free agents in this draft becomes unnecessary.
Of the players scheduled to hit the market in 2018–Lewis, White, Solder, Garoppolo, Amendola, Edelman, Ealy, Cooks and Butler–you cannot assume they will exercise this cap space on all of them. With the recent addition of Cooks, the reliability of soon-to-be 2nd year pro Malcolm Mitchell and the recent addition of Hogan, one or both of the Amendola/Edelman combination probably will have to find a new home. The roster spots for the wide receiver position over the next 4 years are essentially spoken for, so don’t expect them to add a wide receiver.
The position of focus today will be defensive end, where they could look to add a piece opposite of Trey Flowers. The last two seasons has seen the departures of Chandler Jones and Chris Long. Rob Nonkovich is only getting older, and despite the intrigue and upside for Ealy, he has to really produce before he’s heralded as the next great New England pass rusher. Even Ealy is only a one-year rental. With newly added Lawrence Guy too close to 30 for comfort and the market for a premium pass rusher being considerably higher than I assume Belichick would want to pay, I would bet that with the hypothetical #12 pick, the Patriots select a a young pass rusher.
It’s not inconceivable the Saints sign Malcolm Butler and have to forfeit pick #11 to the Patriots, which under my assumption gives them back to back selections in the first round. In one fell swoop, they could solve the pass rushing issue and replace Butler, or just load up on blue-chip front seven defenders and really make us look stupid for questioning their extrication of Jamie Collins and Chandler Jones.
Despite Belichick going against his own model early this off-season, I think it was with a mind towards what prospects lay ahead for him. The market for quarterback solutions and the New Orleans situation may yet land him an absurd return if things break even slightly in his way. Before draft day, whether it be by a Garoppolo deal or a Butler deal, I will confidently assume the Patriots select again in the first round.