Patriots' dilemma: "Stockpiling picks" or drafting where you are

Is there a right or wrong strategy? Maybe not.
2018 NFL Draft
2018 NFL Draft / Ronald Martinez/GettyImages

A recent article in Bleacher Report talked about a rumor the Patriots may trade down to "stockpile" more picks in the all-important NFL draft. They summed up the sentiment this way,

"The Patriots could undo a lot of damage by fortifying their roster in free agency, but this isn't a team that looked a year away from contention in 2023. Moving back and slow-playing a rebuild through the draft may wind up being the prudent move."

Earlier they alluded to BiIl Belichick's affinity for doing just that. Belichick's drafting was subpar, but was that because of a strategic deficiency in trading down, or the lack of acumen, in using the acquired picks after the moves? Or, perhaps, a bit of each.

Sound drafting isn't always a matter of whether or not you keep a pick or trade down for additional selections. The gist of the situation is how you use the picks you ultimately have. Yet, an argument can certainly be made that at times, trading down is a good idea, and at others, it's a lousy one. That's what we'll explore further here.

When the New England Patriots in 2024 should trade down ... or not

The issue of trading down has probably vexed NFL decision-makers from time immemorial. (Well, maybe not that long.) But it's certainly one that arises all the time. If you're a GM, moves like that with higher picks can mean success or the unemployment line. So when does it make sense to trade down? Or not? Let's take a flier on this.

First, the most important position on any NFL team is the quarterback. Not much of an argument there. You can have all the other pieces in place; if you don't have that one, you're still not going to be among the very best. Need convincing?

Teams with a Tom Brady (none other actually had one), Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, and now, for certain, the brilliant Patrick Mahomes are a good way toward perennial excellence just by having that great QB in place. So the hypothesis here is, if you don't have one (and how many teams do) and you have an opportunity to secure one, perhaps... then you don't trade down if a top QB is available when you pick.

In the first round at pick No. 3, the New England Patriots are an archetypal example of when it's not a great idea to trade down from that third pick. They're guaranteed one of the top three quarterbacks (or maybe more than that?). They need a quarterback desperately. In a case like this, you just bite the proverbial bullet, forget trading down, and take the best QB available.

Do they always work out at the top of the draft? Nope, and many don't. There's a list as long as your arm of top-drafted QBs who've totally flopped. Ryan Leaf, JaMarcus Russell, Matt Leinhart (oh, was he a favorite here ... OOPS!), etc. It's a substantial list. There ain't no guarantees. And every quarter century or so, there's a guy who just tramples any scouting evaluations like Mr. Brady and tells all the scouts they are clueless.

Yet, even so, the move to make if your scouting is up to the task is to take the QB because, without him, you are toast anyway. Taking a consensus QB who flops may be the end of your tenure with a particular team after a while. But, NOT taking a consensus QB who then excels and then flounders will be an even quicker way out the door than the former. You need a QB? You have a consensus top one available; you just take the QB.

What about after the first-round and trading down?

Now, here is another question entirely. If you either have a quarterback or have selected one in the first round, your situation there is set (hopefully). Now, it's time to add or rebuild, whatever the situation is with your team. For the New England Patriots, with high picks in every round but the seventh, the trade-down option becomes a whole lot more attractive and enticing. It may just be the ticket to quicker success, IF you know how to draft.

Let's take the Patriots' second-round pick, the 34th overall in the draft. Now, this is a great pick to have and one the team hasn't had in literally three decades. Why so great? First, certain players always "slip" from the first round and, for whatever reason, aren't selected there. The more, the better for the Patriots in 2024. It's opportunity knocking. Some teams may be infatuated with a player who has slipped and will pay handsomely to trade up to get that player.

Here, the Patriots' general manager in training, Eliot Wolf can now apply the pressure or squeeze as much draft capital out of Team B as possible. Do you want this player? We need additional draft capital. Let's make a deal. Pay up. This is where Wolf can make his mark in a hurry. Squeeze premium picks (second and third-rounders [or even fourths]) out of teams that crave your 34th pick, and you can win big.

And the same applies to your third-rounder, pick No. 68. Those are "sort-of picks" from the previous rounds. They are golden, and Wolf should be ready, willing, and able to trade down, pick up more solid picks, and fleece NFL teams from their picks in droves. The Pats need bolstering with players all over the offense. With Wolf's draft positions, he has the ways and means to get many, if not all, of those positions refitted in this particular draft.

That's the hypothesis here. First, you need a quarterback. Go get one as high up as possible. Then, feel free to trade down as necessary to acquire additional picks, especially premium picks, to resupply the woeful state of the Pats' offense. This ain't rocket science, or it wouldn't be seen here. It's just common draft sense.

In late April, we'll see if Eliot Wolf "gets it." If he does, he may just be able (along with some well-spent free agency money) to rebuild the Patriots' atrocious offense in a hurry. It ain't easy, but that's why these guys get paid the big bucks. If Wolf hits it big this offseason (and the opportunity is certainly there), he'll have a job for some time in New England. I hope he does.

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