As the Patriots put together a historic free-agent class, a few things came into focus.
Bill Belichick clearly saw that his 2020 team lacked depth on both sides of the ball, which is one reason why the team was so aggressive in signing 13 free agents and re-signing an additional eight players. By doling out more than $160 million in guaranteed money, the Patriots filled their roster with known commodities. Historically, the Pats have been modest spenders in free agency and then fill in some gaps by way of the NFL Draft.
By using such an aggressive approach last month, however, the Pats have ensured that their 2021 roster will rely heavily on veterans and less so on rookies. Right now, the Patriots have 79 players on their 90-man roster. They also have 10 draft picks coming up later this month.
Following their free-agent frenzy, the Patriots have put themselves in position to wheel and deal during the 2021 NFL Draft and can either trade up or out of this upcoming draft.
Put it this way: Would it make sense for the Patriots to draft 10 players and then leave room for just one undrafted free agent?
The Pats usually bring in a solid class of undrafted free agents to compete with rookies and veterans. Those undrafted players have led to some gems, such as David Andrews, Malcolm Butler, J.C. Jackson, Adam Butler and Jonathan Jones. We’re not saying they should avoid drafting in the first four rounds to take some chances on undrafted players. It’s clear, however, that the Patriots don’t need a large rookie class.
Looking at the roster, the Pats have few holes thanks to their free agent splurge. Taking the Pats’ 2022 free agent class into consideration, positions like cornerback and offensive tackle would make sense in this upcoming draft. It’s possible that Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Isaiah Wynn and Trent Brown all play in contract years. The truth is the Pats might not have that much room for a rookie to make an instant impact.
Of course, the one position that sticks out is quarterback.
With a depth chart of Cam Newton, Jarrett Stidham and Jake Dolegala, this is the one position the Patriots really didn’t address last month. With a deep quarterback class and the Patriots picking at No. 15, we already know they won’t be drafting Trevor Lawrence, who will go No. 1. It’s expected that BYU’s Zach Wilson will go No. 2. The question then becomes, what happens with San Francisco at No. 3? They’ll be drafting either Mac Jones, Justin Fields or Trey Lance.
The Patriots aren’t in position to get one of the top quarterbacks. That’s why they would need to trade up. Conventional wisdom says that the Pats would have to package No. 15, a 2021 third-rounder and a 2022 first-rounder (at least) to move up. The problem is that Atlanta (No. 4), Carolina (No. 8) and Denver (No. 9) are in front of them and are considered to be in the running for the final two quarterbacks. If the Falcons’ plan is to stick with Matt Ryan, the Pats could try to trade up in front of the Panthers and Broncos.
The Pats also could move up in the second round or trade back into the end of the first round to target the next batch of quarterbacks — Kyle Trask, Davis Mills, Kellen Mond and Jamie Newman. As it stands right now, the Pats have one pick each in the first, second and third rounds, but hold three fourth-round picks. That’s enough ammo to move up.
There’s another element to the 2021 draft that needs to be considered and it’s the uncertainty of everything. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the college football season was shorter for many teams. Some teams didn’t participate. Some players opted out. Because of the virus, there was no NFL Combine and there are no pre-draft visits or one-on-one meetings at college campuses. Teams are stuck using video calls for interviews and, at times, old game film to build their draft board.
Considering the Patriots have a deep roster, they can afford to package picks to trade up or trade out into 2022 – where the hope is the pre-draft process will be back to normal. The 2022 draft is also already considered to be deeper than this draft.
That’s even more reason for the Patriots to shorten this draft class, rely on their veterans and gain more assets for 2022 or package multiple picks to move up and grab their intended target.