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What Should We Make of These Reports the Patriots Are Looking to Move Up and Draft a QB?

The NFL draft is now 40 days away, which means it's time to get down to business on that. And it's self-evident that nothing they do in the next six weeks is going to be remotely as important as what they do at the quarterback spot. I can't even call that the understatement of the year, since it would be an insult to unders, statements and years. Cam Newton is back at what is essentially  a default setting arrangement. He's here as a worst case scenario that isn't as bad as most worst cases. They could afford him as a backup should they find a better alternative. And most significantly, no one thinks he's the plan for 2022 and beyond. 

So regardless of whether they find a viable, Top 10-caliber veteran, they'll be shopping in the Quarterback aisle in the last weekend of April. They have to be. The only question is how early they'll be putting one in the cart. Assuming a Jimmy Garoppolo doesn't somehow shake loose and come back to Foxboro, you'd have to assume it'll be in the first couple of rounds. And if the reports are true, higher than the 15th overall pick they currently hold. 

NFL Network's Bucky Brooks and Daniel Jeremiah are two of the better draft pundits around. And on their podcast they just addressed rumors they're hearing about just how far the Pats are willing to go to get their next franchise QB. And if the rumors are true, there's even more "ggr" in "aggressive" than I imagined. 

"We saw them completely rebuild the roster with the number of signings and free agency," Brooks says. "I believe they’re about to go all-in on an offensive makeover. The young quarterback is the final piece to the puzzle. And I think that quarterback will be an athletic quarterback."

To which Jeremiah named names. "I keep an eye on somebody like [North Dakota State's] Trey Lance or Justin Fields," he said. "Those are the two that would make sense for them to target. Hear a lot of rumors out there that they are really high on Justin Fields out of Ohio State. So, they’d have to (trade up) quite a ways to get Justin Fields." 

Trey Lance and Justin Fields represent some bold talk. Given that there are no shortage of mock drafts that have them going in the top seven or eight picks. Hell, CBS Sports has Fields going No. 2 to the Jets. And Jeremiah himself has him going No. 4 to Atlanta (with NYJs grabbing BYU's Zach Wilson instead), with Lance not dropping any lower than eighth, to Carolina. 

If true, it's not hard to see why they'd be interested. First off, New England had scouts at Lance's pro day last weekend. Where he made a great case for himself:

… and made Pro Football Focus' "All Upside Team."

Whereas, like I mentioned, Fields has ranked higher by virtually every expert and proven himself against better competition. 

 

Which brings us to the question of whether the possibility of the Patriots landing one of them is even remotely realistic. 

For starters, there's the price of doing business. People like to ridicule the Trade Value Chart as something that Jimmy Johnson drew up on the back of a Bob's Big Boy burger wrapper back in the early 90s. But believe in it or not, GMs go by it. Even if you think it's just a bunch of arbitrary, meaningless numbers, it's like a form of cryptocurrency that has value in real life. Most trades of picks tend to come within a few points of the numbers Johnson assigned to the slots. Perception is reality. 

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According to the TVC, the 15th pick is worth 1050 points. That No. 8 slot where Jeremiah has Carolina taking Lance is worth 350 more. The Pats could jump ahead of them by throwing in their second pick, 46th overall, which is worth 440, to Detroit for the 7th pick. Or, package the 15th and next year's first (and I'll just be conservative and randomly give them the 25th overall pick worth 720 points, and that gets them to Cincinnati's pick at No. 5. And since the Bengals are obviously not in the quarterback market, it's not hard to imagine them being willing to drop back 10 slots. Which might even get New England into the Fields conversation.

So it is utterly plausible the Patriots would be playing out these scenarios. The last time they were in this neighborhood was 2011, when they took Nate Solder at 17. Then they were happy to get the heir apparent LT to Matt Light, who was heading into his final season. Now the stakes are a thousand times higher. So this could very well happen. 

All I can say though, is that if these reports are accurate, they have to be coming from teams who have talked to them. There is simply no way that the Patriots would put this out there if they were truly interested in either Lance or Fields. I truly believe that one of Belichick's favorite activities at this time of year is putting out misinformation. Practicing skullduggery. Throwing opponent's off his scent. Feigning interest in guys he likes and pulling out surprise picks no one had any idea about. For sure we know that if he had his eyes on one of these guys, the last thing he'd put out there is that he had his eyes on these guys.

One of my favorite stories in this regard comes from 2008. The Patriots had the 7th overall pick thanks to an earlier trade with San Francisco, and the Jets were at No. 6. And all the stories going around were that Belichick was furiously working the phones like a madman trying to get ahead of the Jets to draft DE Vernon Gholston. Mike Felger was the beat reporter for the Herald at the time and said the day before the draft at 5pm (it started at noon on Saturday then), he called Belichick and caught him on the way out of work, heading to his son's lacrosse practice. Not a game. Not game. We're talking practice. Anyway the Jets took the cheese and the trap that sprung on them was Gholston, one of the worst picks in the long and inglorious tradition of that sad franchise. Satisfied that the ploy worked, Belichick dropped back three slots, added the 78th overall pick, and got the guy he really wanted, Jerod Mayo. A 10-year captain and future coach, by pretending he wanted a guy he had no interest in. Genius. 

So this could be a situation like that. Belichick just wants the competition in the QB market to focus on these two, leaving the guy he really wants undrafted. Though who knows? Maybe these rumors are coming from GMs who've been on the phone with him. Or he realizes the rest of the league has caught on to his ruses, so now he's playing the long con of pretending to be interested in guys he actually is interested in, because no one will believe him. Criss Cross Applesauce. It's already been the wildest offseason we've ever seen out of him. Why should the draft be any less bananaland? All we know for sure is it can't some soon enough.