On Wednesday afternoon, two teams made a trade centered around a quarterback. Neither of the teams are the Patriots, but the deal still has a tremendous effect on New England’s draft outlook. It’s an event that has become somewhat of a regular occurrence leading up to the 2021 NFL Draft.
In the latest such move, the Carolina Panthers sent Teddy Bridgewater to the Denver Broncos in exchange for a sixth-round pick. This comes just a few weeks after the Panthers acquired Sam Darnold from the New York Jets.
The impact made on the Patriots’ quarterback plans is two-fold. In the draft, it potentially removes the only other quarterback-needy team between the fifth overall pick and the Patriots at 15. Denver holds the ninth pick, but now has Bridgewater joining 2019 second-round pick Drew Lock on the roster. If they’re content with that group, it means the Patriots have one less team to jump for a QB, and the best individual chip (the 15th pick) at the negotiating table.
Secondly, the Bridgewater trade all but eliminates any leverage the San Francisco 49ers would have in a potential Jimmy Garoppolo trade. Entering Wednesday only two teams had the cap space to absorb Garoppolo’s $26.3 million cap hit. One of those was Denver, which leaves the Jacksonville Jaguars – who are just over 24 hours away from being set at QB – as the only other financial suitor.
If the Patriots still plan on trying to bring Jimmy G back to Foxborough, there is no need for them to rush. Since the week began, Garoppolo's own head coach more or less admitted he doesn't believe Garoppolo is a starting-caliber NFL quarterback, and now there's not a single team in the league that could realistically both need and could afford him. All of this comes following a season that saw him play just six games due to injury, and not play particularly well.
All those factors in place, Garoppolo's trade value likely can't get any lower than it is right now. What is the incentive for a team to move money around and potentially give up good players at other positions just to bring in Garoppolo, who hasn't been able to stay healthy or compete at a high level.
Plus, Garoppolo turns 30-years-old during this upcoming season, which combined with the injuries means he's taken his share of wear and tear. There's not much upside to bringing him in, especially when his availability juxtaposed with a deep, promising quarterback draft class.
That's not to say there's no value in the Patriots acquiring him. Having another veteran option to compete with Cam Newton certainly couldn't hurt, and if the team does end up taking a quarterback early, he along with Newton would be a solid bridge to help make the team competitive 2021 if the rookie isn't immediately NFL ready. However, given his age and injury history, he hardly solves the team's need for a long-term plan at quarterback, and wouldn't take them out of the running for a first-round QB in 2021 or 2022.
Given the Niners' limited options with Garoppolo, and the relatively low ceiling he'd bring, there's no need for the Patriots to rush into a move. It's hard to see any other team calling for Garoppolo, and it would be incredibly difficult for San Francisco to carry his $26.3 million cap hit this year, not to mention his $27 million hit next year.
If anything, the Patriots could look at a pick swap, and have the Niners pay them for taking the contract off their hands (ex. SF trades Garoppolo and a fourth-round pick, while the Patriots give up a sixth). If not, there's a real chance Garoppolo could end up getting released. Letting him go would have the 49ers almost $25 million against the cap, and he may not be willing to stay if he's behind a rookie on the depth chart come Week 1. If that were to happen, the Patriots could get him on their own terms, and not have to shed any money of their own.
The most ironic thing about all of this is there was probably a point earlier this offseason where San Francisco could have gotten as much as a Day 2 draft pick for Garoppolo. Now, they might have to pay somebody else to take him away, and/or let his dead money sit on their books.
Should the Patriots be interested in a Jimmy Garoppolo reunion? There's certainly some upside in bringing him back to Foxborough. However, in an offseason that's seen them be mostly uncharacteristically aggressive, this would be a great time to to start focusing on value moves once again. If they're just patient with Garoppolo, there's a real chance he could end up falling right into their laps.
More: Patriots Mock Draft 3.0
- 8th overall pick (1st round)
- 15th overall pick (1st round)
- 46th overall pick (2nd round)
- 2022 3rd-round pick
This move is predicated on the ‘uncharacteristically aggressive’ report from the beginning of the offseason. Why would the team only apply that approach to free agency, then hit the breaks at the draft?
There’s actually a way for the Patriots to stay aggressive in the draft, and still find some sort of value in the move. If they wait for the first four quarterbacks to come off the board, the price of trading up for the fifth should drop significantly.
There’s no element of choice here, any team that moves up after the first four QBs are gone has had the decision made for them. On top of that, there should be less competition at the negotiating table, especially if Denver has already moved up to get their guy.
By waiting it out, the move costs the Patriots only minimal premium assets. While there is no comparable move from the 2020 draft, this price mirrors a trade made by the Steelers to trade up to the 10th pick in 2019, and by the Cardinals in 2018.
The Patriots patience pays off! After the Denver Broncos jump them to grab Trey Lance with the seventh overall pick, Justin Fields becomes their man by default.
Of course, that’s not saying Fields is ‘settling’ by any means. Some experts have suggested that he’d be considered a first-overall pick in just about any other year, but his career just happened to line up with a generational prospect in Trevor Lawrence. Given Fields' tremendous raw talent, it would be hard to justify not jumping at the chance to take him if he falls.
Pretty much since the beginning of the draft process, the Patriots have been linked to Fields through various reports. The hype peaked two weeks ago, when Josh McDaniels attended Fields’ second pro day in Columbus.
Adding Fields’ explosive playmaking style to their retooled offense would allow Josh McDaniels to continue to add more modern concepts to the Patriots playbook. Whether he starts right away or begins the season learning from and backing up Cam Newton, Fields would provide a clear and exciting future at the quarterback position in New England.
- 76th overall pick (3rd round)
- 2022 6th-round pick
- 96th overall pick (3rd round)
- 139th overall pick (4th round)
Now without their second round pick, and needing to consolidate some of their later round selections, the Patriots move back up into the middle of the third round. This trade would be an even 63-for-63 point swap on the Bill Belichick draft trade chart.
Baron Browning is one of the best pure athletes in this draft, as he demonstrated at his combine where he posted a 9.98/10 RAS score. Add in his impressive 6-foot-3, 245 pound frame, and he’s drawn some comparisons to former Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins.
Browning is a true three-down linebacker that can compete in every element. He’s effective against the run, can rush the passer, and made major strides in his coverage skills in 2020.
So why can the Patriots get him as late as the third round? While he possesses all those abilities, they don’t appear regularly on his tape. He struggled with consistency throughout his college career, and that erratic play will give teams pause. It likely puts him a tier below some of the comparable linebackers in this draft, such as Tulsa’s Zaven Collins and Kentucky’s Jamin Davis.
Still, Browning is the kind of moldable, high-ceiling player the Patriots have moved up to get in the past. If he slips, it’s not unrealistic to think Bill Belichick will try to take advantage.
Heading into the offseason, St-Juste was a relatively unknown prospect. However, he was one of the best players on the field in Mobile at the Senior Bowl, and carried that momentum into a solid performance at his pro day - especially in the 3-cone drill.
There’s a lot for the Patriots to like about St-Juste beyond his 3-cone time. At 6-foot-0 and with long arms, he fits their prototypical build at the position. He plays like a Patriots cornerback too - not afraid to jam receivers at the line, stay physical down the field, and fight for the ball at the catch point.
St-Juste’s physical nature isn’t just in coverage, he’s a strong tackler as well. He’s willing to fight through blocks to get to the ball carrier, and even set the edge at times against outside runs in college.
A hamstring injury cost St-Juste his sophomore season, which leaves him slightly behind some of the other cornerbacks in the draft in terms of development. However, the Patriots would be in perfect position to take him and let him develop for a year behind Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson. After that, he should be able to compete for the starting outside cornerback job in 2022.
During his press availability last week, Bill Belichick mentioned that in some ways, players’ 2019 seasons may be more useful for talent evaluation than what they did in 2020. If that’s really the case, Chuba Hubbard is a guy who should draw their attention.
In 2019, Hubbard was one of the top running backs in college football. He accounted for 2,292 all-purpose yards and 21 touchdowns. He was expected to be a first-round pick in last year’s draft, but chose to return to Stillwater for one more year. However, Hubbard wasn’t able to capture that same magic early in the 2020 season, and ended up opting out after just seven games to prepare for the NFL Draft.
The 2020 struggles aside, Hubbard has shown he can be a talented, dynamic running back who can impact the game in a number of ways. His elite vision allows him to be a factor carrying the ball both between the tackles and on the outside. That vision is combined with a top gear that makes him a home run threat.
In the passing game, he’s proven to be effective both as a receiver and blocker, although both of those traits showed up noticeably less in 2020. He also has kick return experience.
The Patriots need a do-it-all running back who can try to replace Rex Burkhead, who remains a free agent and is still recovering from a severe late-season knee injury. Hubbard’s versatility and three year playing experience in college make him an attractive candidate for a team traditionally hesitant to play rookie running backs, and his upside is tremendous compared to the other running backs who project to be on the board at this point.
- 185th overall pick (6th round)
- 2022 5th-round pick
- 177th overall pick (5th round)
- 197th overall pick (6th round)
Since 2010, the Patriots have only made four non-special teams picks in the fifth round. This would be a win-win-win trade, allowing them to consolidate assets while turning what is a late fifth-round pick into what should be a mid-range fifth next year. It’s another even split on the trade chart, with each team giving up 11 points.
The Patriots have been searching for a second free safety to play opposite Devin McCourty since trading away Duron Harmon last March. Damar Hamlin possesses many of the traits they look for in that role, including a high football IQ, great instincts, strong on-field communication skills, and an ability to play the ball in the air.
While Hamlin’s ceiling is a serviceable starting safety, he still offers value even if he falls short of that mark. A converted cornerback, he’d bring the positional versatility the Patriots require in their depth defensive backs. As a willing tackler, he would likely be able to play a special teams role as well.
As a five-year player and three-year starter, Hamlin should be able to contribute right away, even in a reserve role.
Like St-Juste, Fitzpatrick wasn’t on the consensus draft radar until he showed up to the Senior Bowl. After dominating just about every defensive back in attendance during the practices, he was the leading receiver in the game, catching six passes for 90 yards.
At 6-foot-2, 208 pounds, Fitzpatrick knows how to use his body to box out defenders and make plays on the football. He’s also a hands catcher and can reel in the ball away from his body, which is a common trait of outside wide receivers who have found success in New England during Josh McDaniels’ tenure. While his quickness in small spaces limits him after the catch, he has sufficient speed to be able to win down the field.
Following an impressive freshman year catching passes from Lamar Jackson, Fitzpatrick’s production became inconsistent, which left him off many draft boards. Following his impressive Senior Bowl performance, some are now wondering if that is tied to the inconsistent quarterback play at Louisville. He’d be a low-risk pick late on Day 3, who could push N’Keal Harry for the second ‘X’ receiver role.
Cole Van Lanen was a four year contributor and two year starter for the Badgers, primarily at left tackle. He’ll likely need to move to guard in the NFL, but still will provide some positional versatility.
Van Lanen brings a lot of uncoachable traits to the table including build, athleticism, and instincts for the game. Despite all of that his technique is already pretty raw, and that’s before an assumed change of position.
The Patriots are as good at coaching up offensive linemen as any team in the NFL, and it’s not unrealistic to think they could turn Van Lanen into a serviceable multi-position backup in a year or two. With Ted Karras on a one-year deal, and not much depth behind him, adding an interior offensive lineman with that sort of ceiling would be a good pickup.
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Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.