Anatomy Of A Patriots Draft Trade: Lessons From Bill Belichick’s Trading History

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Bill Belichick’s affinity for draft-day trades is no secret to Patriots fans. He’s pulled off 77 of them since arriving in New England in 2000, an average of 3.85 per draft.

What does Belichick look for in these trades, though? How often does he move up the board compared to down? In which round is he most likely to deal? With which teams is he most likely to trade? Which teams does he never trade with?

With the 2020 NFL Draft set to begin next Thursday, April 23, we set out to answer those questions.

To keep the sample size manageable and the data relatively current, we only examined the Patriots’ last 10 drafts (2010 to 2019) for this exercise. We also only considered trades that were made during the draft, not others that simply involved draft picks.

All told, the Patriots executed a total of 42 in-draft trades during this span. Let’s break them down:

PATRIOTS TRADES BY YEAR
2019: 7
2018: 8
2017: 4
2016: 3
2015: 2
2014: 1
2013: 2
2012: 2
2011: 4
2010: 7

After a quiet period from 2012 to 2016, the Patriots have been especially trade-happy in recent years.

Interestingly, 10 of the 15 deals New England made during the last two drafts involved some portion of the Jimmy Garoppolo return, which has grown into a borderline-indecipherable web of picks and players. The Patriots can officially close the book on that 2017 blockbuster this year.

Overall, the Patriots have made at least one trade in 19 of Belichick’s 20 drafts, with 2004 standing out as the lone exception.

PATRIOTS TRADES BY TYPE
Trade up: 11
Trade back: 28
Trade for player: 3

Patriots fans won’t be surprised to learn Belichick is far more likely to trade back and acquire additional picks than he is to package assets to move up the board. It is worth noting, though, that three of his best early-round picks of the last decade came via trade-ups: linebacker Dont’a Hightower (first round, 2012), edge rusher Chandler Jones (first round, 2012) and tight end Rob Gronkowski (second round, 2010).

The Patriots have traded up for a total of 10 players in the last 10 drafts, and six of those have come in the last three years: cornerback Joejuan Williams (second round, 2019), defensive lineman Byron Cowart (fifth round, 2019), punter Jake Bailey (fifth round, 2019), cornerback Duke Dawson (second round, 2018), offensive tackle Antonio Garcia (third round, 2017) and offensive tackle Conor McDermott (sixth round, 2017). New England also moved up 21 spots in the seventh round in 2010 to draft offensive tackle Thomas Welch and flipped a fifth-round pick it traded up for in 2016 for a future fourth.

The Patriots went 2-for-3 on their player trades, hitting on running back LeGarrette Blount (2013) and offensive tackle Trent Brown (2018) but whiffing on tight end James O’Shaughnessy (2017), who failed to make the team out of camp.

Trading down seems like a wise strategy this year, as the Patriots currently own just one of the top 86 selections (No. 23 overall). But with 12 picks in all, including three in the third round and six total in the sixth and seventh, Belichick also will have the necessary ammunition to either move up the board in certain spots or acquire higher picks in future drafts (more on that below).

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PATRIOTS TRADES BY ROUND
Round 1: 6
Round 2: 11
Round 3: 9
Round 4: 3
Round 5: 7
Round 6: 3
Round 7: 3

Day 2 is the Patriots’ sweet spot for dealing. They’ve swung at least one trade in the second or third round in nine of the last 10 drafts and made eight such trades in the past two years alone. New England traded up in the second round in 2019 and 2018 and in the third round in 2017.

The Patriots’ last trade involving a first-round pick came back in 2013, when they shipped the No. 29 overall to the Minnesota Vikings for a package that yielded them linebacker Jamie Collins and cornerback Logan Ryan. Minnesota used the pick on receiver/kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson, who wound up joining the Patriots five years later.

PATRIOTS TRADES BY PARTNER
Three trades with: Los Angeles Rams, Philadelphia Eagles, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers
Two trades with: Seattle Seahawks, Chicago Bears, Minnesota Vikings, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs, Dallas Cowboys, New Orleans Saints, Denver Broncos, Houston Texans, Las Vegas Raiders
One trade with: San Francisco 49ers, Tennessee Titans, Miami Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars, Cincinnati Bengals, Arizona Cardinals, Carolina Panthers, Washington Redskins
Zero trades with: Buffalo Bills, New York Jets, Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, Indianapolis Colts, Los Angeles Chargers, New York Giants, Atlanta Falcons

Trades with AFC teams: 14
Trades with NFC teams: 28

In the last 10 drafts, the Patriots have executed at least one trade with 23 of the other 31 NFL teams. Of the eight teams they haven’t dealt with, two are AFC East opponents (Bills and Jets) and three others are longtime AFC rivals (Steelers, Ravens, Colts). The Giants and Falcons are the only NFC teams New England has not traded with.

Overall, the Patriots have been much more likely to trade with teams outside of their conference. Just one-third of the 42 deals they’ve pulled off during this period have been with AFC clubs. All three teams they’ve traded with three times are in the NFC.

The Lions have become a frequent trade partner of late — unsurprising given that franchise’s ties to New England. All three Patriots-Lions trades have come in the three years since Matt Patricia took over as Detroit’s head coach. Lions general manager Bob Quinn also is a Patriots alum.

If the Patriots are looking to trade back from No. 23, Detroit, which owns picks Nos. 35 and 67, could be an ideal partner.

Trades within divisions are relatively rare in the NFL, and that’s the case here, too: The Patriots have pulled off just one in-draft trade with an AFC East foe since 2010 (a Day 3 deal with the Dolphins in 2016). Belichick does have a good relationship with Brian Flores and the current Miami regime, though, so perhaps we’ll see more Pats-Dolphins deals in the future.

FUTURE CONSIDERATIONS
Future picks acquired: 8
Future picks traded: zero

Belichick loves acquiring future draft picks — since 2010, he’s landed a first-rounder, three seconds, a third, two fourths and a seventh by trading picks in the previous year’s draft — and loathes unloading them. In fact, the Patriots have not made a single in-draft trade involving a future selection since Belichick took over in 2000.

Keep that in mind when you hear chatter about New England potentially packaging its 2021 first-round pick in a trade up for Tua Tagovailoa.

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Thumbnail photo via Vasha Hunt/USA TODAY Sports Images

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