The 2020 NFL season just concluded with a Tampa Bay Buccaneers Super Bowl win, but the New England Patriots still need to be formulating a game plan.
Their goal: to win the offseason by finding their quarterback of the future.
While the official start to the 2021 NFL offseason is still over a month away, the Patriots need to have a set plan of attack and commit to how they’ll add a quarterback for next season and beyond.
They essentially have four options at this point:
And with just Jarrett Stidham and Jake Dolegala on the Patriots’ current roster, New England could even choose two options from above.
We’ve exhaustedly discussed the Patriots’ veteran quarterback options from Jimmy Garoppolo to Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota and a slew of others, but what if the Patriots would prefer (as they probably should) to add their new signal-caller in the draft?
It’s a risk if Bill Belichick and the Patriots’ front office elects to take that approach because they have no idea what teams above them at No. 15 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft order are thinking.
We went through nine of the most recently posted first-round mock drafts to see when the fourth quarterback came off of the board. The top four QBs in this year’s draft are Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, Ohio State’s Justin Fields, BYU’s Zack Wilson and North Dakota State’s Trey Lance. Lawrence is the consensus top pick in the draft and almost certainly will be drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars first overall. The quarterback rankings deviate from there, but Lance is typically the fourth-ranked passer. Alabama’s Mac Jones is no guarantee to be selected in the first round, but he’s the consensus No. 5 quarterback.
Todd McShay, ESPN: 4th Overall
Dane Brugler, The Athletic: 7th Overall
Mike Renner: PFF: 7th Overall
Mel Kiper, ESPN: 8th Overall
Ryan Wilson, CBS Sports: 8th Overall
Bucky Brooks, NFL: 8th Overall
Danny Kelly, The Ringer: 8th Overall
Chris Trapasso, CBS Sports: 12th Overall
Lance Zierlein, NFL: 15th Overall
So, only one of those mock drafts has a top quarterback falling to the Patriots at No. 15, and that does seem unlikely at this point. To land Fields, Wilson or Lance, New England likely will need to trade up.
We used the Rich Hill NFL draft trade value chart to see what the Patriots would need to package to ensure they can take one of the top four quarterbacks in the draft.
Here’s what those packages would potentially look like using Hill’s formula:
Atlanta Falcons: No. 4 Overall
Nos. 15, 46, third-round compensatory pick
Cincinnati Bengals: No. 5 Overall, seventh-round pick
Nos. 15, 46, fourth-round pick
Philadelphia Eagles: No. 6 Overall
Nos. 15, 46, seventh-round pick
Detroit Lions: No. 7 Overall + fifth-round pick
Nos. 15, 46
Carolina Panthers: No. 8 Overall
No. 15, third-round comp. pick, No. 110, fourth-round comp. pick
Denver Broncos: No. 9 Overall
Nos. 15, third-round comp. pick, fourth-round pick
Dallas Cowboys: No. 10 Overall
No. 15, third-round comp. pick, fifth-round pick
New York Giants: No. 11 Overall
No. 15, third-round comp. pick, seventh-round pick
San Francisco 49ers: No. 12 Overall, sixth-round pick
No. 15, third-round comp. pick
Los Angeles Chargers: No. 13 Overall, sixth-round pick
No. 15, fourth-round pick
Minnesota Vikings: No. 14 Overall
No. 15, sixth-round pick
It’s also possible that the Patriots could package a player in a trade to move up. Cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and JC Jackson could be worth the equivalent of a late-first or second-round pick.
The only teams in that group above that are guaranteed not to take a quarterback are the Bengals, Giants and Chargers. It’s extremely unlikely that the Cowboys or Vikings would take a passer, but Dallas QB Dak Prescott is a free agent and there have been rumors that Minnesota QB Kirk Cousins could be traded to the 49ers because of his previous connection with San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan.
Teams below the Patriots in the draft order who could be competing to move up include the Washington Football Team (No. 19 overall), Chicago Bears (No. 20 overall), Indianapolis Colts (No. 21 overall), Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 24 overall) and New Orleans Saints (No. 28 overall). So, while the Patriots are in worse position than obvious QB-needy teams like the Lions, Panthers and Broncos, they’re certainly better-positioned to land a passer than Washington, the Bears, Colts, Steelers and Saints.
The Jaguars definitely will take a quarterback at No. 1 overall. It would make sense for the Jets to take one at No. 2, but ESPN’s Adam Schefter predicted last month that Sam Darnold would remain New York’s starter in 2021. The Miami Dolphins (No. 3 overall), drafted Tua Tagovailoa last spring. They’re unlikely to go QB despite unsteady play from the 2020 first-round pick.
The stone-cold locks, as we see it, to take a quarterback above the Patriots are the Jaguars and Panthers. The Falcons (Matt Ryan), Bengals (Joe Burrow), Eagles (Jalen Hurts), Lions (Jared Goff), Broncos (Drew Lock), Cowboys (Prescott), Giants (Daniel Jones), 49ers (Jimmy Garoppolo), Chargers (Justin Herbert) and Vikings (Cousins) all have other starting options in the role, though some of those teams, like the Falcons, Eagles, Lions, Broncos and 49ers, could be looking for youth or competition at the position.
All of the qualifiers we mentioned above are why it’s so difficult to predict how high (if at all) the Patriots would need to move up to take Fields, Wilson or Lance. If those quarterbacks do start to fall, teams below the Patriots like Washington, Chicago, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and New Orleans could definitely get involved. How teams approach the draft also depends on what transpires with the veteran quarterbacks who could be moved like Garoppolo, Darnold, Mariota, Deshaun Watson, Carson Wentz, Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr. If, for example, the Colts acquire Wentz in a trade, then that removes Chicago from the list of teams who could move up.
The Patriots have more needs on their roster than at quarterback. With over $60 million in cap space, New England will be competitive in free agency while they look for wide receiver, tight end, defensive line and linebacker help. Any remaining needs would have to be addressed through the draft. And if the Patriots use their first, second and third-round picks to move up and take a quarterback, then that hamstrings their ability to improve the rest of the roster. The Patriots are expected to have one first-round pick, one second-round pick, one third-round pick, three fourth-round picks, one fifth-round pick, three sixth-round picks and one seventh-round pick after comp picks are divvied out. As long as the Patriots don’t need to give up all three of their Day 1 and 2 picks, they could probably afford to move up in the draft if the quarterback they like starts to fall out of the top five picks.
The draft is the best and most cost-effective path to finding a starting quarterback. But the Patriots need to commit to giving up significant draft capital to move up if it comes down to it.