The Patriots killed not one, not two, but three birds with one stone during the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft.
New England originally owned the 14th overall pick, which before this week was one spot behind the Jets and one spot ahead of the Packers. But those spots flipped after Green Bay and New York pulled off the blockbuster Aaron Rodgers trade.
Then came Thursday night, when the Patriots moved down in Round 1, sending the 14th pick to the Steelers in exchange for the 17th overall pick and a fourth-rounder. New England wound up gaining a pick while selecting a top prospect at a position of need in cornerback Christian Gonzalez.
But what happened back at No. 14 is just as interesting as the Gonzalez selection.
The Jets entered Round 1 needing help at offensive tackle to protect Aaron Rodgers. And after three tackles went between Picks 6 and 11, there was one consensus first-rounder left on the board — Ohio State’s Broderick Jones — when the Patriots pulled off their trade. New York probably would’ve been happy if New England kept the 14th pick, as the Patriots clearly wanted a cornerback and reportedly weren’t interested in Jones.
But there was one big problem: Pittsburgh also needed a tackle. The Steelers eventually used the 14th pick on Jones, and New York was forced to settle with edge rusher Will McDonald at No. 15.
So, was hurting a division rival one of New England’s ulterior motives when trading with Pittsburgh? Personnel executive Matt Groh indicated as much during a Thursday night Zoom call.
“We keep tabs on all the teams, not just our division rivals,” Groh said. “With the trade that transpired here this week, the Jets going from right in front of us to right behind us certainly shifted things. Then for us to kind of jump right back behind them and give Pittsburgh the opportunity to come up and select a player who they selected, which when you make these trades you don’t know who the other team is coming up for. But again, we try to do our research and try to have a feeling as far as positionally what a team might be looking for. That’s Steve Cargile and his team really working hard on the team’s needs.
“We’ve got all that posted right there in the draft room and try to be cognizant of what the teams are looking for. So, maybe had an idea of what Pittsburgh was looking for. Certainly, didn’t know if that was going to be accurate. Certainly, didn’t know what player it was going to be. But there started to be a little bit of a run there on the tackles. That position group was thinning out. If you wanted one of those guys, you’d have to come up and get him.”
Don’t be surprised if Day 2 of the draft sees more wheeling and dealing from the Patriots.
New England currently is scheduled to make two selections on Friday night, one in both Rounds 2 and 3. But the Patriots own four picks in both Rounds 4 and 6, more than enough ammunition to move up for an extra Day 2 selection.
The second round of the NFL draft is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. ET on Friday. Follow NESN.com for all Patriots-related updates throughout the weekend.