The NFL Draft is just a week away, and trade talks will likely be hitting a fever pitch. Many of those trade discussions and speculation will involve the New England Patriots.
Because of the Patriots’ history of success, a disappointing 2020 season, and the perception the team is in desperate need of a quarterback in a year when there are at least five first-round talents at the position, Bill Belichick and Co. are on the tips of everyone’s tongue.
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In a recent article from ESPN’s Bill Barnwell, a trade between the Atlanta Falcons and Patriots is proposed, and it would be one of the biggest of the year if it comes to fruition.
In Barnwell’s deal, the Patriots would get the Falcons’ No. 4 overall pick along with a fourth-rounder in 2022 and 25-year-old cornerback Isaiah Oliver in exchange for the Patriots No. 15 pick, a 2021 third-rounder, 2022 first-round selection, and star cornerback J.C. Jackson.
While there have been some mock drafts predicting the Falcons will stay put at No. 4 and draft dynamic Florida tight end Kyle Pitts or even one of the quarterbacks like Trey Lance, Barnwell still believes they are more apt to trade down and that the Patriots make for the most natural partner in a deal.
“I still think it’s more likely that the Falcons trade down and add more pieces to fix their defense while trying to win around Ryan over the next couple of years,” Barnwell said. “They’re a terrible fit for the receivers and tackles who are likely in the discussion at No. 4, so they can trade down and still address the edge or their secondary. I think they’ll have talks with the Broncos at No. 9, but once the 49ers traded up, the most obvious team to move up became the Patriots.”
While it’s easy to make sense of the Patriots moving up to get Lance, Mac Jones, or Justin Fields, Barnwell acknowledges how out of character it would be for Belichick to pull off such a massive trade involving so many assets. Barnwell points to Cam Newton’s inconsistencies as extra motivation for this trade.
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“No, the Pats don’t typically package multiple first-rounders to move up in the draft,” Barnwell explains. “That’s true. They also don’t typically make a splash by signing more than a half-dozen players across the first two days of free agency, though, and that’s exactly what Bill Belichick did this March. We can’t assume that the Patriots are going to play by their old, Tom Brady-era rules when it comes to roster construction. They added weapons for Cam Newton this offseason, but Newton was inconsistent in 2020, has a rough injury history and isn’t under contract in 2022. The Pats still need a long-term solution at quarterback.”
Who do the Patriots chase with the fourth pick? Barnwell doesn’t lean one way or another in his spiel. However, he does reaffirm the value of the Patriots’ potential offer.
“Trading up gets them one of Justin Fields, Mac Jones or Trey Lance,” Barnwell said. “It costs them two first-rounders, the third-round compensatory pick they got in return for Brady and a swap of cornerbacks. Jackson has intercepted 17 passes in three seasons and looks like one of the best young corners in football, but Belichick has generally been comfortable letting late-drafted (or undrafted) cornerbacks leave in free agency. Jackson is a restricted free agent, so the Patriots have one more year of cost control over him. They would swap him for Oliver, a second-rounder who hasn’t been good for the Falcons; the Colorado product would hope to improve with better coaching in New England before the final year of his rookie deal.”
JC Jackson is Considered the Patriots Player Most-Likely to Be Traded
Even if Jackson isn’t included in this deal, many believe he will be on the move this offseason. Maurice Moton of Bleacher Report called Jackson one of the NFL players most likely to be traded on draft day.
Jackson signed a one-year tender as a restricted free agent earlier this month, but that agreement doesn’t ensure he’ll be on the Patriots’ roster in 2021.
If the Patriots trade him, he can’t be moved for a draft pick higher than a third-round selection. When and if he is traded, he can sign a contract extension with his new team. Because Jackson is coming off a season that saw him snag nine interceptions, second only to the Miami Dolphins’ Xavien Howard, you can bet there will be a good amount of interest in him if the Patriots want to swing a deal.
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Belichick is the kind of general manager who values the number of picks he has at his disposal almost as much, if not more, than how high they are in the draft. He’s had so much success with late-round picks and has hit on first-rounders so infrequently; it makes sense.
In this potential deal, Belichick would be giving up three picks to get two. While the draft order of the selections is in Atlanta’s favor, this might be the kind of trade-up scenario Belichick is willing to execute.