The NFL draft is still just a little under three months away, and free agency has not started yet, but there are plenty of "perfect fits" in the first round already being slotted for the New England Patriots.
Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro is a popular pick in many mock drafts for the Pats, as is Notre Dame defensive tackle Louis Nix III. There's little debate that at this point in the offseason, those are two of the Patriots' biggest areas of needs.
But what we know about Bill Belichick is that the Patriots will not go into the draft with any glaring needs. All roster holes will be filled in free agency, especially at the tight end spot where Rob Gronkowski, who's recovering from ACL surgery, is the only player under contract for 2014.
The free-agent acquisitions might not be the perfect fit, but the Patriots won't have their draft influenced by a position that absolutely needs to be filled by a rookie.
So what's the one trade Belichick should be exploring? Trading down and out of the first round altogether and continuing to maximize the value of every draft pick as Belichick has become famous for.
Here's a little secret: Not even the NFL teams who are making the picks know exactly what they're doing. The NFL draft is educated gambling, and while trading up and taking a big-name player is exciting for fans, it's trading down, mitigating risk and building a strong top-to-bottom roster that makes for successful football seasons.
Prior to the 2013 NFL draft, Belichick had traded up just 17 times and traded down and for a future pick 31 times. Add in 2013's major trade with the Vikings that gave the Pats four picks for their first-round slot and that brings the total of number of trade downs to 32.
Belichick's penchant for trading during the draft has become a punchline, and while it's easy to cherry-pick his draft misses, he's been overwhelmingly successful in maintaining the Patriots' dominance over the last 14 seasons.
A prime example of the kind of value Belichick has become famous for milking out of his draft picks comes from 2007 when the Pats traded their 28th overall pick to the San Francisco 49ers for their 2008 first-round pick and a 2007 fourth-round pick.
The 49ers would go on to take Joe Staley, who has been a stalwart for the team since then. But that trade would begin a chain reaction of trades that would net the Patriots Jerod Mayo, Randy Moss, Shawn Crable and Ryan Mallett.
With Mallett a possible trade candidate this offseason, the story of that 2007 28th overall pick still may not be finished, and even with the Crable miss, that's enormous value for one pick.
Or simply look back to last year's draft trade with the Vikings for the 29th overall pick. Minnesota took Cordarrelle Patterson, while the Patriots netted Jamie Collins, Logan Ryan, Josh Boyce and LeGarrette Blount (via trade) with the Vikings' picks.
While Patterson finished the year with a Pro Bowl appearance and was an All-Pro kick returner, Collins, Ryan and Blount were all impact players for the Patriots down the stretch and into the playoffs.
It's doubtful the Patriots would've locked up the second seed in the AFC and made it to the AFC Championship without those four players, and their second-round pick, Aaron Dobson, finished with more receiving yards and just eight fewer receptions than Patterson while playing four fewer games.
Those are just two examples of how the Patriots have consistently maximized the value of their draft picks every year.
The Patriots are no strangers to having their first pick at the bottom of the first round, which makes their continued success even more impressive. Belichick has made just four picks above the 20th overall selection in 14 drafts—Richard Seymour (sixth overall), Ty Warren (13th overall), Jerod Mayo (10th overall) and Nate Solder (17th overall).
It's possible that a player they love will fall through the cracks, and they'll pounce on him without moving out of the 29th overall spot. But it's more likely that there will be a handful of teams trying to get back into the first round to get a player they love who fell through the cracks, and they'll be willing to give up some significant picks to get there.
The Patriots have won more games than anyone else in the NFL over the last decade but finding success with mid-range veteran free-agent castoffs, hitting on at least one-to-two significant players in each draft and continually developing undrafted players and players off the street with superior coaching.
That formula doesn't include mortgaging multiple draft picks to go "all in" on a single player. No team in the NFL is one player away from a Super Bowl. Injuries are always unpredictably devastating, and it's the Pats' personnel philosophy that enabled them to overcome their worst season of injuries in 2013 since the turn of the century.
Despite all the criticism, Belichick should continue to trade down and acquire as many second- and third-round picks as he can. The talent drop-off between those spots and the late first round are minimal, and there's no better way to mitigate risk, build depth, maintain a healthy salary cap and potentially find impact players than loading up on picks in that range.
Mike Dussault is a Patriots Featured Columnist who also writes and edits PatsPropaganda.com.
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