X

Why This Is the Most Important Draft in Years for the New England Patriots

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistApril 24, 2018

New England head coach Bill Belichick watches during Georgia Pro Day, Wednesday, March 21, 2018, in Athens. Pro Day is intended to showcase talent to NFL scouts for the upcoming draft. (AP Photo/Todd Kirkland)
Todd Kirkland/Associated Press

The New England Patriots are the fifth-oldest team in the NFL, according to Spotrac. Their quarterback is the oldest position player in the league, and they traded away both of said quarterback's promising young backups last season. 

The Patriots are coming off the first season this decade in which they had fewer than three regular position players nominated to the Pro Bowl. They haven't used a top-50 pick in either of the last two drafts, which has limited their amount of young talent in the pipeline. 

They're also trying to stop the bleeding after losing key players Nate Solder, Dion Lewis, Malcolm Butler, Danny Amendola and Brandin Cooks this offseason. 

On top of that, they're trying to recover from a tumultuous run that was plagued by negative reports regarding the relationships between veteran stars Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski and head coach Bill Belichick

Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski have been at the center of a controversial offseason for the Patriots.
Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski have been at the center of a controversial offseason for the Patriots.Winslow Townson/Associated Press

The Patriots reportedly expect both Brady and Gronk to return in 2018 despite the rumored bad blood within the organization, according to Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio. That gives the franchise a chance to shift the narrative regarding its fallibility and quash the bad vibes stemming from the Brady-Belichick battle, a tough Super Bowl LII loss and a series of March departures. 

If the Patriots draft well, it won't be long before all have bounced back from perhaps the toughest stretch of the Brady-Belichick era. Bring in an exciting heir apparent at quarterback and they'll forgive you for trading both Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett. Add a promising potential pillar at left tackle and they'll say good riddance to Solder. 

With a pair of first-round picks and two more second-rounders, the Pats have a chance to replenish that talent pipeline and become substantially younger.

With more draft capital than they've had since the turn of the century, they have a chance to avoid losing ground to surging fellow Super Bowl contenders like the Philadelphia Eagles, Los Angeles Rams, Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints, Jacksonville Jaguars and Pittsburgh Steelers, all of whom have enjoyed far more fruitful offseasons. 

Belichick has drafted two players in the first round just twice in his 18 years with the Pats. On both of those occasions (2004 and 2012), the team drafted just one player in Round 2. Barring trade-downs, this will be the first time the Patriots select at least two players in each of the first two rounds since Bobby Grier and Pete Carroll were running the team in 1998. 

You'd be smart to expect trades. The Patriots didn't use any of the seven draft picks that originally belonged to them last year, and they've traded seven of their last nine first-round picks dating back to 2007. But draft capital is draft capital, and the Pats need to squeeze as much as they can out of it on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. (They also have two sixth-round selections and the first pick of the seventh round.) 

That could mean using one of those first-rounders on enticing quarterback prospect Lamar Jackson, who would immediately take after Garoppolo and get hyped as a potential Brady successor. They hosted the Heisman Trophy winner from Louisville two weeks ago and were "intrigued and impressed," according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

Conversely, it could mean using a first-rounder on tailor-made Solder replacement Kolton Miller. Or it could mean packaging several of those first- or second-round selections to move up for a higher-ranked player at either position, such as Josh Allen, Josh Rosen or Mike McGlinchey. 

Can Lamar Jackson help shift the narrative in Foxborough?
Can Lamar Jackson help shift the narrative in Foxborough?Timothy D. Easley/Associated Press/Associated Press

Regardless, the time has come for New England to make a draft splash. In the lead-up to this draft, the Patriots have indicated by way of their actions that they're aware of that. 

There are thousands of scenarios in play, and in many cases, we won't be able to draw immediate conclusions about New England's approach. The Patriots might see something no other team else does, and it might take time for us to realize they did or didn't make a splash. 

Regardless, if the Patriots can mine some difference-makers from this draft, a painful four-month run will become nothing more than a slightly embarrassing memory. 

But if they fail to do so, they'll be closer to a rebuild than at any other point thus far this century. 

     

Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012.

🚨 SPORTS NEWS ➡️ YOUR INBOX

The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.