THERE ARE fans throughout football who for months have looked forward to tonight, when the NFL welcomes its next generation — and when its Draft begins with the perennial promise that your team will find a player potentially capable of transforming the fortunes of the entire franchise.
Radiating from Radio City Music Hall in New York City, it’s a beacon of hope along what can seem an interminable journey for the league’s more forlorn teams, with the first round carrying particular hope because that’s when the talent is most tantalizing. Those fans are excited by the opportunity to improve quickly. To make a splash. They’re looking forward to tonight as their team’s chance to add a star.
If your team is the Patriots, though, you’re probably not among them. Because, by now, you know better.
As a New England fan, you know that the NFL Draft isn’t just about tonight. It’s also about Friday, and about Saturday — and so although nationwide so much attention has been paid to what will unfold tonight in primetime, even attempting to measure the success of the mission is something that can’t be done at least until the weekend is complete.
And thus you shouldn’t be surprised if tonight’s opportunity is traded away for more chances in the days to come. In fact, you should expect it. And maybe even root for it, given the success this team has had with this strategy during recent drafts, and where its roster is currently at in terms of construction.
It can be a frustrating approach, especially for those who’ll stay up late to watch Round 1, only to see the 29th selection dealt away sometime shortly before midnight. Though that’s exactly what happened a year ago — when the Pats appeared to benefit from that play for the fourth time in five seasons.
Last year the Patriots swapped that choice for the Vikings’ second-, third-, fourth- and seventh-round picks, which ultimately turned into linebacker Jamie Collins, cornerback Logan Ryan, receiver Josh Boyce, and running back LeGarrette Blount. Basically, moving back gained them the best offensive and defensive players of their divisional-round playoff win, a defensive back who could start this year, and a project receiver.
In 2012, their trade activity actually moved them up to take front-seven defenders Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower — but even having the opportunity to add Jones was created by moving a first-round selection in 2011. After taking Nate Solder at No. 17 that year, the Pats also had the 28th pick, but instead sent that choice to New Orleans. From that deal, they wound up with Jones and multipurpose threat Shane Vereen.
A year prior to that they moved back twice, then wound up with a haul including Pro Bowl safety Devin McCourty and tight end Aaron Hernandez. In that same draft they also took All Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski with a choice acquired by trading out of the first round a year earlier, and in that same deal they added Julian Edelman, last season’s leading receiver.
As the Patriots enter this year’s draft, they undoubtedly have needs to fill. But with newly signed cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner joining a defense that appeared headed in the right direction before it was beset by injuries last season, and with the running back and receiver positions having been restocked around Tom Brady over the past few years, there is no single glaring vacancy they need to fill.
They could use additions on the interior of the offensive and defensive lines, but historically they’ve successfully plugged undrafted or less-heralded players into those positions — and defensively have drafted only player there (Ron Brace, 2009) among the first three rounds since taking Vince Wilfork in 2004.
So in terms of helping the team immediately, the Patriots’ priority might be finding plug-and-play talent at tight end and safety, which are two positions where they remain relatively thin. If they could come away with Texas A&M’s Jace Amaro (who has the potential to replace what Hernandez brought the offense before his arrest) and Washington State’s Deone Bucannon (a ball-hawking All-American), Pats fans would have reason to be excited.
But neither of those players is likely to be taken tonight. So unless Bill Belichick loves another player, he shouldn’t — and won’t — pick just because it’s his turn. If teams with a need forgo the chance to draft a quarterback early, seize on their eagerness to beat the rush by swapping No. 29 for something early Friday. Let another fan base get excited tonight.
Especially if it means your own fan base is excited come January.
Dave D’Onofrio covers the Patriots for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.