It almost seems like an understatement to call Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots a dynasty. This team has accomplished so much, so often, it recalls the greatness of Vince Lombardi‘s Green Bay Packers — an era that lasted just nine years.
Being the center of the NFL for so long is the perfect condition to produce myths; not slander, although Belichick, quarterback Tom Brady, and owner Robert Kraft attract plenty of this, too. Simple rumors and what amount to urban legends follow these Patriots doggedly.
One of the biggest myths is that the Patriots never trade up. It’s totally false and provably so. Let’s explore why it’s a go-to bit of misinformation among NFL fans, and break down the very real phenomenon that led to this situation in the first place.
The reason Bill Belichick avoids overvaluing high draft picks
There’s a simple reason why Belichick rarely hesitates to trade away picks: The NFL draft is a crapshoot. Seriously, in a mathematical sense, it’s nearly impossible to nail down whether a highly-valued prospect will pan out in the NFL.
Belichick is a shrewd operator in all levels of his role with the Patriots. So it’s no surprise that, more often than not, he goes with known quantities. Trading down, along with Brady’s intentionally lowballed contracts maintaining cap space, gives Belichick immense resources to pick proven players with the best potential to win big games.
Why NFL fans believe the myth that the Patriots never trade up
The Patriots have a reputation among many fans that they have a rule of never, ever trading up. It’s similar to the earned — and also currently untrue — reputation of the New York Yankees. They spent decades adding only battle-proven players to their roster instead of mysteries. Why wouldn’t the league-dominating Patriots have a similar mindset?
It’s bolstered by Belichick’s actual pattern. If you sift through his most notable picks with each team, a pattern emerges. Offering up first- and second-round picks is often the red meat bolstering the Pats’ biggest trades.
Here’s a typical Belichick-driven move: In 2002, the Patriots gave up a second-round pick (39th overall) to the Pittsburgh Steelers in exchange for two lower picks. They got a lower second-round pick (50th overall) and a fourth-round pick (112th overall). What happened next is the crucial part.
Notable times Belichick and the Patriots traded up
Belichick packaged that 50th overall pick as a sweetener with a sixth overall pick. This got the Patriots traded up to 48th overall on draft day. And they had a particular target in mind: future Hall of Fame offensive tackle Matt Light.
The Patriots traded the 44th and 190th overall picks to the Oakland Raiders for pick No. 42. This was entirely to pass up the Baltimore Ravens, then in the market for a tight end. Belichick got Rob Gronkowski, who turned in nine of the all-time best seasons at his position.
The Ravens, on the other hand, missed the pick they wanted and settled for linebacker Sergio Kindle. He played in just three NFL games.
The lesson seems to be, don’t trade up frivolously. Stay within a small range, about five to 10 picks. And pray, if you do go in on unproven players, that you end up with Gronks and Lights more often than not.
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