The more things change the more they stay the same.
For the third time in Bill Belichick's eight years running the show in New England, the Patriots entered draft weekend with multiple first-round picks. And for the second time the team chose not to select two players but rather opted to trade down and into the future.
The Patriots trading on draft weekend has become perhaps their only predictable quality, and once again the initial reaction to the moves has to be positive. With a slew of defensive players coming off the board in droves midway through the first round, Belichick opted to pass up taking another, had no interest in the offensive players available and parlayed that into a first-round pick from San Francisco next season.
Make it four times in Belichick's nine years at the helm. Say it with me, "The Patriots love flexibility."
"There were several options and ultimately we decided to trade with San Francisco," Belichick said of the deal that also sent the Niners fourth-round pick (No. 110) to New England. "We felt that was good value and we wound up with the same amount of picks."
Adding to the Patriots wheeler-dealer ways, Belichick added another pick in 2008 by giving their third-round pick (91 overall) to Oakland in exchange for a seventh (211 overall) and a third in 2008.
The key aspect that made the Patriots decision a good one was the run on defensive players in the first round. Starting with Arkansas defensive end Jamaal Anderson at No. 8, 15 of the 20 picks that preceded the Patriots spot at 28 were on the defensive side of the ball. That left very little to pick from on defense at that point and Belichick decided not to bother while setting himself up once again for the future.
Given the team's aggressive offensive approach in the draft last year, coupled with an emphasis on that side of the ball thus far in free agency, it made sense that Belichick was focusing on defense. If a player slid down to 28 that Belichick had interest in (perhaps Jon Beason, Reggie Nelson or Leon Hall), he likely would have taken him.
That wasn't the case. Basically the options were to take what was left (cornerback Chris Houston, linebacker David Harris?) or make a move. They chose the latter – and that was probably the right call.
"I thought the [first] round unfolded about the way we thought it would," Belichick said. "With the exception of Brady Quinn slipping as far as he did, having [15-of-20] picks go defense was about what we felt and most people felt would be the case. There were some offensive players that started coming off the board at that point but we thought the overall value wasn't there."
That wasn't the case earlier at 24 when the Patriots jumped on Miami safety Brandon Meriweather, filling both a need and their desire for value. Meriweather is very athletic and possesses rare coverage skills for a safety, which stems from his past experiences as a cornerback. He plays aggressively in coverage and is an excellent tackler. Sounds like a Patriots-type safety to me.
The one drawback to Meriweather is he has a couple of incidents in his past that call his character into question. The more serious of the two involved a gun incident in which he fired back at an assailant in defense of teammateWillie Cooper back in July of 2006. Police pressed no charges, however, ruling it was a self-defense shooting.
The other incident came during an ugly on-field brawl last season in a game against Florida International. Meriweather was seen in the middle of the melee stomping violently on an FIU player as chaos reigned around him. When asked about the latter situation during the scouting combine, Meriweather expressed regret by saying as a team captain he should have been trying to defuse the situation rather than elevating it.
While drafting a player with two such black marks on his resume is far from ideal, especially in the new NFL climate where an added emphasis is being placed on player conduct, Meriweather showed mature accountability in dealing with these issues. Only time will tell if the Patriots erred by taking him in the first round, but given the team's reputation for doing its research it's a safe bet that Meriweather has seen the last of his off-field troubles.
And on the field the Patriots picked up a player who should be able to step in immediately and contribute in subpackages at the least and perhaps even push for a starting job. And with a couple of extra picks already set for 2008, the Patriots once again are poised with the flexibility they so covet.
One final point to keep in mind – the Raiders seemed poised to deal Randy Moss and the Patriots reportedly expressed interest. Belichick did not deny that fact when asked about it following Meriweather's selection. The Raiders ended Saturday's marathon by taking UTEP wideout Johnnie Lee Higgins with the final pick of the third round. Will that pick set the stage for Oakland shipping Moss to New England, thus adding significant spice to the Patriots draft?