Bill Belichick addressed the media on Tuesday for the first time since his team won its third Super Bowl in four years in February. The pre-draft press conference is an annual exercise in futility when it comes to reading into the Patriots potential draft plans, but that doesn't generally stop anyone from reading into the coach's answers.
Tuesday's version offered little in terms of specifics, but Belichick did provide some general looks into the team's mindset.
For openers, he admitted he felt this year's overall class is not as deep as last year's. He also indicated it would be difficult to work a Day 1 trade (rounds 1-3) given the fact that the Patriots sit at the bottom of Round 1 and one of the team's three picks is a compensatory third-rounder that cannot be dealt.
"I think the opportunities to trade or move on the first day are limited," Belichick said. "I'm not saying it's not going to happen. You don't have to write that headline 'Belichick says Patriots won't trade on first day.' But relative to last year, when we had two first-round picks and it seemed like there would be a lot more opportunity to either move both of them or one of them, there was certainly a lot of conversation going on.
"I don't see a lot of movement for us, so I think we better be ready to pick at 32."
Let the rampant speculation begin. Belichick, who has been no stranger to draft day deals, said the prospects for Sunday (round 4-7) trades seem much more open. Since coming to New England in 2000, Belichick and personnel chief Scott Pioli have swung 18 draft weekend deals involving picks. Last year was the first time in Belichick's tenure that no trades were made during the weekend, but the Patriots did acquire running back Corey Dillon from Cincinnati for a second-round pick less than a week before the draft.
"It seems like, at this point, there's probably a lot more of an opportunity and more likelihood that there will be some movement on the second day in terms of those picks," Belichick said. "Again, that's very preliminary, and as you know we're not afraid to trade 'em, and we're not afraid to keep 'em. … But I think the first day trading, there's just less options there because of where we're at (No. 32) and the way the third-round pick is designated as not tradable."
New England dealt its original third-round pick to Arizona last month in exchange for cornerback Duane Starks. But they recouped a pick in that round when the league awarded a third-rounder (No. 100 overall), plus fifth- and seventh-round picks, as compensation for losing Damien Woody, Ted Washington, Mike Compton and Bobby Hamilton through free agency in 2004.
As for which direction the team will turn come Saturday afternoon when the Patriots are scheduled to close the first round, Belichick offered very little insight. Instead, he focused on evaluating various players in the Patriots system and explained the difficulties scouts face in trying to do so.
"We have to try to take a look at each player and figure out what value they have for our team, and how they would fit into this team," Belichick said. "You hear a lot of people and scouts say 'This guy, it looks like somebody will take him in the second round,' or 'this guy will probably go in the first round.' Really, I don't think we can worry too much about that. We have to try to evaluate what the player can do for our team, and what his role would be, and how we see that developing. And try to put some kind of value on that."
When asked to give his definition of what kind of expectations he has for any first-round pick, Belichick pointed to the old Dallas Cowboys model when Tom Landry and Gil Brandt teamed up for a long run of success.
"I don't think it's different [in the first round] than anyplace else," Belichick said. "What your expectation is, will the player reach his potential in your system? If he can do that, if you've evaluated the player properly, then you'll be all right. What the first player in the draft is going to do as opposed to the 31st player is going to do, historically, is quite a bit different.
"What [the Cowboys] did was, after two years, you should have a pretty good idea of where that guy is. You're either on the road with him or it's time to move on to someone else. In general terms, that's a pretty good axiom to live by."
Not surprisingly, the status of linebacker Tedy Bruschi was brought up on a few occasions. Less surprisingly, Belichick offered little to clear up the situation, saying that the team will defer to Bruschi's comments regarding his future.
But Belichick did caution against reading too much into any transactions with regard to Bruschi's, or anyone else's, situation.
"I don't think our current roster impacts too much of our plans in any draft," Belichick said. "We draft based on what's up there and what we feel those players can do for our football team. If you start drafting by need, or try to come out of the draft and say 'we needed a guard, we got a guard. We needed a receiver, we got a receiver' … but if they can't perform and fill that role for you competitively on the field, then you really haven't done anything. It still comes back to drafting players that can be productive in your system."
Just what that system will be on defense remains to be seen. With Bruschi's 2005 availability still unknown, and Roman Phifer released (at least for now), the possibility exists for the Patriots to move away from their base 3-4 in order to lessen the need for depth at inside linebacker. But Belichick wasn't ready to make that move.
"We'll teach the [3-4] first," Belichick said. "But we'll continue to be multiple and we'll continue to utilize different schemes and different players within those schemes." Free agent newcomer Monty Beisel played all three linebacker positions in Kansas City but Belichick envisions him as more of an inside player in the Patriots system. …
Belichick took no credit, or blame, for quarterback Tom Brady's performance while hosting "Saturday Night Live" April 16. "I saw a little bit of it. I didn't know Tom could sing or dance based on some of the things we've seen around here. But he's probably been getting some good coaching. That didn't come from me. Somebody else must have been working with him."
The coach was a bit more serious later when discussing his quarterback. He was asked to divulge his best-ever draft pick: "In terms of performance and production from where he was picked, it would have to be Brady." … The coach also didn't close the door on a potential return for wideout Troy Brown. Asked about the possibility of the veteran returning, and if there have been any conversations between the coach and Brown, Belichick said "Yeah, he currently isn't with any other team, so that would be a possibility. … I don't want to comment on any of those personal conversations." … Individual game tickets go on sale May 21 at 10 a.m. through TicketMaster.