New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick addresses the media during his pre-draft press conference at Gillette Stadium on Tuesday, April 21, 2009.
BB:Pretty big day for Boston sports yesterday. What was it a 10-run win by the Red Sox? You've got the Celtics, the Bruins, the [Boston] Marathon. Congratulations [to Albert Breer]. I know how hard that is, congratulations there. We are kind of winding things down here draft-wise. I would say we are probably about 90-95 percent of the way through. We've certainly seen all the players and all of that. I think now is the point where we talk about some different scenarios and think a little bit about draft strategy: how to maximize our opportunities and get the most out of the picks that we have, make contact with other teams and see who may be interested in moving, moving players or moving picks. We will get a little bit of a head start on that. A lot of that is a draft day type of situation, but just sort of being able to think about it ahead of time… Those are some of the things that will probably be taking place here in the next few days. I don't think I have ever been in a draft where we've had the potential flexibility that we have this year. Last year, we went in with the 7th pick and 62nd pick and I felt, at that time, it would be very hard to move very far from those two spots, and in fact, we didn't. This year, I think if you go by the generic trade charts—the charts pretty much everyone uses or has access to—if you just do the numbers we could probably trade a combination of our picks in the first round and get up maybe as high as 10. We already have three picks in the second round, so we could pick anywhere from the beginning of the round until the end of the round and then a couple more picks in the third, so I think it's really important for us to know the value of the board all the way through those first 100 players and be able to know where the opportunities are or aren't, and how we can make the most of them. Again, we don't always have flexibility to trade because you need a partner on that, but I'm sure there will certainly be some discussions there and there already have been with teams that see our multiple picks and have interest in acquiring two for one and that type of thing. We just have to see how all of that plays out, but I think it does give us a lot of flexibility and certainly changes our entry into the draft. It's a lot different than what it was last year, as I said talking about the number 7 and number 62 picks. The process started a few days after the draft last year. I think it's always interesting to how it goes from players who have never played football, like the Stephen Neals of the world, to college players who didn't have too much production, like the Matt Cassels of the world, to players who were three [and] four-year starters at major programs and all the ones in between—small schools, big schools, guys that played, guys that didn't play, guys that switched positions, offense, defense, got hurt, had different curves in their careers and so forth—so it's one big evaluation process. I don't think you can neglect any aspect of it, but at the same time you have to take everything into consideration and try to do the best you can with the information you have, and make the best decisions for your team. All of that process has occurred and now it is just a question of trying to finalize how we value the players, which again is really what's important. It's how we value the player, not how someone else values him and not what some other grade is on him or what round someone else thinks he can go in. What's more important to us is what we think he'll do for our football team if he's here. That is really where the emphasis is. As we wind down that evaluation process and get into the draft strategy, potential movement, and actual comparison between player A and player B or player B and player C at different points in the draft – that's the last step of the process. It's always an exciting time when you build your team. This weekend will be an important team-building time for all of us in the National Football League.
Q:Do you sense any reluctance these days of teams to use the picks higher in the first round? It seems at times it is more cost effective to use the lower picks. You have a lot of picks in the second round. You could use just about all of them and not spend what you would have to spend on a top pick?
BB:That is certainly true. I think if you go and look at the Hall of Fame players, you'll find a lot more in the first round than in the second round. Generally speaking, the higher the pick the better the player. That's generally speaking the way it is. You're right. You can get more players for less money. It's a question of quality. When teams trade up in the draft, they trade up not for a spot, but for a specific player. That's their judgment on what they think that player will bring to their team. Each case is different. I know that there is a general value for trades. We studied that and feel like we know what that market is. Again, it varies in the first round or two, especially the first round, because you're trading for a specific player. When you trade a sixth and a seventh to move up in the sixth round, I don't know if anybody knows who you are going to take. If you wanted him that bad, you could have had him 200 players ago. That is not so much a player pick as it is a value pick. You trade up for someone in the first round in the top 10 or so, you are going for a specific guy. How much that guy is worth to you is how much you are willing to give up. It might be high based on what other people think, but if that's what you think the player brings to your team, then it's worth giving it up. Each one of those trades is different. I think when you are involved in those you have to get a feel for… if you are trading up, how much you want the player and if you are trading down, how much you want to draft there versus how much you don't really care, how motivated the buyer is and how motivated the seller is. Each one of those is unique I don't think there is any set formula for that. They're all different.
Q:With the draft value chart that Jimmy Johnson put together with the Cowboys back in the early 90's, how much of that is not even applicable now because of the finances at the top of the draft?
BB:We've looked at that. I really think when you look at a value chart or when you look at the historical trades – what was given up to move up so many places in certain rounds — in the end it all comes out over a historical evaluation, over a three year period, a five year period, a 10 year period it's all about the same. If you use points, if you use history, if you use a different point chart, there is some kind of quality there. But in the end from our evaluation of it, it's all about the same over the long term. If you just look at one year—one or two years could really skew those averages—but if you look at it over a multi-year period where you have enough examples to evaluate it, it's pretty consistent.
Q:What are your impressions of Andre Smith?
BB:Andre is a very talented player. He has had a great career down there in Alabama. I think he's got a lot of attributes that you look for in an offensive lineman and left tackle. But there are a lot of players out there that have a lot of things going for them. Certainly anyone who gets talked about in that area of the draft, there's a lot of reasons for it: athletic ability, performance, consistency.
Q:Some people have mentioned the murkiness of the first round and that there are a number of positions that don't have a clear-cut best player. Does that make it harder because you may not know who will be on the board?
BB:I think that's an interesting point and I agree with you about this draft. In previous years, for the most part, I think if you saw a team coming up and they were going for a certain position, you would be able to identify the player they are going up for. Now, as you put it, who's the top running back? Who's the top receiver? Who's the top quarterback? Who's the top tackle? Who's the top corner? If you survey different teams and you know what's on their boards, I think there is quite a bit of variability from team to team as to who those top guys are. That goes without saying [that] as we drop into the lower part there is even more fluctuation. It spreads even wider. From that standpoint, if someone is moving up and you knew they were coming up for a particular position, I'm not sure if you could identify which player it was they wanted at that position. I think that makes it a little bit unusual, but once you get past a certain point in the draft anyway, certainly by the end of the first round, it just thins out considerably after that. I think it's really hard to predict who wants who. It's hard enough to do in the first round, but after that when you talk about value, it's hard to be [as] specific as you would be in the first round.
Q:Going into the draft, as you are formulating it, what will your thoughts be? As you are talking to your coaches: This will be a successful draft if we…?
BB:Improve our team. That's what we are trying to do: improve our team. I don't know what the opportunities are going to be. We will have to wait this weekend to see what they are, but I hope we can take advantage of our opportunities and improve our team. We will know that this fall, we will know it next fall and we will know it the fall after that.
Q:Do you enter every draft the same way in terms of the general thought process of that or do you specifically want to grab a player here or a position here?
BB:We haven't been picking in the top 10 very often. When you are picking 23 or picking down in the late teens and 20s or 30s, there are so many things that can happen in front of you. It's very hard to predict [that] we are going to do this and we are going to do that. We are waiting to see what 20 other teams are going to do. I think again, the best thing we can do is be prepared. Again, it's a little bit unusual because we have a little more flexibility with the three second round picks, so we could move up in the first round. But maybe once a player starts dropping into a certain range and you really like that player, then maybe you can consider moving up for him if someone is willing to trade out [and] that type of thing. Those are the kind of things we need to be prepared for and whether or not it's worth it to give up one, two, or three picks to move up to take a particular player and give up the opportunity to draft other players in the 40s and 50s. Again, the best example I could give would be that it's like studying for a final exam. You have a whole semester's worth of information and material. What questions is the professor going to ask on the final exam? Which five questions are going to be? I don't know. You have to study all the material. You hope you are on the target for the ones he asks. When it is over, you probably wish you would have studied more on something else and maybe spent a little less time on another area, but that is the way it is in the draft every year. You have to be prepared for everything. In the end you don't know exactly what it's going to be. If you are picking [third], it's a lot easier to evaluate the first three players than if you're picking 23rd and trying to evaluate the first 30-something for that one pick.
Q:There has been a lot of talk about the combine drug testing and a lot of players and speculation. Can you explain how that works, when you as a team find out and how it might play into the assessment of prospects?
BB:I don't want to be evasive about it, but that whole area is not an area that we can talk about or we do talk about. I'm sure the league could. Whatever the league would tell you about the process, the information, whatever it is, let's let them distribute it because it's a very confidential area and not one that I could get into on a general level. I think the league would be better off handling that.
Q:Has your involvement in the process changed at all without Scott Pioli here?
BB:On a personal level, it's gone from spending a lot of time, a lot of days and a lot of hours having meetings with Scott to having none. He's in Kansas City and I'm here, so the contact has gone from 100 to zero or close to it, but as far as the process goes, it really hasn't changed much. We have one new person in the process and that's Floyd [Reese]. Floyd has a ton of experience and has been through this many times as the general manager at Tennessee and even as the assistant general manager before when he was in Houston. As for the rest of the people, Nick [Caserio] is on top of it. He saw all the guys in the fall and a lot of the guys in the spring. I've worked closely with Nick in the past, Jon Robinson, Jason Licht is back, he has certainly had some input in the college [area], but his area is primarily pro personnel. It's a lot of the same scouts, same people and the same process. Nick's done a great job and I think he is very on top of the entire draft, and the people under him have been very good at acquiring and providing the information I think we need.
Q:Do you believe in the concept of drafting for need?
BB:As I said, I think you draft to improve your team. You sign players to improve your team. That encompasses a lot of things, so what you draft is what you see helping your team, both short term and long term, because you expect those players to be here for more than one year. Whether it is four or five years, whatever your commitment is to those players, that's really what you are drafting for. In the end, you need everyone. Whether you draft your number one need or number five need, in a year or two those needs may change. Sometimes you take a player that is best suited for you at the time and sometimes that player happens to be one you also need. You do what is best for your team.
Q:At this stage of player developments, is there anything that makes the evaluation process particularly tricky?
BB:I think the whole process is a lot harder than evaluating pro personnel. Pro players - you can see them play against the teams we have to play against. The same players, the same schemes and you can see it over a decent period of time. And most free agents aren't one year players. Those players typically stay with their teams for awhile unless they get released in training camp. But then you are kind of relying on your draft evaluations. Pro players you can usually see for three, four, or five years in the National Football League, evaluate what they are doing and see how they fit into your system. With college players you have a lot of variables. The competition, scheme, the players workload, physical development. There are so many players that come into college at 240 [pounds] and they leave at 300 [pounds]. They are growing into their bodies and they are gaining maturity both physically and mentally, and from an experience standpoint. Not that that doesn't continue when we get them, but I think it starts to slow down a little bit. All of those things lead to a lot of guesstimates. Then you put them into a professional program which is a lot different than a college program. You start talking about a lot more time, a lot more money, a different schedule, different demands [and] some kids respond differently to that. How they will actually do when they get in there you won't know until they get in there. You can guess, but you don't have the evidence liked you'd have if you took a player from another NFL team. You will get a lot better evaluation on that. So, it's a very inexact science but we do the best we can.
Q:You mentioned potentially talking trade with some teams. Have there been any discussions thus far?
BB:Again, I think at this point in time it's a lot of preliminary conversations. You talk to a team, see whether they talk to you, whichever way it goes. Are they interested in moving a certain pick and/or are you interested in moving a certain pick? You're just trying to get some parameters. Some teams are at a certain point in the draft where they say they don't want to move. Well, then you know on draft day that if you were interested in moving to that spot, that's probably not as good of an option as [it would be to deal with] other teams that tell you they would love to consider something if the one or two guys they are looking for aren't there. Well, great if it comes to that point and you are looking to move to that position then that's the team you would contact. So, it's more along those lines. If you look at the number of pre-draft draft choice trades – not player for draft choice, but straight draft choice trades – you won't find very many of them. Probably the last one would be when Jimmy Johnson and I made one in 1992 or 1993, a couple days before the draft. Teams don't like to do it. I am personally comfortable doing it, but most teams don't like to do it.
Q:You meaning flipping the picks before the draft?
BB:Yes, before the draft. 'You move up in this round and give me this and I move back and I give you that and that's the deal.' So, then we go into the draft and I know what I have and you know what you have and here we go. It's much more of 'let's wait until we are on the clock. Let's wait to see what's on the board and then we will decide if we want to move or not.' That's the way 99 percent...I can't think of too many draft choice trades made pre-draft.
Q:Last year was the first where it went down to 10 minutes in the first round and 7 minutes in the second. How does that affect the process of getting something like that put together in a shorter amount of time?
BB:I think you feel a little bit of a time crunch there, but surprisingly there were 30 trades last year – I think the most we've had if I'm not mistaken. If it wasn't the most it was one of the highest total number of trades in the draft in years, and it didn't slow it down. Certainly in previous years, where the rounds were five minutes from the third round on, you had to make the trade in five minutes. If you could do it in 15 or 10, you could certainly do it in five. It's just that first round cutting five minutes and two and a half off the second round squeezes it a little bit, and there is a lot more at stake at those picks. I don't think, based on the 30 trades made in last year's draft, it's deterred too many people.
Q:Does this mean you have to make the contact earlier?
BB:Yes. You have to make a quicker decision. I don't think it means you can't do it; you just have to make a quicker decision. Sometimes in the past with more time you might be able to play two or three teams off each other. You're on the phone with this team or you're on the phone with that team and it may be a little bit of a bidding situation and vice versa with you being on the other end of the phone and not getting an answer back because you know they are shopping it to other teams. There's probably a little less of that because you don't have much time. That may actually push some of the trades forward because if you get someone on the phone and say you don't have time to fool around, so let me just take it - if you are inclined to trade.
Q:With the number of picks you have in the second round are you fielding more calls than you are making?
BB:We aren't doing anything differently than we normally do.
Q:Are you noticing more teams calling in?
BB:It's all just preliminary. We're just trying to get a sense of what teams are interested in possibly talking, nobody is committing to anything. Like us last year, we were sitting at seven and 62. If we trade 62 to move up from seven then our next pick is 90-something. That probably wasn't the place we wanted to be in the draft, so it wasn't realistic for us to move up from seven or to trade 62. I'm not saying that's impossible, but the chances of that happening didn't seem very good. So, whatever player was at 20, it didn't really make any difference to us because we weren't going to be at 20.
Q:How much, if anything, has what you've been able to do in free agency impacted your outlook on what you want to do in the draft?
BB:I don't think it's impacted it too much. I think the free agency is another window where you try to improve the team where you can and try to take advantage of those opportunities that you think can help your team. Again, you don't know what they're going to be, but you try to evaluate them on a case-by-case basis and try to improve your team. Now you move into the draft and again, I don't know who's going to be there at 23. I don't know who's going to be there at 34, so no decisions were made based on that. When we get to those points we will evaluate the players and the options that are there, whether to move or not to move, whatever it is, and do whatever we think is best for our team.
Q:Is this a good year to have 11 picks as far as the depth at certain positions?
BB:We hope we will be able to use our picks productively in whatever way that is. Sometimes we have used our picks to take players at the end of the draft, like the Matt Cassels, Patrick Passes, and Tom Bradys, guys like that who have come in the sixth and seventh round. Sometimes we have taken those picks and used them to move up, like the fifth round pick to take Ty Warren. Sometimes we have traded them into next year, like we did with our third last year with San Diego and we did one year with Oakland, where we traded a sixth and a seventh into a fifth the following year. So, I hope we will be able to use them productively. What that is, it would just be a guess at this point in time. We will just have to wait to see what the options are. I don't want to lock into anything until we know what the options are. Once the options are declared we will try to make the best decision we can.
Q:In your mind how is the talent in this draft overall compared to past years?
BB:I think there will be a lot of players in this draft that will be good performers in the National Football League. As I said, I think one of the unusual things in this draft is the lack of overall consensus at the top of each position. There seems to be some fluctuation as to who is the best center? Who's the best back? Who's the best quarterback? Who's the best receiver? Who's the best tackle? Who's the best corner? You hear a lot of different names getting slung around and I can see why. I can see why you would like one player for this, but like the other player for that. We have certainly had conversations on our board relative to those players. After you get passed the first wave of 20-25, however many players it is, then it sort of starts to be a normal draft. You like some better than others, some guys are a better fit. A player might be lacking something that keeps him from being a first round pick or a top 20 pick, but he has a lot of other things going for him that makes you want to consider having that player on your team. So, I would just say the top of the draft is less predictable than what it normally would be. I think last year we had a pretty good sense of who a lot of those players would be. Long was the top tackle. Ryan was the top quarterback. A kid from LSU, Dorsey was the top defensive tackle. Long was the top defensive end. That seemed a lot more set last year than what it seems this year.
Q:The University of Connecticut has drawn a lot of attention. What are your impressions of their program?
BB:Really impressive. I think Randy Edsall has done a great job with that program. They've won a lot of games. They have a lot of great players. They got them from all over and have them on both sides of the ball. They have them at the skill positions and have them at the big positions: offensive linemen, running back, corner, pass rusher. Several other guys: safety, quarterback, tight end, receiver. They have a lot of other interesting guys too. I'm not saying they are first round picks, but they're certainly considerations and I am sure several of them will get picked in the draft. I think it's a real credit to what he's done with that program. It was an exciting pro day at Connecticut. What's the highest player they've ever had picked there? In the third round, [Alfred] Fincher, I think, the linebacker. So, you can say that one is probably going to get shattered this weekend. In the past you haven't gone to Connecticut looking for first round, second round type talent. And clearly there are a couple guys that fall into that category there.
Q:When you look at the history of the number one picks, with all the man hours, scouting, research and effort that goes into it, why does it so frequently end up not hitting the mark?
BB:As I said earlier, I think there are a lot of variables from college football to pro football. It doesn't matter where you pick them, there're still those same variables. It's just a different game and it's played by a different level of player. The same thing happens in high school and college; you see these high school guys who are All-Americans, Gatorade Player of the Year and all of that, and some of them don't play in college. And other guys that barely get recruited are number one draft choices. Any time you jump a level like that and put a couple years into the process, there are some variables—they change.
Q:Is there ever a player in the draft where you can say 'that kid, no matter what happens, is going to have an eight-year career in the NFL'?
BB:Yeah, I think there are plenty of players that you can say that about, that 'this guy is going to start and play in the league'. I think there're other players you can say, 'I think that this guy is going to start and play in the league and be an impact player, but you've got to make sure this is right or you've a little bit of question about that or a little bit of a question about something else, but this guy's going to be a pretty good player.' So that's why at the end of the day, five years from now, we'll look back and some of those players in the first round should have been taken ahead of some other ones, and maybe there are some that shouldn't even have gone in the first round when we look back on it. Those are things where you try to take the information, digest it and figure it out the best you can. But there're a lot of variables and sometimes it's the system. We've seen that in the NFL: guys go from one team to another and they perform differently, so there're a lot of variables.
Q:Is there a guy that sticks out in this draft, not necessarily one of your draft picks?
BB:We've drafted players here high, that aren't with the team anymore, so obviously we took them thinking they would have better careers than what they had with us. You know the list as well as I do.
Q:In general, what is the key variable that you look at to determine if a player can make that jump from college to professional?
BB:Each guy is different. That's really a tough question. Each guy is different and you have so many different interactions with players. You interact with them when the scout goes in on the school call. You watch them at the school, in practice, [listen to] what his coaches and people like that say about him, who have been with them on a day-in, day-out basis for multiple years, multiple games, practices, all of that. You interact with them at the combine, the All-Star game, Senior Bowl, East-West Game, stuff like that. You have your spring workouts. It's such a process and again, it's an inexact science, so ultimately you have to put your chips on some number, and that's the one you pick based on all the information you have. To me, there's no handbook on 'well it's this one thing.' It's a combination of things and certainly talent plays into it.
Q:You must have felt pretty good about Jerod Mayo to pick him that high last year. Are there any guys, specifically linebackers, that you feel could come in and make an impact?
BB:Jerod is a pretty special player. I don't know how many players there are like him year in and year out in the draft—guys that will come in and lead your team in tackles, play in every game, be as mature and be the kind of leader, be the kind of consistent, steady performer that Jerod was from day one through the last game of the regular season and every day in between. I don't know how many of those guys there are in many drafts, so I feel like we are really lucky to have Jerod. He did a great job for us last year and I know he's worked extremely hard this year in the offseason program, like he's a rookie all over again. I think we're extremely fortunate to acquire Jerod and have him on our team from last year, and I think we'd be doing really well to take one like that every year. I don't know how many of those guys there are. But you know, there's Brady in the sixth round. Two hundred players went before him. Johnny Unitas in the ninth, right? It's an inexact science.
Q:In considering all of those variables you mentioned, in your mind is there anyone who is good at it?
BB:Again, I think the whole team-building process is a combination of a lot of things. I looked back and read about how bad our draft was two years ago—that was the one where we traded a second [round pick] for [Wes] Welker and traded a fourth for [Randy] Moss—so maybe by draft standards that wasn't a great draft, but I like to think those two players helped our team. Again, to me, the final measuring stick is your record. How do you do in October, November and December? Those are the grades that matter. How many points you've got at the end of the game and how many points they've got. With all due respect to all you guys who are going to be giving us grades, you don't get any points for that. You get points for winning games, and that's what we're here to do, is build our team. Whether that's after the draft like Pierre Woods, who signed his tender and will be ready to go with us this year, whether it's a guy like Pierre Woods after the draft, whether it's a first-round pick like [Jerod] Mayo, whether it's a trade like Randy Moss, whether it's some second-day guy like Brady, [Matt] Cassel, [Dan] Koppen or somebody like that, or whether it's Steve Neal, who didn't play football. Wherever they come from, that's all part of the team-building process. When you come up to the plate and you get a chance, you can make one of those count and that's how you build your team. Some people say 'build through the draft.' Well, of course, that's an important part of it, but there are other ways to build your team as well. And also, when you get a player, there's a way to develop him so that he's a better player in year two, year three, year four, than he was in year one, [like] Matt Cassel. Could Matt Cassel have done what he did last year four years ago? I doubt it. There's player development. It's a long process. But it's fun. It beats working. It beats going to work every day.
Q:[On Tom Brady]
BB:Tom's been doing well. He's been doing his offseason work without any limitations, so he seems to be doing fine.