The story of the first night of the draft for the Patriots was all about need - both the team's need to find an offensive lineman and Bill Belichick's need to pull off a trade. In the span of a couple hours, New England addressed both.
As the first round unfolded Thursday night, there were a few eyebrow-raising selections among the first dozen picks. Those surprises led to hope that one of the marquee pass rushers - North Carolina's Robert Quinn - might actually fall into the Patriots lap at 17. But ultimately Colorado left tackle Nate Solder was the selection.
At No. 8 the Tennessee Titans took a quarterback but it wasn't Blaine Gabbert. Instead they chose Washington's Jake Locker. The move precipitated a trade in which Jacksonville moved up to 10, where the Jags grabbed Gabbert while Washington moved down to 16.
Both the Jaguars and Redskins were thought to be in the market for a pass rusher, which conventional wisdom suggested was New England's biggest area of need. The Jags took Gabbert, a gifted passer who they likely felt wouldn't be around at 10, where they moved up to select him. With Washington now just one spot ahead of the Patriots, the process of potentially moving up ahead of the 'Skins became easier and significantly less expensive.
Then Minnesota rocked the entire evening by reaching for Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder at 12. Most experts believed Ponder was a second-round prospect, but having him go far earlier than anticipated left another possible front-seven player available. When defensive tackle Nick Fairley went to Detroit at 13, just three teams stood between the Patriots and an impact rusher like Quinn or Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan.
But if Belichick had ideas of moving up to grab either of those players - or anyone else - he wasn't letting on.
"Those are conversations that go on throughout the draft," Belichick said of potentially moving up. "We didn't feel there was any great desperation to do anything."
The Patriots opted to sit tight and first Quinn (14 to St. Louis) and then Kerrigan (16 to Washington) dropped off the board. With all the highly rated pass rushers gone (Missouri's Aldon Smith went seventh to San Francisco), Belichick filled another significant need by taking Solder.
The 6-8, 315, Solder is an athletic freak with nimble feat from his days as a tight end. He spent all of his time with the Buffaloes on the left side and that's where Belichick said he would begin his professional career. By all accounts Solder is a hard-working player with the athleticism to handle speed rushers off the edge but perhaps lacks the brute strength to contain bull rushers.
Any deficiencies in his game will likely be glaring since the pick likely spells the end of Matt Light's productive 10 years in New England. Light is a pending free agent (assuming the lockout mess is resolved at some point) and adding a rookie first-round pick to rising star Sebastian Vollmer would seem to indicate the team's willingness to move on. That could put some pressure on Solder, but given the uncertainty up front it was a risk worth taking.
Belichick then watched for a while as his next pick at 28 neared. Cameron Jordan, a defensive end with 3-4 experience at California, slipped off the board at 24 to New Orleans. He was a player that would have made some sense for New England, but with him gone Belichick decided to do what he does more than anyone - trade.
New Orleans came calling and the Patriots came away with a very favorable deal that added a second-round pick (56 overall) as well as a 2012 first-round pick. Considering there weren't any pass rushers worthy of the pick, and only Temple defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson (30 to the Jets) representing any real value, the deal was quite logical.
"We came into the day with four picks in the first two rounds and came out of it that way," Belichick said to open his press conference. "We felt we got good value from New Orleans. Tomorrow we'll work with the same number of picks, just in different spots."
Actually, the Patriots added a pick for Friday, and according to Belichick have already received inquiries on the first one at 33 to open the evening. But for now Patriots fans will have to settle for adding a potential starter up front in Solder, and once again will wait a year to see if Belichick will ever use the extra first-round pick he always seems to accumulate.