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What's deal with Patriots?

Trading down in the first round among the options

Bill Belichick has never been shy about punching the button on a deal during the first round. Bill Belichick has never been shy about punching the button on a deal during the first round. (Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Christopher L. Gasper
Globe Staff / April 26, 2008

There won't be silver briefcases brandished by models and Howie Mandel won't be fielding phony phone calls, but the premise of the Patriots' 2008 draft will essentially be the same as the game show "Deal or No Deal."

New England owns the seventh overall selection (if the Patriots stay there it will be the highest they've picked since tabbing defensive end Richard Seymour sixth overall in 2001), courtesy of a trade in last year's draft with the San Francisco 49ers.

The Patriots would probably like to do some wheeling and dealing this year, as there is no clear-cut choice for them at No. 7, although potential targets include Southern California linebacker Keith Rivers, Tennessee linebacker Jerod Mayo, and Virginia offensive lineman Branden Albert. The Patriots could trade down and still procure one of those players.

Coach Bill Belichick and vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli start the draft with eight selections, including multiple picks in the third round (No. 69 via Oakland and No. 94), and if history is an indication that number will swell.

Even with the Miami Dolphins signing No. 1 overall pick Jake Long to a contract Tuesday, there is uncertainty near the top of the draft, clouding the picture for the Patriots, whose most obvious needs are linebacker and cornerback. Adding to the intrigue is that the rival New York Jets pick sixth, and could attempt to derail New England's draft plans.

If Virginia defensive end Chris Long or Ohio State defensive end/linebacker Vernon Gholston, both of whom were in the discussion to be the No. 1 overall pick, slide to No. 5, the Patriots could try to trade with the Kansas City Chiefs to jump ahead of the Jets.

The Patriots' plans could also be linked to Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan. If the Atlanta Falcons and new general manager Thomas Dimitroff, the Patriots' former director of college scouting, pass on Ryan, he could reach the Patriots at No. 7. New England could then auction off the pick to teams such as the Baltimore Ravens (No. 8) and Carolina Panthers (No. 13), who think highly of Ryan.

Similar scenarios could unfold if Arkansas running back Darren McFadden, who is coveted by the Chicago Bears (No. 14) and Dallas Cowboys (Nos. 22 and 28), or USC defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis, the target of the Cincinnati Bengals (No. 9) and New Orleans Saints (No. 10), slips to the seventh pick.

"When you trade in the first round, you're really trading for a player," said Belichick in his predraft press conference. "You're not really trading for picks. You're trading for a specific guy, and a lot of times it's pretty obvious who you're trading for, too."

Complicating the trading equation is that this year the NFL has cut the time teams have to make first-round picks from 15 minutes to 10. The time for second-round picks has been trimmed from 10 minutes to seven.

"I think in some of the more complex trades that we've been involved with, even last year with the San Francisco trade in the first round, there's a little more negotiating," said Belichick. "There's a little more back and forth on a trade in that round than there is in the later rounds. So you can say, 'Yeah, we're used to dealing with the 10-minute time frame like we used to be in the second round.' But I think those first-round trades sometimes . . . there's a little more degree of difficulty."

The Patriots have to make the most of their first-round pick, with a trade or a player selection, because their next pick isn't until No. 62, the penultimate pick of the second round. The team was docked its first-round pick (No. 31) as punishment for "Spygate."

"There are going to be a lot of players that if we don't take them at seven, they're not going to be there when we pick in the second round," said Belichick. "We know a lot of those guys will go by the boards, so it's a pretty big drop-off from our first pick to our second pick in terms of the players that we're evaluating."

Regardless of what the Patriots do today, Belichick said there are no guarantees.

"What we want to try to make sure is that we get the most value for our pick, and that's a very inexact science," he said. "Sometimes you're right and sometimes you're wrong."

Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at cgasper@globe.com.

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