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analysis

Patriots go for inside presence

Tennessee LB Mayo addresses a dire need

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Mike Reiss
Globe Staff / April 27, 2008

FOXBOROUGH - Want to make a trade? Call the Patriots.

When it comes to the NFL draft, the Patriots have been a team on the move under coach Bill Belichick and vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli. They like to wheel and deal - trading up, trading down - making an eye-popping 26 draft-day trades since 2000.

They were back in their element yesterday, once again swapping their first pick and navigating the draft board like experienced stock traders.

Here is how some of the team's dealings went down in the hours leading up to the draft, then once they were on the clock:

Owners of the No. 7 overall selection, the Patriots were targeting youth and athleticism on defense. They narrowed their focus to a handful of defenders, with Tennessee linebacker Jerod Mayo one of the top players on the list.

When their selection came at No. 7, Belichick and Pioli surveyed the draft board and felt a trade they began discussing Friday night - with the Saints at No. 10 - still could net them Mayo or another target on their list, while also adding a third-round pick.

So they pulled the trigger.

After the Saints took defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis of Southern California, the Jaguars traded up to No. 8 and took Florida defensive end Derrick Harvey. Then the Bengals took Southern California's Keith Rivers, a linebacker whose style of play did not project as well as Mayo's to the Patriots' system.

On the clock at No. 10, the Patriots considered some more wheeling and dealing, but one offer that would have netted a first-rounder wasn't deemed sweet enough.

They also likely looked down the line and saw teams such as the Lions (No. 15) and Eagles (No. 19), who had been hot on Mayo's trail leading into the draft.

Thus, instead of making the 28th draft-day trade of their Patriots tenure, Belichick and Pioli selected a player they hope will become a stalwart on the inside of their 3-4 defense.

Pulling off a trade to land a player on their hit list, and also accumulating an extra draft pick in the process, has somewhat become old hat for the Patriots' brain trust. But there was a significant change this year, as the time to make picks in the first round was shortened from 15 minutes to 10.

Because of this, trade discussions were a bit more active on Friday night than normal. Club officials had the groundwork of a possible deal in place with New Orleans general manager Mickey Loomis, so they entered yesterday knowing they had at least one option to trade down.

"Things did go a little bit quicker than they had in the past," Belichick explained. "We kind of anticipated a scenario and New Orleans was certainly looking for Sedrick Ellis, that was no big secret. When he was still on the board there, that kind of led to the next step of going ahead and executing that trade."

While the Patriots have had success drafting defensive linemen in the first round - Richard Seymour in 2001, Ty Warren in 2003, and Vince Wilfork in 2004 - they presumably felt Ellis wasn't a fit for their 3-4 alignment. The Patriots generally like their linemen to be stout to control two gaps, and while some scouts felt Ellis could adapt to that style, he played more of a one-gap, penetrating role at USC.

Mayo, it turns out, was one of the few defenders the Patriots deemed to fit their style who was also worthy of the growing financial investment that goes to top-10 picks.

As the 10th selection, Mayo can expect a contract with anywhere from $12 million-$13 million in bonuses and guarantees. Last year's No. 10 pick, Texans defensive lineman Amobi Okoye, landed a six-year deal with $12.75 million in bonuses and guarantees.

Factoring in such economics has become a more central part of some teams' thinking on draft day, which is why also accumulating less expensive middle-round picks is often seen as good business. So while Belichick spoke highly of Mayo and the youth and athleticism he adds to the defense, he also liked adding a third-round pick.

By the end of the first round, the Patriots had Mayo as well as a second-round pick (62d) and three third-rounders (69th, 78th, and 94th).

As for their plans with that ammunition, true to form, Belichick indicated everything was in play, including draft-day swap No. 28.

"I wouldn't rule anything out," he said. "We're not afraid to trade them."

Mike Reiss can be reached at mreiss@globe.com.

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