Tom Brady is back, but Patriots still lost a valuable player in Deflategate

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has never whiffed on a first-round pick.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has never whiffed on a first-round pick. –The Boston Globe

COMMENTARY

If it were Chris Mortensen who reported that the Patriots will not attempt to recoup the lost first-and fourth-round picks and the $1 million fine since-exposed NFL emperor Roger Goodell imposed as a Deflategate punishment, well, then I’d feel pretty confident that the franchise was about to fight like crazy for what should still be theirs.

But since the report that the franchise would resist any urge to seize their litigious swords and will instead continue to accept the absurd punishment came from Adam Schefter – the ESPN reporter who possesses the highest profile among the minority of media members who didn’t at one time or another morph into a conclusions-jumping buffoon during this whole shameful process — then we have no choice but to believe it.

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Which is a bummer, even if the notion of savoring Tom Brady’s vindication and moving on to talking about football (sport) rather than football (inflated oblong piece of sports equipment) sounds quite appealing after nearly eight months of Deflategate nonsense. Thursday’s moral and judicial victory was satisfying — God, how I’d hate-watch a 24/7 GoodellCam right about now — but it’s also not enough.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft’s backfired capitulation in an ill-advised attempt to appeal to Goodell’s vacant sense of fairness ended up costing the franchise a good player and possibly a great one.

How do I know this? Because for all of the wailing some of us do each year when Belichick spends his first-rounder on some kid Mel Kiper Jr. had pegged as a fourth-rounder or, more aggravatingly to some, trades out of the first-round altogether, the reality is that he has never completely missed on a first-round pick. Never. There have been underachievers — Laurence Maroney and Brandon Meriweather were fun at times but frustrating most of the time — but more often than not he finds an excellent role player if not a franchise cornerstone.

He’s been especially savvy at using his first-round picks as currency. When Belichick trades down, the lack of instant gratification is sometimes frustrating in the moment. Who wants to watch three hours of Chris Berman yammering through the first round only to have the Patriots trade the pick when they’re on the clock? But the deals have tended to eventually result in a jackpot for the Patriots.

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Here, let me show my work, and then I’ll confirm what should be an obvious conclusion in the end.

What follows is a look at every first-round pick Belichick has had from 2001-2015. (The Patriots, you surely will recall, gave up their top pick in 2000 as compensation for hiring him from the Jets. It worked out OK, I guess.) I’ve included with each player an acknowledgment of his Weighted Career Approximate Value, pro-football-reference.com’s interesting if imperfect tool to measure how much value a player has provided compared to others over the course of seasons and careers.

In this case, the CaAV ranking mentioned with each Patriots player to follow measures how valuable he was compared to every other player drafted the same year.

Got it? Good. Cue the music, and let’s look back on those who have been among Belichick’s chosen few ….

2001 – Richard Seymour, DT, sixth overall pick, eighth-highest CaAV among ’01 picks.

Arguably the most talented and versatile defensive lineman in franchise history.

2002 — Daniel Graham, TE, 21st overall pick, 78th-highest CaAV among ‘02 picks.

Traded up from No. 32 to snag Colorado product; tremendous blocking tight end for two championship teams. (This is a case, I believe, where CaAV doesn’t accurately measure his value within the Patriots system.)

2003 – Ty Warren, DE, 13th overall, 35th-highest CaAV.

Steady if injury plagued defensive end spent was a superior pick to many DL chosen before him.

2004 – Vince Wilfork, NT, 21st overall, fifth-highest CaAV.

May need to be fitted for an XXXXL mustard-colored jacket someday.

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2004 —— Ben Watson, TE, 32d overall, 56th-highest CaAV.

Inconsistent, but is entering 12th season in NFL and was Patriots’ second-leading receiver in 2006.

2005 – Logan Mankins, G, 32d overall, second-highest CaAV.

Second-greatest guard in franchise history, second in value in this draft only to Aaron Rodgers.

2006 – Laurence Maroney, RB, 21st overall, 74th CaAV.

Regarded as a bust, but had a pair of 122-yard rushing games in ’07 postseason.

2007 – Brandon Meriweather, S, 24th overall, 45th-highest CaAV.

A reckless hitter whose GPS frequently malfunctioned.

The Patriots also had the No. 28 pick, but dealt it for a fourth-rounder in 2007 and a first-rounder in ’08. The fourth-round pick was traded for WR Randy Moss. The first-round pick was used on …

2008 – Jerod Mayo, LB, 10th overall, 15th-highest CaAV.

Outstanding tackler and a defensive leader.

The Patriots’ second first-round pick, No. 31, was forfeited because Patriots recorded the Week 2 Jets game from an unapproved location. You may have heard about this. It was something of a big deal at the time. Players chosen in the next 15 picks included stalwarts Matt Forte, Jordy Nelson, Curtis Lofton, and Brandon Flowers.

2009 – Traded out of first round – and a chance at Southern Cal linebacker Clay Matthews — with two separate deals. Ended up with second-, third-, and seventh-round picks in 2009 and a second-rounder in ’10. Used the three ’09 picks on CB Darius Butler, WR Brandon Tate, and WR Julian Edelman. In ’10, they used the second-round pick and a sixth-rounder to move up two spots in Rd. 2 and take TE Rob Gronkowski. Still wish they’d taken Matthews? You should probably give that one up now.

2010 – Devin McCourty, CB/S, 27th overall, 18th-highest CaAV.

After settling in at safety, he’s become the quintessential Belichick player – smart, versatile and talented.

2011 – Nate Solder, LT, 17th overall, 16th-highest CaAV.

Successor to Matt Light has been a capable guardian of Tom Brady’s blindside.

Also swapped No. 28 pick for a second-round pick in ’11 and a first-rounder in ’12. The second-round pick was used on RB Shane Vereen. Traded the first rounder in ’12 and a third-rounder the same year to move up and take …

2012 – Chandler Jones, DE, 21st overall, 14th-highest CaAV.

Patriots needed a pass rusher; he’s fit the bill when healthy.

2012 — Dont’a Hightower, LB, 25th overall, 17th-highest CaAV.

Progress was gradual, but intelligence and versatility have him on the edge of stardom.

2013 — For the fourth time in the Belichick era, the Patriots traded a first-round pick to move down later in the draft. They turned No. 29 overall into second-, third-, fourth-, and seventh-round picks, which turned into Jamie Collins, Logan Ryan, and Josh Boyce, while the seventh-rounder was traded to the Bucs along with KR Jeff Demps for RB LeGarrette Blount. Collins, an emerging force at linebacker, has the 16th-highest CaAV in the draft.

2014– Dominique Easley, DL, 29th overall, 77th-highest CaAV.

Rookie season ended due to injury, but he’s shown encouraging power and quickness during the preseason.

2015 – Malcom Brown, DL, 32d overall.

Just getting started. If he has 75 percent of the career predecessor Vince Wilfork had, he’ll have been a steal.

As for that “obvious conclusion’’ cited way back in the intro to this sucker?

I suppose it is worth saying even though the whole purpose of the preceding exercise serves as confirmation of the truth:

The Patriots shouldn’t just fight to get this year’s first-round pick. They should still be asking themselves, if not Goodell, why they had to give up a first-rounder in ’08 as punishment for the previous overblown and overly sanctioned scandal, Spygate.

The Patriots almost certainly lost an excellent player when the No. 31 pick in ’08 was taken from them. They’ll almost certainly lose another excellent player in ’16 when the pick must be forfeited.

All we can hope – for their sake, the fans’ sake, and for the sake of public embarrassment for Roger Goodell at Super Bowl 50 – is that it ends up being pick No. 32. Again.

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