What it could cost the Patriots to move up for a quarterback in the 2021 draft

The Patriots still have hope if they want to trade up in the draft for a quarterback, but the price -- and competition -- could be high.

Patriots NFL Draft
Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields. John Bazemore/AP
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As late as Monday morning, the New England Patriots were reportedly “pressing pause” on potentially addressing the quarterback position either via trade or the draft, prepared to let the season play out with Cam Newton under center and starting fresh in 2021.

But that was before their AFC rival New York Jets traded Sam Darnold Monday afternoon — a move that keeps hope alive for the Patriots in their pursuit of a top quarterback prospect.

Of course, New York sending Darnold to Carolina doesn’t change the fact that the top three picks in the draft were likely to be quarterbacks anyway. Experts have long expected the Jets to take Zach Wilson with the second overall pick after Trevor Lawrence goes first overall to Jacksonville, and the San Francisco 49ers have all but said they plan to select a quarterback at No. 3. The Atlanta Falcons also might take a quarterback to sit behind Matt Ryan, whose recent contract restructure will make it difficult for Atlanta to part with him for the next few seasons.

Also, the Panthers haven’t ruled out selecting a quarterback to pair with Darnold if the right one — like, say, Justin Fields — falls to them and could wait to decide on whether or not to pick up Darnold’s $18.8 million fifth-year option until after the draft.

But Darnold’s arrival in Carolina takes away an obvious need for the Panthers, whom draft insiders had speculated would take a quarterback with the No. 8 overall pick or move up to select one. This makes it more possible that at least one top quarterback could fall just far enough into the lower end of the top 10 to entice the Patriots to trade up.

A few recent draft-day quarterback trades could offer an idea of what it might cost the Patriots to make a move if they had a mind.

Coincidentally, some of the closest parallels come from 2018, Darnold’s draft year, which saw four quarterbacks come off the board within the top 10 picks.

One of those trades involved Darnold himself. For those that have forgotten, the Jets actually moved up from No. 6 overall in the draft to take Darnold third overall, giving the Indianapolis Colts three second-round picks (two from 2018 and one from 2019) to make the deal.

Then came the fateful Josh Allen-to-Buffalo trade that shifted the balance of power in the AFC East last year with Allen blossoming into a star. The Bills traded two second-round picks for the right to move up from pick No. 12 to seventh overall to select him after a small draft-day slide, as well as netting the second-to-last pick in the draft (No. 255) back from Tampa Bay.

Three picks later, the Arizona Cardinals used a 2018 third-rounder (No. 79) and fifth-rounder (No. 152) to select Josh Rosen with the 10th pick, moving up from No. 15 — the spot the Patriots currently occupy in this draft.

The gist: the Patriots would almost certainly need to give up two picks to trade into the top 10. Furthermore, the buzz around this year’s quarterback class might also drive the price up a touch higher than it would normally be otherwise. What might have cost a few mid-round picks to move up for someone like Josh Rosen will likely require multiple second-rounders, plus a little extra, if the Patriots wanted to trade up seven spots to pry the likes of Fields from the Panthers.

Making a bid to trade into the top five — whether that means swapping with Atlanta at No. 4 (good luck with that) or convincing the reluctant Bengals to give up the fifth pick — would almost certainly mean parting with multiple first-round picks if you’re going by what the 49ers had to cough up to go from No. 12 to No. 3. The Patriots’ apparent willingness to let the quarterback situation play out until after the draft suggests that level of aggressiveness feels improbable.

On top of that, a player like Fields or Lance falling toward the end of the top 10 in particular could spark a bidding war among a host of interested teams that New England might not be desperate enough to try and win. 

In short, the bottom line remains the same: the Patriots don’t have a great chance at one of the draft’s elite quarterback prospects from where they’re currently sitting. Some experts have already begun pivoting to Day 2 and 3 quarterback options New England could pursue, such as Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond.

And while the Darnold trade and the ramifications it could have should Teddy Bridgewater, last year’s starter in Carolina, end up on another quarterback-needy team keeps the door slightly ajar for Bill Belichick to strike if the board falls his way, that’s a pretty big “if” at this point.

Unless Belichick is ready to make arguably the biggest swing of his long, illustrious career.

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