NFL Draft

Report: Patriots targeting Justin Fields, reached out to Falcons about No. 4 pick

The Athletic's Jeff Howe suggests the trade would require the Patriots to give up several picks and possibly a defensive star.

Justin Fields Patriots Draft
Justin Fields watches during the second half of the 2021 Sugar Bowl against Clemson. John Bazemore/AP

The Patriots, it seems, aren’t kidding in their pursuit of a top quarterback prospect in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Reports have raged throughout the week that Bill Belichick has been calling teams with top-10 draft picks to explore trading up from No. 15 overall. Tuesday, Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated revealed the Carolina Panthers, who hold the No. 8 pick, were one of the teams New England discussed “the groundwork” of a trade with.

Wednesday morning, The Athletic’s Jeff Howe name-dropped another team the Patriots have spoken to, as well as the quarterback the team appears to be targeting.

“Word is they think highly of Ohio State’s Justin Fields – highly enough that they’ve even spoken with the Atlanta Falcons about the fourth pick,” wrote Howe.

Fields, once a consensus top-three quarterback prospect, could now be primed for a draft-day slide if the San Francisco 49ers take Alabama’s Mac Jones third overall. The Falcons, meanwhile, have openly expressed willingness to trade out of the No. 4 pick, though they could also select Fields or another quarterback themselves.

Moving up to fourth overall would ensure the Patriots had a chance to take whichever remaining quarterback — whether Fields or otherwise — was left after the 49ers pick, with Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson figuring to go in the first two picks.

But the cost of such a move could be heavy, explained Howe.

“It’s unclear what the Patriots would have to give up for the fourth pick, but some combination of Nos. 15 and 46 and 2022 first- and second-rounders should be in play,” he said. For perspective, the 49ers had to pay a first- and third-round pick in 2022 and a first-round pick in 2023 in order to move from No. 12 to No. 3 this year.

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Furthermore, Howe suggests New England could deal cornerback J.C. Jackson — who just signed a second-round tender with the team — in lieu of giving up a second-round pick outright. On the other hand, All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore might be tougher sell for the cash-strapped Falcons, who would have to take on Gilmore’s $7.9 million cap hit in a trade.

Should a trade-up prove too costly, the Patriots have also looked into second-tier quarterback options like Stanford’s Davis Mills, whom the team reportedly spoke with for “a long time” recently.

But there’s no denying the talent drop-off from the top-tier players like Fields, Jones and Lance compared to the later quarterbacks like Mills, Kellen Mond, and Kyle Trask.

The Patriots’ apparent push to move up in the draft signals they might not be willing to wait until the later rounds to secure their quarterback of the future.

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