The New England Patriots went bananas at the start of free agency and were throwing money around like there was no tomorrow. While that spending spree was surprising to watch unfold, it did set up the organization well for 2021 as they are much improved -- on paper -- from the 7-9 club we saw in 2020. What all the free-agent signings and re-signings also did was free up Bill Belichick's draft board heading into this month's spectacle. As things stand currently, there are not too many holes on New England's roster that need tending to for 2021, which gives the organization the flexibility to take a long-term approach with most of these selections and possibly even collect a few to trade up higher than the No. 15 overall pick.
While there may not be many holes to fill, the importance of this draft cannot be overstated for the Patriots, as they are looking at a first-round pick that is much higher than they are accustomed to selecting. The player that could come out of that spot needs to be someone who will impact the organization for years to come, which is no small ask for a Patriots team that has struggled at the draft in recent years.
As we wait to see exactly how New England decides to maneuver through the draft, here's a blueprint that Bill Belichick and company could -- I'd argue should -- follow for the club to walk out of the draft feeling good about their chances of bouncing back not only in 2021, but quickly turning themselves back into a contender for years to come.
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Find the next franchise quarterback
This is the need for the New England Patriots, but they can attack this in a multitude of ways. So long as they come away with some potential of having a quarterback that can lead the franchise for the foreseeable future, there really should be no qualms about how they go about it.
If the San Francisco 49ers are willing to lower their asking price for Jimmy Garoppolo after taking a prospect at No. 3, that could be an avenue worth exploring for Bill Belichick. If the Patriots are bullish enough and like a prospect enough that they want to leap into the top 10, that's another option, albeit the most expensive one. The team could also check in on the likes of Teddy Bridgewater or simply hold at No. 15 overall and see what falls to them at that spot. Another -- and likely less popular -- option could be to wait until Day 2 and target that next tier of signal-callers like Texas A&M's Kellen Mond or Florida's Kyle Trask and develop them over the 2021 season with Cam Newton at the helm in preparations of either one of them possibly taking the baton in 2022. As I said, there are multiple roads that can lead New England to a quarterback, and as long as it's successful it shouldn't matter which route they take.
Stabilize uncertainty at corner and offensive tackle
The Patriots can look at both cornerback and offensive tackle as a position of strength in 2021 but -- contractually speaking -- that could be short-lived. In the secondary, Stephon Gilmore has just one more year remaining on his contract and J.C. Jackson is currently on a second-round tender, meaning in a year's time there a possibility both of those talented corners are elsewhere. While the club will likely try to keep one or both of those players over the long term, it is best to build some insurance via the draft. The same can be said at offensive tackle, where the Patriots are mulling the possibility of picking up the fifth-year option for Isaiah Wynn for 2022 and offseason acquisition Trent Brown is only under contract for this coming season. By loading up some young talent at these two key positions, New England gives itself a bit of a head start for 2022 if things go sideways with any one of these players and possibly gives them young, cheap options for the next handful of years.
Add wide receiver with high ceiling
This was a need prior to Julian Edelman's retirement announcement on Monday and remains so today. While the Patriots paid handsomely for some pass-catching help at the tight end position, the club still needs a legit No. 1 receiver -- or at least one that has the potential of becoming one. If the Patriots elect to find a quarterback somewhere other than the first round of the draft, this could be a spot where they look to sure up the wide receiver room. Alabama receivers DeVonta Smith or Jaylen Waddle could be on the board at No. 15 and each would fit the bill of a high-upside receiver that could immediately inject some much-needed talent to the position. If they looked towards Day 2, Purdue's Rondale Moore is an extremely talented pass-catcher whose 5-foot-9 height could keep him from coming off the board in the first. The Patriots have struggled at finding receivers at the top of drafts throughout Belichick's tenure, but that doesn't necessarily mean they should stop taking cracks at it. In fact, there's an argument to be made to double down to give yourself an even higher chance of bringing in a player who could mature into a focal point of your offense.
Bonus: Search for Dont'a Hightower's successor
Every successful Patriots team over the Bill Belichick era has had a dominant linebacker. From Tedy Bruschi to Jerod Mayo to Dont'a Hightower, New England has always had a strong presence in the middle of their defenses as they contended for Super Bowls. With Hightower set to enter the 2021 season at age 31 and with just one more year left on his contract, now could be the time for the organization to search for that next great linebacker. While it's a coin flip on whether or not he'll be on the board at No. 15, Penn State's Micah Parsons is an intriguing prospect with the potential of taking on that mantle. Like Hightower, Parsons is said to have the ability to play both inside and outside linebacker, which is the type of versatility that Belichick seems to like out of his players at that position. Similar to our cornerback and offensive tackle discussion above, this isn't a massive need for the Patriots in 2021 thanks to Hightower's return along with the free-agent arrivals of Matt Judon and Kyle Van Noy, but adding a young piece without the need to throw him in the deep end on Day 1 could help this Patriots defense in the long run.