NFL Draft: Would QB-needy Patriots actually trade down from No. 3? Here's what the league thinks

Eliot Wolf made the comment one week before NFL Draft night.

So deriving too much from the New England Patriots personnel chief’s remarks is risky business.

But after Washington Commanders general manager Adam Peters said he felt “great” about staying at No. 2 overall and “I don’t see a lot of scenarios where we’d trade down, to be honest with you,” Wolf’s contrasting remarks stood out.

“We’re open to anything,” Wolf said last Thursday. “Moving up, moving down. We’re open for business in the first round, and in every round.”

Are the Patriots realistically considering the No. 3 pick? And if so, what should be driving their decision?

Yahoo Sports spoke with league executive and coaching sources to better understand the dynamics at play for the Patriots. Here are answers to the five biggest questions facing the Patriots, based on league insight.

1. What would prompt a team to trade a pick as valuable as No. 3 overall?

One NFC executive noted wisely: Trading the third overall pick is “well-precedented.” The Arizona Cardinals dealt the third overall pick to the Houston Texans last season, the swap of No. 3 overall and No. 12 overall costing Houston the No. 33 overall pick and first- and third-round picks in 2024. In 2021, the San Francisco 49ers sent No. 12 overall, first- and third-round picks in 2022 and their first-round pick in 2023 to Miami to move up nine spots.

New England executive Eliot Wolf says the Patriots are New England executive Eliot Wolf says the Patriots are

The trades differed in that the 49ers selected quarterback Trey Lance while the Texans selected edge rusher Will Anderson Jr. But both trade-up teams sought a quarterback in the draft in which they traded up. Each trade-down team was set at quarterback (Kyler Murray, Tua Tagovailoa) for the near future.

One NFC assistant coach said a team trading down from No. 3 overall tends to do so for one of three reasons: The team doesn’t see much difference in value between the two draft slots; the team believes their target player will be available at the later spot; or a team is in rebuild mode rather than win-now mode and thus are “playing the long game by acquiring a premium pick in next year’s draft.”

2. How well do the Patriots fit into this model?

The Patriots need a quarterback sorely, after trading away first-round pick Mac Jones before his rookie contract expired and struggling with Bailey Zappe. Already they’ll be looking at the third-best quarterback on the board given the Chicago Bears at No. 1 and the Washington Commanders at No. 2 also traded away their starting quarterbacks, not to mention quarterback-needy teams who may jump ahead in the Denver Broncos, Minnesota Vikings and Las Vegas Raiders. So there likely is significant difference in optionality.

And while many on the outside believe the Patriots have work to do with a rebuild, team owner Robert Kraft seems eager to cleanse himself of 2023’s bad taste. Wolf echoed the desire to compete now in his media conference.

Is his roster ready to support a rookie quarterback?

“I definitely feel like we can support that,” Wolf said.

3. So why would the Patriots listen to offers?

The Commanders might as well be on the board with the open secret that the Bears are taking USC’s Caleb Williams first overall. The Commanders therefore know their options and had the luxury of going through the pre-draft evaluation process knowing who they can take and how they can envision a team-building strategy around that.

The Patriots are left to make a series of contingency plans. Listening to trade offers makes sense regardless of how they ultimately fall.

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“The value of the draft pick is probably maximized by hearing out all of the options for that pick,” one NFC executive said. “Why cut off that option unless you’re 100% sold on a guy?”

One AFC executive said they’d be surprised if the Patriots traded away the pick, posturing the floor should be three first-rounders and a player or other similar compensation. An NFC executive said looking at past pick trades isn’t a reliable sample size, since the value of any given pick changes from year to year based on prospects available and team needs. No. 3 hit different in 2021 and 2023, and it will this year.

“New England needs a quarterback,” the AFC executive said. “If I’m New England, I’m taking a QB.”

4. So why would the Patriots take a trade offer?

The answer comes down to the Patriots’ evaluations of the quarterbacks: How many do they really believe in and how desperate are they to get the future of their team in the building as soon as possible? Wolf said the team would be comfortable taking one of the third- or fourth-best quarterbacks; head coach Jerod Mayo, similarly, said if they take a quarterback at the No. 3 overall pick, they’re drafting one whom they believe can be their future.

But the widely considered No. 2 and No. 3 prospects, LSU’s Jayden Daniels and UNC’s Drake Maye, don’t merely represent a difference in degree of skill. They represent different routes to success, different play styles, what many around the league refer to colloquially as different flavors.

If the Patriots want a quarterback with Daniels’ demonstrated mobility, is it better to amass picks than to settle for another one?

If the Patriots prefer the style that Maye and Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy share more closely, perhaps they’d trade down to get McCarthy, capitalizing on the desperation of later-drafting teams.

It’s worth noting that Patriots offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt was replaced this offseason in Cleveland by a coordinator whom some in the league believe is more likely to capitalize on Deshaun Watson’s run-pass option threat. Does the Patriots’ hire of Van Pelt speak to a belief they have on what quarterback style fits their system?

All of this has been and will continue to be discussed in Foxborough, Mass. Soon, the franchise’s leaning will be revealed.

“We have some holes we feel like we need to fill in the draft,” Wolf said. “We’re drafting to develop the team. The more picks we have the better. But if there’s an opportunity to move up and strike, if the board kind of recommends it, then we won’t be afraid to pull the trigger on that either.”

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