2021 NFL Draft: Ex-Patriots exec can't see Justin Fields, Trey Lance trades

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Tom E. Curran
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Curran: Former Pats exec can't see team trading up for these two QBs originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Do we really think the Patriots are going to take the fourth- or fifth-best quarterback in the 2021 NFL Draft class? And that they will give up future first-round picks move up to No. 6 or No. 8 to do it?

Forget about "should they?" With all the dynamics at play -- a store-bought team that suddenly has "win now" potential, a 69-year-old head coach, an almost 80-year-old owner, the fact that every quarterback and wide receiver taken drives a very good non-QB/WR player closer to their grips, a trade-down first-round mentality we’ve seen time and again -- do we really think the Patriots are going to move up to draft someone like 20-year-old Trey Lance with one season of FCS-level football at North Dakota State to his name?

Personally, I don’t think they will and I don’t think they should. Neither does Michael Lombardi, the former Patriots executive who remains tight with Bill Belichick and -- most importantly -- intimately understands Belichick’s philosophical bent on team building.

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On his "GM Shuffle" podcast released April 7, Lombardi went deep on what he thinks the Patriots need to address in the draft and the reasoning behind why a move up for Lance or Justin Fields seems unlikely.

When asked by his co-host Adnan Virk, “How many moves to fix the Patriots?” Lombardi focused on defense.

“This is a draft that can really impact their 2022 team when they won’t have any free-agent money to spend,” Lombardi began. “They have to think short-term and long-term here. I think they need a 3-technique (defensive tackle). If they can get a defensive tackle in there I think that would help them. More speed on the defense. Another corner to help them cover. I think that could help them tremendously.

"I don’t think they’re gonna trade (Stephon) Gilmore. They still have (J.C. Jackson) but he’ll be a free agent after the season. Those are areas that I would start on.”

The only position I’d wonder if Lombardi would add would be offensive tackle. Isaiah Wynn and Trent Brown are injury-prone and both players' deals are up after this season (unless the Patriots pick up Wynn’s fifth-year option, which is unlikely). But these are the meat-and-potatoes positions I think the Patriots will target.

As for quarterback? Lombardi had lots of thoughts.

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“Obviously, they have to fix the quarterback position,” he said. “Cam Newton has to play much better. Where are they with Jarrett Stidham and can they trade up? If Mac Jones goes three, which is what we all believe to be true, then where does that all fit? That means (trade up to No. 4 with Atlanta).

"Do they like Justin Fields? I don’t think so. Do they like Trey Lance? I’m not sure. I don’t know. Just knowing how they operate, I couldn’t imagine they could get either one of Lance and Fields to a high enough point (in their grading system) to justify trading up to get them.”

Lombardi -- perhaps understanding that what he says regarding New England carries extra weight because of his ties to the team -- made sure to explain more fully his logic on Fields and Lance.  

“This is what fans don’t understand,” he began. “You have a grading system that you have to really adhere to. (I’m not saying), ‘They don’t like Fields and they don’t like Lance.’ That doesn’t mean they don’t like them. What I’m saying is they don’t have them graded high enough to be able to justify drafting them at that point in the draft.

(Hey, it’s me. ... Here’s a simple grading explanation. All teams use something like this.)

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“To go in the first 15 players (you need to have a numerical grade to justify that),” Lombardi continued. “Let’s just say you think Justin Fields is 6.9 (grade) player. (A player with a 6.9 grade) has abilities and can create mismatches versus most opponents in the league. He’s a featured player on the team. Has the ability to impact the outcome of the game. No one player can take him out of the game.

"Each week he has a consistent level of performance. Plays at a championship level in most situations. Rates in the top 10 at his position. If you feel comfortable grading Justin Fields there, then OK you can do that. I don’t. I don’t think he’s going to be a top 10 quarterback in the league. Now, you can disagree with that. That’s fine.

“... I don’t want you to think how I think but I want you to understand how I think. … So when I say, ‘They can’t trade up to get that,’ I’m saying they can’t put the verbiage next to the player that justifies it. Like if I gave him a 6.3 grade -- he’s a one-dimensional player that can do well, has certain skills to be productive in a role. He may never be a full-time starter.

“If you think Justin Fields is (that) then you’d say, ‘A player that has the ability to be a starter but can’t overcome some of the limitations. He’s adequate at his position, struggles to be productive versus ... top-level players. Doesn’t play on a consistent level. It doesn’t mean he’s not a good player. You’re just describing this. And if you don’t have verbiage next to this, you can’t really justify it. If all you do is say, ‘He’s a first-rounder’ or ‘He’s a second rounder’ then what are we saying. That doesn’t say anything.

“Descriptions tell you what he is,” Lombardi concluded. “That’s why I think it’s hard for me to see them drafting quarterbacks like Fields or Lance or even some of these other guys early because they can’t fit the description to justify trading for them.”

Same, Mike. Same.