The NFL, as with any business, is just as much about who you know than what you know.
The New England Patriots proved that during the 2017 NFL Draft by taking advantage of previous relationships to orchestrate a pair of trades.
Deals with the Tennessee Titans and Detroit Lions were made easier thanks to former members of the Patriots scouting department now working in Nashville and Detroit.
“We’ve got a great relationship with them and they were willing to do it,” Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said of the Titans and Lions. “The trades really happen like that. I mean, there’s a lot of talk, ‘Well, they talk before the draft about trading up, trading down.’
“It’s really you’re looking up there going alright, who are the players you like, where are we picking, do we think the guy is going to make it there? Well, we’re not sure. Let’s see if somebody’s interested in trading. At that point, it’s all player-driven and player-specific, so we just try to make a good decision and get the player, try to secure his services and get him here.”
Titans general manager Jon Robinson spent 12 seasons with the Patriots, working as New England’s director of college scouting from 2009-13, and prior to that, serving as a regional scout and an area scout for the Patriots.
The Patriots traded a third-round pick (72nd overall) and a sixth-rounder (200) to the Titans in exchange for Tennessee’s third-round selection (83) and a fourth-round pick (124). After the Titans selected Western Kentucky receiver Taywan Taylor, the Patriots took Youngstown State defensive end Derek Rivers with the 83rd pick.
Rivers was extremely productive at the FCS level as a three-time first-team All-Missouri Valley Conference selection. He closed his career with a school-record 37 1/2 career sacks, adding 56 1/2 career tackles for loss. He’s a quick 6-4, 250-pound edge rusher who put forth a dominant showing in the Senior Bowl.
“For an FCS guy, it’s very important because everyone questions level of competition,” Rivers said of the Senior Bowl. “I mean, it was an awesome experience for me. I loved it. We only get to play guys from the FBS level once a year. So when I got to practice with some of those guys and actually play with some of those guys that I see on TV, on ESPN, playing, it was pretty cool, man. I loved it.”
The Patriots then used the fourth-round pick from the Titans in a deal with the Detroit Lions, for whom former Patriots director of scouting Bob Quinn is now the general manager.
New England sent the 124th overall selection, along with a third-round pick (96) to move up to 85th overall and take Troy offensive lineman Antonio Garcia. The Lions selected Northern Illinois receiver Kenny Golladay at 96.
“Those trades are talked about many picks before that – ‘Hey, if my guy is not there at that pick, will you do this trade?’” Quinn told Detroit media. “So some of those trades are kind of worked out contingent on the team that’s on the clock: ‘Is your guy there or not?’
“That one was kind of done. It was actually more on the other side, we were waiting for them to kind of say, ‘Yeah, I’ll do it,’ or not.”
Garcia, a 6-6, 302-pound Houston native, was another Senior Bowl star, showing a nastiness that earned him first-team All-Sun Belt honors.
“It was very important to me,” Garcia said of the Senior Bowl. “It was a platform for me to show I can compete with everybody in the country and I felt like I did that.”
He did not allow a single sack last season, which included a game against Clemson and its impressive front four. Garcia was a four-year starter at tackle for the Trojans. He’s a tough road grader on the ground and anchors well with a good power step in pass protection. He slides well, but if he has a weakness, it’s that he will sometimes get beat on an inside move.
“He’s played tackle, so he’s got the length and I think the athleticism to play tackle,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said of Garcia. “We’ll see how it goes.”
Belichick has praised both Quinn and Robinson, whom he described as a “tireless worker.” The Patriots are not unique and the NFL is a small community where just about everyone knows everyone. But having someone who used to be inside your facility now a decision-maker on another team does help when it comes to striking a deal.
“That really makes it go a lot quicker; no question,” Belichick said. “That certainly makes it go a lot quicker. Both great to deal with.”