When the 49erswere ruling the NFL a generation ago, Bill Walsh, their coach and architect,treated the draft like a chessboard. At one point in the middle of the SanFrancisco dynasty Walsh made 11 draft-choice trades in a two-year period. In1987 the Niners traded two picks for Steve Young, even with the great JoeMontana at quarterback, then six years later dealt a bitter Montana for afirst-round slot to make room for Young to play. Walsh and those who followedhim were loyal to players if they helped the team win—but also to thetalent-accumulating possibilities that future draft picks represented.
Sound familiar?New England coach Bill Belichick could have studied at Walsh U. With a chanceto get a potentially prime draft pick, Belichick stunned the NFL on Sunday bytrading standout defensive lineman Richard Seymour to Oakland for a 2011first-round choice. The Patriots now have seven picks in the top two rounds ofthe next two drafts, more than any team in the NFL.
Even withoutlongtime vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli by his side—Pioli leftto be Kansas City's G.M. in January—Belichick has continued the Pats' practiceof wheeling and dealing while remaining prime contenders. Getting a possibletop 10 pick for a defensive lineman who has missed eight games to injury in thelast two years and will turn 30 in October is a smart move. Tom Brady will be34 in 2011, and as unlikely as it may seem now, Belichick may be looking for aquarterback then. Plus, Seymour will be a free agent after this year and wouldlikely command $9 million a year, out of New England's range for anonquarterback.
To be sure, it's arisky move. The Pats were looking for pass-rush help even before tradingSeymour, who led them with eight sacks last year. But Belichick has alwaysgambled on himself, the same way Walsh did. Around the league last weekend noone was betting against him.
SIGN OF THE APOCALYPSE
A theater festival in New York City next month willinclude an Off-Broadway show called Fantasy Football: The Musical?
ANDY LYONS/GETTY IMAGES (PATRIOTS)
DEFENSIVE MOVE Belichick gambled that Seymour's best days are behind him.