The New England Patriots are officially loaded in the 2018 NFL Draft after dealing Brandin Cooks to the Los Angeles Rams on Tuesday. By trading the receiver, the Patriots now have two first-round picks and two second-round picks, joining the Browns and Bills as the only teams with multiple picks in the first two rounds.

But unlike the Browns and Bills, the Patriots don’t need to use those picks for a major roster overhaul. New England — like always — is already a contender.

The team still has its fair share of needs. The Patriots could use additional help in the secondary, more pass protection for Tom Brady, and a deep threat to replace Cooks. But what’s likely top priority is identifying a quarterback who can eventually take over for Brady.

Now the Patriots have the chips to go all in. But even after acquiring a first-round pick it will be difficult to nab one of the top quarterbacks in the 2018 NFL Draft.

The Patriots need a sense of urgency in the hunt for a QB

Tom Brady was the MVP of the 2017 season with a league-leading 4,577 passing yards to go with 32 touchdowns and eight interceptions. His passer rating topped 100 for the sixth time in his career. He showed no signs that his career is approaching its end, despite the fact that he turned 40 a month before the season began.

But the reality is that his career isn’t far off from being over.

“Obviously, at some point we have to,” Patriots owner Bob Kraft said in March of drafting a quarterback, via ESPN. “Not just [for the long-term], but think what happened in the ‘08 season when in the first quarter against Kansas City, Tom goes out. How many people would have said that Matt Cassel would have led us to an 11-5 season? I put my faith and confidence in Bill [Belichick]. He knows his responsibilities. Anything can happen, even if Tom comes in tip-top shape.”

Brady will turn 41 in August — an age that only a few have ever reached while holding a job as a starting quarterback.

Brett Favre once made a Pro Bowl at age 40, but followed that campaign with 11 touchdowns and 19 interceptions during a disappointing season in the year he turned 41.

The best season for a passer over 40 came from Warren Moon, who threw 25 touchdowns and 16 interceptions during the season he turned 41. A year later in 1998, he struggled and was benched just days after his 42nd birthday.

History tells us we shouldn’t expect Brady to play much longer, even if he appears primed to redefine just how long a quarterback is capable of playing. And that means finding a replacement to be Brady’s successor needs to happen as soon as possible.

For the past four years, it appeared Jimmy Garoppolo would be that player for the Patriots. But with his rookie contract nearing its end and Brady still playing at an MVP level, New England had no choice but to trade him to the 49ers and start the search again.

Months prior to trading Garoppolo, the Patriots sent third-string quarterback Jacoby Brissett to the Indianapolis Colts. The only other quarterback on the roster now is Brian Hoyer, a journeyman passer who has been on six rosters in the last six years and turns 33 in October.

With the end of Brady’s career on the horizon, the team may not have the luxury to mine the middle rounds of the NFL Draft for a player to patiently develop. It appears as though the team will be more aggressive in its pursuit of a new passer.

Tedy Bruschi said on ESPN’s NFL Live that he would be “shocked” if the Patriots didn’t draft a QB in the first two rounds of upcoming NFL Draft.

— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) April 4, 2018

Yet even if the Patriots are bold in their hunt, landing one of the top quarterbacks of the draft class is a stretch.

Even after trading Cooks, trading to the top of the draft will be tough

New England owns picks 23, 31, 43 and 63 in the 2018 NFL Draft.

According to the trade value chart devised by Jimmy Johnson a couple decades ago, that’s enough draft capital to move into the top five. An update version of the chart based on recent trades, via Rich Hill of Pats Pulpit, says the same.

But there are a couple things that make the value of a potential trade to the top a bit more difficult for the Patriots:

  1. It involves a quarterback
  2. Climbing that far costs extra

Teams with top 10 selections are typically excited about the opportunity to add a premium, elite talent to the roster. So it takes a little extra to convince those teams to give away a pick that high in exchange for a selection in the back half of the first round.

Coming up for a quarterback is even more pricy. The New York Jets already set the bar high by giving up three second-round picks to move from No. 6 to No. 3 in the order. That jump would typically only cost one second day pick like it did when the Miami Dolphins gave up a second-round pick to climb from No. 12 to No. 3 for Dion Jordan in 2013. But the chance to take a passer meant the Jets had to pay a premium.

At the top of the 2018 NFL Draft are the Browns, Giants, Jets, and Broncos — four teams that are all very much in need of a quarterback. In the latest mock draft from SB Nation’s Dan Kadar, all four took a passer in the top five. It’d presumably take a lot to pry away the opportunity to draft a franchise quarterback.

There’s also the quarterback-hungry Buffalo Bills, who currently own picks 12 and 22. They’re reportedly talking with the Giants about a trade for the No. 2 pick, according to ESPN’s Todd McShay. The Arizona Cardinals, Miami Dolphins and Los Angeles Chargers are three more teams potentially interested in a passer and currently set to pick ahead of the Patriots.

Even if there’s chatter of the Patriots being interested in UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Bill Belichick would need to pull off his all-time greatest Jedi mind trick to get into the top five and land a prospect in the top group at the position.

The likelier scenario is that the Patriots will have to settle for a passer in the next tier. Perhaps Louisville’s Lamar Jackson will slide within reach. But it’s very possible that New England may just get stuck waiting until the bottom of the first round or the second round to take their quarterback of the future.

That hasn’t been a problem for Belichick in the past. The team found Garoppolo at the tail end of the second round in 2014 and spent the last two decades dominating the NFL with Brady, a sixth-round pick, leading the way.

Quarterbacks like Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph or Washington State’s Luke Falk could make sense, as could Richmond’s Kyle Lauletta, who has many parallels to Garoppolo. Whoever it is, don’t expect New England to wait too long to draft a quarterback in April.

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