How important is it for teams to protect their information/strategy before and during the NFL Draft? Well, as it turns out, it can be the difference between getting a cornerstone player and losing him by just a couple picks.
The New England Patriots almost didn’t get the opportunity to acquire left tackle Matt Light in the second round of the 2001 NFL Draft.
The Pats were at pick No. 50 in Round 2 and the rival New York Jets were just ahead of them at pick No. 49. The Jets wanted Light, but as former Patriots exec Scott Pioli revealed on NFL Network this week, New York didn’t do a good enough job hiding their interest in the Purdue offensive lineman.
This allowed the Patriots to make a trade with the Detroit Lions to move up and get Light.
“It was in 2001 and we wanted to pick Matt Light,” Pioli said on “Good Morning Football.” “We were at No. 50, the Jets were at 49, the Lions were at 48. Around pick 45, 46, that’s when you start reaching out to a group of players who might be available that you might pick. I picked up the phone, I called Matt Light. Matt says, ‘Hey, Scott. How you doing?’ ‘I’m good. Have you heard from anybody?’ He says, ‘Well, I’m actually on the phone with the Jets. They’re on hold right now. They’re staying on the phone with me because they want to pick me at their pick.’ I look at the board and I see they’re at 49, we’re at 50. Matt Light was the guy we wanted so badly. Before I jumped off the phone I said, ‘Matt, don’t tell anyone that I just called. Make sure that you don’t tell any team the Patriots just called because you don’t want to give it up.’
“The good news is he had given up that he was on the phone with the Jets. Bill (Belichick) and I start burning up the phone lines prior to the Jets’ pick, talked to (former Lions general manager) Matt Millen. I can’t remember if it was a fifth or a sixth he wanted for us to move up two spots. So while Matt Light is still on the phone with the Jets, we execute the trade, jump up two spots, get right ahead of the New York Jets and at pick 48 we draft Matt Light and get who becomes a Patriots Hall of Fame player for us during that time.
“But again, had the Jets maybe told Matt Light not to say anything about who he was on the phone with, we wouldn’t have made that trade to get up because we didn’t know that was their guy. So, you got to keep things on the down low.”
Classic Jets, right?
The Jets stayed at pick 49 and took running back LaMont Jordan, who played four seasons in New York before finishing up his career with the Raiders, Patriots and Broncos.
Light was a cornerstone of the Patriots offensive line as the starting left tackle for 11 years. He started 153 of the 155 regular season games he played over that span. Light also helped New England win three Super Bowl titles and was inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame in 2018.
Pioli’s story should serve as a reminder for teams that information is critical during the draft and that not protecting it can have substantial consequences.