Bill Belichick traded the 14th overall pick to the Steelers for the 17th pick, receiver just the 120th pick as compensation. Many believe he made the trade to make sure the Jets could not select Georgia offensive lineman Broderick Jones to protect Aaron Rodgers. Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

It was hardly the sexiest transaction of the first evening of the NFL draft, let alone the entire weekend, but the business the Steelers and Patriots conducted last Thursday night was plenty intriguing.

Pittsburgh moved up three spots in the first round, from 17th overall to 14th – and gave up precious little to do so, sacrificing only pick No. 120. The timing of that trade immediately raised eyebrows around the league: because of the compensation, the player involved and some of the connections between franchises. It appeared to some rival executives and general managers that Pittsburgh was granted easy access to land Georgia offensive lineman Broderick Jones, specifically to keep him away from the New York Jets, for whom Patriots football czar Bill Belichick has no love and whose draft he would eagerly attempt to derail.

“They should have had to give up a (third-round pick) and not a four to move up there,” said one NFL general manager who had been keeping tabs on a potential trade up with the Patriots. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because he did not want to cause potential conflicts with either team in the future. “He sold low because he knew the Steelers were going to take the kid the Jets wanted to take.”

A personnel executive from a team also picking around the middle of the first round said: “Bill will try to screw them over any chance he gets. He knew exactly what he was doing.”

It did not take a rocket scientist to realize that the Jets, after acquiring the now-plodding Aaron Rodgers from the Green Bay Packers last week, had some major issues along the offensive line, and that protecting him would be a premium objective. Several evaluators through the draft process identified Jones as potentially the best offensive line prospect; I was among those who had originally mocked him to the Jets at pick 13. That selection, however, was part of the compensation they used to acquire Rodgers – they paid a price far steeper than any other team would have considered – and in the end, it cost them the chance to get Jones, whom they coveted.

Steelers assistant general manager Andy Weidl, who put together Pittsburgh’s draft board and knows the Jets organization inside-out from his time spent alongside New York General Manager Joe Douglas in Philadelphia, had to be well aware whom the Jets were targeting at pick 15, their new first-round selection after the trade. Some within the Steelers organization were concerned the Packers might just nab Jones themselves at pick 13 – they could use line help as well – but the prevailing feeling was that Green Bay would go tight end or wide receiver. (In fact, the Packers took Iowa edge rusher Lukas Van Ness.)

With so many cornerbacks still on the board – only Devon Witherspoon of Illinois had been selected in the first 13 picks – Belichick was plenty content to move back three spots. And with offensive tackles picked pretty clean, the Jets – in what some in league circles believed was at least something of a panic move – took Iowa State edge rusher Will McDonald IV at No. 15, a spot much higher than teams I spoke to in the run-up to the draft had projected him.

“I think the trade totally blindsided them,” the GM said. “They were scrambling.”

For his part, Belichick still ended up with Oregon cornerback Christian Gonzalez, who some teams believed was an equal to Witherspoon or even slightly preferred. The Steelers still ended up with corner Joey Porter Jr. at pick 32 – a pick they had acquired for disgruntled and unproductive receiver Chase Claypool – which was incredibly well-received locally given his father’s years of performance as a Steeler. The Jets, meantime, took offensive linemen with their next two picks, which came in the second and fourth rounds. With little out there on the free agent market, we’ll see if Rodgers’s blindside, or frontside, protection becomes a cause of concern in New York.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.