There was a lot to like about the Patriots draft class. First and foremost they found a quarterback of the future in Mac Jones, but Bill Belichick also picked a pair of talented defensive linemen, a promising linebacker and found some depth toward the end of the proceedings as well.
The one glaring omission was at wide receiver, where the team once again passed despite the presence of a deep and talented cadre of pass catchers. Among the options the Patriots passed on at various points of Days 2 and 3 were Rondale Moore, D'Wayne Eskridge, Terrace Marshall, Dyami Brown, Amari Rodgers, Amon-Ra St. Brown and Tylan Wallace.
The Patriots added free agents Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne but the group could use some high-end talent to round out the corps, and adding a young wideout with speed in the draft may have been a step in that direction.
But even though that wasn't to be it's still possible that Belichick could look to bolster the group. Rumors persist in Atlanta that veteran Julio Jones could be available in the coming months. The Falcons are sticking with Matt Ryan at quarterback for at least another year and they drafted tight end Kyle Pitts to add a dynamic weapon to the attack. Calvin Ridley and Jones are a formidable duo on the outside and Atlanta figures to have no trouble scoring with that group of skill players at their disposal.
But money issues have the 32-year-old Jones potentially on the market, and he might make some sense for New England if Belichick looks to improve the options for either Cam Newton or the rookie Jones. He is set to count for more than $23 million on the cap and the Falcons don't have much wiggle room at the moment, therefore the trade is a possibility. (They would likely wait until June to consummate such a deal for cap purposes).
A team acquiring him would be on the hook for $15.3 million in 2021 and $11.513 million in 2022 and '23 – reasonable numbers for a receiver of his ability. Jones' production began to wane in 2021 as he dealt with injuries that kept him out of the lineup, but there's no question that his presence at the top of the depth chart would have a positive impact on the offense.
Players of Jones' caliber will likely garner significant interest if the Falcons are truly open to dealing him. Perhaps a package of picks, including a second-rounder, would have the Falcons listening but it may take a first-rounder to get it done. (A conditional two that improves to a one if Jones reaches certain milestones)?
Atlanta is rebuilding under a first-year coach (Arthur Smith) and GM (Terry Fontenot) so Stephon Gilmore wouldn't likely add much to the potential package – especially given Gilmore's desire for a new deal, which would defeat the purpose of the Falcons trying to create cap room in the first place.
Jones would make a lot of sense for Belichick as he tries to offer some pieces for his quarterbacks to work with. Jones wouldn't put the offense over the top or turn New England into a title contender, but he, Agholor and Bourne along with tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry would give opposing defensive coordinators something to think about when game planning for the Patriots pass attack.
Many national writers have speculated that it's more likely than not that Jones will be dealt. Perhaps a move to Foxborough is in his future – and the Patriots would have a No. 1 receiver after all.
The NFL will announce the 2021 schedule Wednesday night and many have speculated that either Buffalo or Dallas will travel to Tampa Bay for the Thursday night opener against the Super Bowl champion Bucs. But there's also been some speculation regarding the Patriots.
Atlanta is set to play one of its eight home games in London, and New England is one of those eight opponents set to visit the Falcons. The Patriots traveled across the pond twice under Belichick, defeating Tampa Bay in 2009 and the Rams in 2012. They also took care of the Raiders in Mexico City in 2017.
It's possible the league will send the Patriots to London for a third time as each of the Falcons other five home opponents (it will not be a divisional opponent) have been there more recently than 2012. However, some of those teams, a group that includes Detroit, the Jets, Washington and Philadelphia, haven't played overseas since before 2017 when the Patriots went to Mexico.
Detroit was reportedly scheduled to play Jacksonville in London last season but the game was played in the states due to the pandemic. So, it's possible the league could send the Lions to Europe this time around. Stay tuned.
Patriots.com will have all the schedule information as soon as it becomes available Wednesday night.
Like it don't love it
There has been much made of Belichick's decision to stick at No. 15 to select Mac Jones, a choice many viewed as a gamble that paid off. However, many have suggested that if Belichick really loved Jones he would have moved up to make sure he boxed out any of the quarterback-needy teams behind him that may have been looking to steal Jones. Others have applauded Belichick's patience for "allowing the draft to come to him" and not surrendering any resources to get his guy.
If Jones winds up developing into the Patriots quarterback of the future and wins plenty of games over the next decade will anyone lament that fact that Belichick didn't love him on draft day but simply took him because he was available? Conversely, if Jones doesn't pan out will fans take some sort of perverse pleasure by criticizing Belichick for liking and not loving the pick?
The answer to both questions is obviously no, but that hasn't stopped the Like vs. Love debate from raging for the last two weeks.