The Patriots swung a trade last week to acquire DeVante Parker. It was a welcome move following a start to free agency that didn't include the addition of a single offensive weapon. It was especially good news for Mac Jones, who could use some additional help as he continues his development in his second season with the Patriots.
The offense isn't completely devoid of talent. Jones has a pair of running backs in Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson who provide solid production, and a pair of tight ends in Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith who also are capable of chipping in. Adding Parker to a group of wideouts that includes Kendrick Bourne, Nelson Agholor and Jakobi Meyers should increase the options in the passing game for Jones, which obviously should in turn help the offense progress.
While Parker's presence is important for obvious reasons, there's also an ancillary benefit to adding him to the mix. Having Jones on just the second year of his rookie deal can be an advantage for any team as it allows for more money to be spent elsewhere on the roster. In theory, Bill Belichick can spend more on acquiring offensive personnel (like Parker) because Jones' modest salary doesn't take up much cap space.
But that's only part of the equation. It's true that Jones will potentially play four seasons with modest salaries, allowing for more money to be spent around him. But that won't matter as much if questions about the supporting cast linger during much of that time.
The Parker acquisition helps, but many (myself included) still feel selecting a receiver early in the draft would make sense. The idea of having an affordable quarterback only works if he has enough talent around him to succeed. The last thing Belichick wants is for Jones to play the next couple of seasons with lingering doubts about the caliber of weapons at his disposal.
In other words, it's great that Jones is cheap but it's far more important that the Patriots find out as quickly as possible if he is worthy of being the team's franchise quarterback of the future. In order to best figure that out, it would seem the Patriots might want to continue adding pieces to ensure he has every opportunity to succeed. Those pieces would then in turn be allowed to develop alongside the quarterback.
There's a lot of talk about the advantages of having an established quarterback on a rookie deal, but of more significance is finding out for sure if he's the guy. In recent seasons the Chiefs, Browns, Bears and Bills all had young quarterbacks on rookie deals. The Chiefs and Bills obviously got enough information on Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen to feel comfortable moving forward with them on big extensions. The Browns and Bears weren't convinced, and Mitchell Trubisky was sent packing while Baker Mayfield will soon be gone as well.
These decisions aren't always easy like they were in Kansas City and Buffalo. The other two created a lot of uncertainty in their towns, which is the last place you want to be. Looking at Cleveland specifically, the Browns provided Mayfield with plenty of weapons to better guide their choice. He had Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt in the backfield, Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham at wideout and tight ends David Njoku and Austin Hooper. When he still couldn't establish much consistency with that solid corps of weapons, Cleveland moved on and gambled on Deshaun Watson.
Even with that level of talent it was not a cut and dried decision. Mayfield showed flashes, and Cleveland waited to see if there was more there before moving on. The fact that Mayfield had plenty of help and still couldn't establish himself likely forced Cleveland's hand.
If Jones doesn't get much more to work with, it would be easy to envision debates raging about his level of development in the future. Opinions vary on how much of Jones' late-season struggles were on him last season or due to a lack of weapons. If Jones continues forward with some highs and lows, and the Patriots cast of characters on offense remains similar, those debates won't subside.
Having Jones on an affordable deal is great because it potentially increases the talent around him. Assuming that's the case, it's more important because it will give Belichick a better idea of exactly the kind of quarterback he is before any decisions on his future would need to be made.
Speaking of the cap
Few offseasons have elicited more commentary on the NFL's salary cap as this one. It seems every time a good team signs a player to a big deal, comments about the cap being a joke are soon to follow. Some go so far as to say the cap doesn't exist, which causes some push back from those who believe in the economic structure of the league.
Of course, the cap naysayers aren't meant to be taken literally. The cap very much exists, it's just that it can be manipulated so easily that it's barely a deterrent for any team wishing to acquire players. In the end, teams need to decide how much money they want to spend on players, not necessarily how many cap dollars they spend. All teams are bound to the $208.2 million cap limit but the actual dollars spent can vary dramatically.
So, when Kansas City trades Tyreek Hill to Miami and Andy Reid calls it a cap casualty, he's really only telling part of the truth. The Chiefs easily could have moved money around to fit Hill's new deal under the cap, but in reality they did not want to invest those kinds of dollars into a receiver who will be on the wrong side of 30 in the middle of that deal.
Mostly this "cap is crap" debate is semantics. No one would argue that it doesn't actually exist. But only few would maintain that it serves as much of an obstacle for teams trying to build a winner.
With just a couple of weeks to go before the draft teams have already been hard at work maneuvering around the board. Last week's deal between the Eagles and Saints was stunning but in reality continues what has developed into a bit of a trend in recent years.
In the past most trades were reserved for draft night itself with the idea of moving up to acquire a specific player in mind. Now the trend is for many deals to be made in the weeks leading up to the draft.
In 2020 there were trades involving six picks among the top 50 made by April 11. Last year there were 11. The Saints-Eagles blockbuster runs this year's total to 17 picks. Clearly there's a new way of doing business, and many experts expect the first round to be quite active in the trade department.
As always quarterbacks will have a huge impact on the first round and the lack of stars at the position makes this season's crop tough to predict. Pitt's Kenny Pickett and Liberty's Malik Willis are considered the top two, but where they fall could go a long way toward determining future moves. Should the quarterbacks remain on the board into the latter half of the first round, it's possible that additional trades will be forthcoming.
Interesting nugget from ESPN's Mike Reiss over the weekend detailing the weight clauses contained in Trent Brown's contract. Reiss reports that Brown's deal includes a $750,000 weight bonus in 2022 and 2023 with the following criteria:
*385 pounds or less on first day of offseason program -- $150,000
*375 pounds or less on June 1 -- $75,000
*365 pounds or less on July 15 -- $75,000
*365 pounds or less each Thursday during the season -- $25,000 per week
According to Reiss, Brown also has significant play-time incentives with the ability to earn $500,000 by taking part in 65 percent of the snaps, and another $500,000 for 70 percent. The number jumps to $750,000 each for 75, 80, 85 and 90 percent, respectively, plus a $500,000 incentive for 95 percent, or being selected to the Pro Bowl on the original ballot. While Brown's initial deal involves very little guaranteed money, clearly the Patriots are offering him a chance to make plenty if he is in shape and remains healthy.
Final Hall thought
I wrote about my thoughts on this year's Patriots Hall of Fame nomination meeting last week with Wes Welker earning a spot at the top of my ballot. After a few days I feel even stronger about my selection, remembering the enormous impact Welker had on the Patriots passing game from 2007-12. In his final season with the Patriots, Welker grabbed 118 passes for 1,354 yards and six touchdowns. His consistency and immense production, in my view, make him the easy choice in 2022.