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Patriots Mailbag: Combine Risers, Late-Round Fits and the Coming Free Agency Frenzy

With the Combine in the rearview mirror and Free Agency around the corner, Patriots fans are wondering what the next two months of player movement will bring to their team.

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Welcome to the weird interstitial week between the Combine and the start of the new league year that arrives next Wednesday, March 13. We just got plenty to chew on from Indianapolis as the rumor mill was working overdrive as to how the Patriots will pursue this critical offseason, one in which they have their highest draft pick since the 1990s and over $100 million in projected cap space.

Now, we're mere days away from when the rubber meets the road, possibly with some internal moves later this week and then Free Agency's arrival next week. By St. Patrick's Day, the New England Patriots will look far different than they do now, setting the stage for the late April draft where the team should set an exciting new course for the long-term future.

As we wait for the real fun to begin, here's what's on the mind of our faithful Patriots readers.

Why is there so much hate for J.J. McCarthy? Other than a few throws where his WR ran the wrong route, he seems to have had a great combine. He threw a 61 mph ball (1 mph slower than Joe Milton), he interviewed very well, & he seems like a very smart & tough leader. What gives? -@chdmrtn

Feels like those few bad throws were outliers to the momentum that McCarthy has been building since winning the National Championship. Generally, it still feels like he's going to be the fourth quarterback off the board, surpassing Michael Penix Jr., despite a strong Combine from Penix that included 10.5-inch hands which would be a nice benefit in the windy weather of Foxborough. McCarthy is that rare prospect who just didn't throw the ball enough in college, leaving some unknown factors around the most important skillset for a QB at the next level. I already found myself going back to McCarthy as well. However, where I've arrived now is just to take the QB at third overall. In my view it's what they have to do and if they miss on Maye or Daniels, thems the breaks. But if I was a team without a glaring hole at QB but not a long-term answer, I'd be really diving into that McCarthy film. That's the kind of team I think he best fits, where he can take some time to develop and then jump in when called upon. -Mike Dussault

Hi Deuce, it's not just my enthusiasm for TEs, the Pats have an empty cupboard this year! To that end which TE would you like them to pick up (feasibly, say 3rd/4th round) and if you were the GM would you double dip at the position? -@clazzyclare

First, let's re-sign Hunter Henry! He's been a great leader here, consistently productive and really, outside of Dalton Schultz, seems like the only option who can step right in and give an NFL baseline level of play. While we're at it, bring back Pharoah Brown as well, he's a good third option to give a baseline as a blocker. Harrison Bryant played in Cleveland and could intrigue the new staff, while Gerald Everett and Noah Fant wouldn't be bad options either, but my free agency preference is to retain Henry and Brown, while swapping in a rookie for Mike Gesicki’s lighter receiving role. So that leads me to those rookies… Jared Wiley and Ben Sinnott are my two faves right now and it seems like the draft could line up for them to be available when the Patriots would be able to take one of them. Ja' Tavion Sanders would be a higher-round option, but likely one drafted on Day 2, and we can't ignore the one-handed combine catch man, Dallin Holker. One way or another this should be a really active tight end offseason for you, Clare! -Mike Dussault

Considering the AVP background, do you think that Jayden Daniels is the guy if he falls to 3? I fear that could be a Deshaun Watson situation last year. - @chabiruba

A little bit, but it's also worth pointing out that Watson's rust was a factor as well. I think Daniels has enough of an all-around skillset that AVP should be able to work with him and find a suitable place in the offense for him. But your concerns are apt and it's why in my book Drake Maye is still my choice between the two of them. I wonder if Daniels is a better fit in Washington. Actually, I'm hoping he is. Then it works out for everyone. Unless the Bears pass on Caleb Williams and all hell breaks loose. -Mike Dussault

Assuming the Patriots take a QB at number 3, who do you like to see the Pats take at the beginning of the 2nd round? -@joelshapiro20

Seems to me that the Patriots media consensus right now is QB at three and then tackle at the top of the second, or even a trade-up back into the bottom of the first for that tackle if the run on them starts early. Every year it seems like there are explosive wide receivers that last into the third round. In my view, the foundation of the offense can quickly be put into place with a quarterback and a tackle inside the draft's first 30-40 picks. Some favorites from the Combine include Evan Lazar's boo, Kingsley Suamataia, who almost certainly got himself into the first round with his performance in Indy, as did Amarius Mims. Patrick Paul could also be an option for a mammoth left tackle that seems to be a second-round option. But after that, including all those like Joe Alt and Olu Fashanu, the options could be limited for legit tackle options by the mid-30s. Hence, a trade-up wouldn't be the worst thing here. Whereas there always seem to be receivers, the Patriots would be wise to grab one of the offensive linemen in a year where it's a stacked class. -Mike Dussault

Say this is the Pats' plan: take Maye at 3, if not there, trade down a few spots and take Daniels (and bring Brissett as a starter/mentor), if not there, trade a pick for Fields, if no deal, keep drafting quality players including a QB, and try to sign Baker Mayfield. Any strong objections? -Stan C.

A couple of problems here. One, Daniels is unlikely to last past four in my estimation. Also, Justin Fields would be get moved before the draft based on what Chicago was saying in Indy, so that move couldn't be made on the night of the draft, it would have to be done within the next three weeks. Same thing with Mayfield, he'll sign a contract within the next 10 days in free agency. So my preference is to take a lower-tier veteran like Jacoby Brissett or even Joe Flacco and then just take whichever QB falls to third overall. If they make a move on Fields or Mayfield in Free Agency, I think QB at third overall is off the table and then we talk about trading down or taking a tackle or wide receiver. -Mike Dussault

After watching the Dynasty documentary it helped to conjure ideas of what could have happened, none more so the idea of what would most likely have been one of the most profound seasons in the history of the NFL which was derailed and destroyed when Tom Brady's knee was blown out in the first game of the season in 2008 against the Kansas City Chiefs. I know that looking back makes you miss what's in front of you but, how good would that team have probably been with the heartache of the 2007 season still in all the players and coach's minds and mixed with the second season of the Brady and Moss juggernaut destroying everything in their path? -Mark Saez

They would've been a wagon no question, however I wonder how much the age and decline of the defense would come into play as the playoffs rolled around. They gave up 33 points in Week 13 to the eventual champs, Pittsburgh. The starters on defense at the end of the year included Ellis Hobbs and Jonathan Wilhite at cornerback and a 39-year-old Junior Seau playing significant snaps without Tedy Bruschi, who was lost late in the season against Seattle. As we saw in 2009 as well, teams caught on to that Brady-Moss-Welker offense, one that featured Sammy Morris as their leading rusher. So maybe I have to take my homer hat off here but I think that 2008 might've ended in similar disappointment to 2007, likely before the Super Bowl. It was an easy schedule, but without Brady they couldn't beat any of the good teams in the AFC, as Bill Belichick famously pointed out in his episode of A Football Life when he reflected on the season in 2009's training camp. -Mike Dussault

If you had your choice between Drake Maye or Jayden Daniels, who is your QB of the future? I hear a lot of talk about how Maye struggled a bit in 2023 whereas Daniels obviously had a stellar season. But what I don't hear mentioned much is Daniels was throwing to 2 receivers who are going to get drafted in the first round this year. Maye, on the other hand, had a poor offensive line and was asked to do it all alone, and he still had an efficient, if not good season from a statistical standpoint. The more I hear about Daniels, the more I am intrigued, but I think I would personally lean towards Maye because lean, mobile QBs scare me from an injury standpoint. But Maye has solid size and has some wheels on him too, albeit not as dynamic. But if the choice was up to you, who would you prefer and why? -Joel Lindgren

Yeah, I'm leaning Maye too, and not just for the reasons you said but also because I think he's a better fit for Alex Van Pelt and another thing that Phil Perry mentioned in his Combine wrap-up, that Daniels has been solely a warm weather QB and could prefer to avoid the northern teams. Still, he's got quite the skillset and I'd be willing to strike out taking a big swing on him. I'd take either, but yes, Maye would be the slightly better fit in my view. -Mike Dussault

I've heard quite a bit about how the WR and OT positions in this year's draft class are quite deep, so I'd love to see the Patriots take advantage and double dip at those positions. Who are a few WRs or OTs that you'd like to see them target in the later rounds (5-7) with the assumption in this hypothetical that they've taken one of each in an earlier round? -Cory Palmer

Tyler Grable, Walter Rouse and Julian Pearl are a trio of later round tackles that I left Indy wanting to take a closer look at. Jamari Thrash, Jermaine Burton and Bub Means are the receivers that pinged my interest both before and during the Combine. Of course, it's all relative and a run one of those positions could bump any of these guys up the draft board, maybe even as high as the third round. It's hard to project and no one truly knows who will go when. But I love the idea of double dipping, though, as I mentioned above, there are always receivers who intrigue. Focusing on the tackles is important, though a free-agency signing like Tyron Smith could alter those plans slightly. Imagining Smith and a late-first-round rookie as bookends would be a good place to start 2024 from. -Mike Dussault

The consensus seems to be the Patriots will trade Mac Jones and sign a veteran in free agency to be either the starter or backup. Wouldn't it be smarter to keep Jones on his rookie deal for a year? He can be QB2 for whoever they draft/sign, and who knows, maybe the coaching changes bring out the best in him. -Todd Pickering

I really don't like throwing away any quarterback on a rookie deal before you need to, but Mac might be a unique case. It depends on how the coaching staff and front office view his impact on the locker room. We've seen similar reports that he has fans in the building but also has people ready to move on. Could he win over the defense that must've been frustrated with him last year? That's my question and I don't know the answer for sure but I'd lean that he needs a fresh start somewhere. But again, developing quarterbacks is good business and you have one more year at a discounted rate on a player that plenty of people around the NFL still think can be a good starter. It's hard to say just get rid of a guy like that, but as we can all see, it's complicated. -Mike Dussault

Can you see the Patriots trading up to number 1 and taking Caleb Williams, I feel that's the move that has to be done before free agency. It would help possibly getting players to NE, especially on offense like WR Pittman and Ridley among others. I just feel Caleb is the one sure thing in this draft at QB. -Mark Silveira

I don't see it and I don't share your "sure thing" confidence. It would cost so many resources and the Patriots have so many needs and whether you love Williams or you don't, I think we can all agree that any team that selects him is in for some kind of a ride for better or worse. It's not a ride I really want to sign up for and honestly, if Maye and Daniels went first and second overall I'd be a little scared to take him considering the environment in New England and what the team would be able to put around him right out of the gate. It could go south unless he does it all himself, which he doesn't seem adverse to trying. -Mike Dussault

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