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Patriots Mailbag: Draft ideas, rebuilding thoughts and more

With the Patriots struggling down the stretch fans are looking ahead to the offseason in this week's mailbag.


Do you think if we get Marvin Harrison at two or three and then trade into the late first to get Jayden Daniels would that be a successful draft?
Michael Noble

In theory I would think that would be a successful draft but in reality it would be very tough to pull off and there's obviously no guarantees that the players selected would be successful. Daniels is being talked about as the third quarterback off the board so it's reasonable to expect him to be a top 10 pick, making it almost impossible for the Patriots to get both Harrison and the LSU quarterback. I like Daniels a lot and am intrigued by his dual-threat skill set, and obviously Harrison is considered a generational talent at wide receiver. The Patriots could do a lot worse. If they were somehow able to snag both, it would make for an exciting draft.

The last mailbag discussed rebuilding, at least a little. I don't think this should be a long rebuild. The defense is pretty darn good and it's missing Matthew Judon, Christian Gonzalez and Marcus Jones. The only issue I see with the defense is finding a speedy linebacker or two. The defensive line may need some young blood, but overall I like our defense. Offensively, is where we need a lot of improvement. The first thing we need is to rebuild the offensive line. If, as expected, we have another rookie quarterback, getting him sacked continually is not a great idea. Also, with a rookie QB a strong running game is critical, again that's the offensive line. Further they need more speed and weapons at wide receiver. I see our priorities as 1a, b & c - tackle, quarterback and wide receiver in some order. We also need another tight end and a running back, one who specializes as a passing receiving threat. I have no issue with trading down from our early first-rounder hopefully picking up another first or a couple of seconds. So the draft should be a large part of the solution to add some young players. As for a quarterback, I really like Jayden Daniels. I think he makes a lot of sense. We also have $100 million in cap space. As was said in the mailbag Mike Onwenu should be a priority, I don't know what a fair deal for him would be (4years/$60M?). I would not rule out Trent Brown, although there is always an issue with his weight, minor injuries and some mediocre play at times, but he still has some value. But it's critical we add a young tackle either in the draft or with a free agency. I think the most important change is we need is a new talent evaluator and/or decision maker. I don't think the Pats can turn this team around with Bill Belichick. I think he is so ingrained in style of football and he hasn't changed his thinking to add speed on both sides of the ball to play and defend the wide open football in the NFL. Sure, some of his views are still relevant. Big, strong offensive line and defensive line is still mandatory. But once you get to the second or third levels speed is critical and we don't have any.
Badax Michaud

While I don't necessarily disagree with any of the things you claim are needed to help the Patriots rebuild, I would strongly disagree with the ease in which you feel these things can be done. As an example you wouldn't be opposed to trading down in the first round yet you have an eye on Jayden Daniels. The Patriots need a lot of help on both sides of the ball and it will be impossible to get it all in one year without getting extremely fortunate in the draft. Teams don't just pick five or six front-line starters every year in the draft. Again, I agree with a lot of the elements you cited as needs. I just don't think it will be that easy to fill those needs. It starts with the draft, however, and quarterback is a major priority. If the Patriots don't feel they're in position to get someone they like this spring, then the rebuild will take even longer. Either way it's not an easy fix. Upgrades are needed at almost every position. Finding tackles, tight ends, wide receivers and a quarterback all at once is probably asking too much.

Too early for free agent talk. Way too early for draft talk. So, I'm submitting a procedural type of question. When Matt Patricia and Joe Judge were signed by the Patriots after losing their head coaching jobs, they were still collecting their salary from their former employers. My friend claims that they came back to the Pats for free. I can't believe they would take on a hard job for no compensation. What is your take on this?
David Brown

In that scenario Patricia and Judge didn't work for free because they were still being paid their salaries after being fired. If they chose not to coach at all, they still would have earned their salaries as a result of the contracts they signed with the Lions and Giants, respectively. When they decided to rejoin the Patriots, reportedly New England paid them modest salaries while the Lions and Giants were responsible for the rest. As an example, using hypothetical numbers, let's say Patricia and Judge were set to earn $1 million in 2022 from their teams. The Patriots could have hired them for $100,000 each and the Lions and Giants would have had to pay the other $900,000. The Patriots have reportedly done that often over the years, bringing back coaches and personnel who were being paid by other organizations. Whether or not that was the case with Patricia and Judge isn't know for certain but it has been reported in various circles.

Was the clothesline on Demario Douglas where the principal point of contact was the head not a penalty? The hit concussed him and has now caused him to miss the game vs Chargers.
Steven McKeigan

I've watched this play over a number of times and I'm honestly not sure, based on the way the rules are written, if it's a penalty or not. I don't believe the tackler targeted Douglas' head, and he didn't hit him with his helmet. It's true the first contact came from the tacklers arm to Douglas' head, and that's why I wondered if there should have been a flag. In my view I think it could have been unnecessary roughness, but it was debatable. The fact that Douglas was injured on the play shouldn't have anything to do with whether or not a penalty should be called, and the league reviewed the play and didn't deem it worthy of a fine. It was close, but I would have called it unnecessary roughness.

Considering our needs to upgrade offensive talent at quarterback, wide receiver and tackle, should the Patriots listen to all offers if we end with a top three pick in the upcoming NFL draft?
David Loomis

I think they should absolutely be listening to and exploring all options in the draft and through free agency/trades. That doesn't mean the idea should be to trade down in order to try to fill more spots, however. Having a top three pick is rare for the Patriots and it offers an opportunity to grab one of the best plyers available in the draft. The Patriots shouldn't take that opportunity lightly. If they like one of the players at one of those positions and they feel it allows them to address one of the voids on the roster then they should take that pick – especially if it's quarterback since that's the toughest spot to fill. There will be a lot of talk about the direction the team should go in the coming months and it will be fascinating to analyze it all along the way.

Quarterbacks, offensive line, wide receivers are all playing terrible. Special teams too – not good. But the Patriots defense, to me, is not only holding their own but really playing very well. And that's without its two best players. I really think they need to lock up any or all their defensive free agents as priorities, then look at getting the offensive players they need. Defense has always been Bill Belichick's strength and it's hard to deny that this season. My question is, where does the Patriots defense rank among all NFL teams this season?
Gary Abrams

The Patriots defense has done a great job of keeping the team in games despite a lack of support from the offense, especially recently. Anytime you allow 10, 10 and 6 points in consecutive games you should be able to win comfortably. Unfortunately that has not been the case. After 12 games the Patriots are allowing an average of 21.2 points per game, which ranks 16th in the league. Some of that is misleading because the offense has struggled so much and some turnovers have led to points, both directly and indirectly. Overall it's hard to ask much more out of the defense than what the group has provided. It hasn't been perfect but it's been pretty solid.

Two part question: 1) The Patriots have a ton of cap space for next year. Is it possible that Bill Belichick had eyes on next year knowing that this year's team wouldn't quite have what it takes? 2) With a top draft pick and tons of cap space, is that enough to assemble an excellent team for next year?
Justin Novak

The answers to your questions are no and no. First, Belichick and the organization felt like this team was capable of competing for a playoff berth during the offseason. I know this from conversations I had with various people within the football operation. The general consensus was the team would fare better than most of the prognosticators felt would be the case. So, no, Belichick didn't have his eyes on anything other than 2023 when he went to work in the offseason. As for the cap space, it doesn't really mean much if you don't have impact players to spend it on. It is possible for teams in the NFL to turn things around quickly but it's not likely to do so when the quarterback position is in such a state of flux. There's a chance the Patriots could draft one and then watch him exceed expectations and that could lead to a quick turnaround. In 2021 with Mac Jones and a massive free agent spending spree the Patriots managed to win 10 games and make the playoffs. So, it is possible. My counter to that is the team didn't really rebuild successfully, however, as it has struggled greatly since. Again, with the high draft picks and cap space, there will be a lot of interesting analysis to follow throughout the offseason and we will do our best to keep up with it every step of the way.

If you don't have a quarterback you're not going anywhere in this NFL. I believe there are only a handful of quality QBs in this league, approximately 10-12. Of those 10-12 only 5-6 are elite, game changing QBs. What do you think our record would be if you replaced Mac with one of those 5-6 elite QBs (Joe Burrow or Patrick Mahomes or Jalen Hurts)?
Jesse Hurkes

This is a pretty subjective question as there is no way of knowing for sure how things would unfold in such a scenario. But with an elite quarterback like Mahomes, Burrow or Hurts I believe the Patriots would have wins against Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Indy and the Giants at the very least. So, that would have the Patriots at 6-6 instead of 2-10. You also could make the argument that the Chargers, Saints and Commanders losses might have turned out differently, but I felt the Patriots were badly outplayed in the latter two. I'll say they could have won against the Chargers and the Patriots would be 7-5 with one of those guys at the helm.

Lots of fans question if Bill Belichick is out of sync with today's football and will he be back next season. My question is how realistic is it to expect Robert Kraft to cut ties with the winningest coach in Patriots history?
Steve Earle

That's the question we're all asking, Steve. In my view it's very realistic at this point and it certainly seems that's where all this is headed – to a change at the end of the season. Clearly the Krafts are the only ones who get to make that choice, though, so we'll have to wait and see. But my guess is Belichick will be gone at the end of the year.

Is it unusual how often the Patriots hire coaches who were previously affiliated with the organization? I understand the desire to go with a known commodity sometimes, but if every coaching hire is either a former Patriots coach or a former Patriots player, where do the new ideas come from?
Scott Young

I do feel like this can be a problem and I do agree it's something the Patriots seem to do more than most teams. Many coaches gravitate toward people they're familiar with when they're trying to fill out their coaching staffs and find replacements. That part isn't really anything unique to the Patriots. Andy Reid has brought back some assistants like Matt Nagy over the years just like Belichick has. But I do feel like some coaches are more willing to look outside to find different viewpoints and ideas. Maybe that's something the Patriots should be looking for if and when they decide to move on from Belichick.

I'm hearing and reading all the talk about how Bill Belichick has to go. But I never hear who might replace him. What are your thoughts if it happens? My instincts say someone like Mike Vrabel. Also, if we draft a quarterback with our No. 1 pick how does that make us better? We still have no wide receivers or reliable tight ends.
Steve Valorz

Basically ever since Jerod Mayo turned down the opportunity to interview for the Carolina Panthers head coach job last offseason the thought around New England has been that Mayo will someday replace Belichick. I have no idea if that will be the case but to say there hasn't been a lot of talk about who might replace the future Hall of Famer simply isn't true. It's been a constant topic of conversation for months. I like the idea of looking outside the organization, perhaps to a young offensive coordinator like Detroit's Ben Johnson, for a replacement but it doesn't feel like that is going to happen. I've heard a lot about Vrabel and Mayo but that doesn't mean those are the only two options. We'll see how this unfolds once the season ends – assuming Belichick does in fact move on.

With all of the speculation around the Patriots potentially trading Belichick to another coach-needy team in the offseason (Commanders?), what sort of draft compensation could the Pats expect to receive in return?
Brian Sullivan

I think that would depend on a lot of factors such as Belichick's desire to continue coaching and his desire to coach a specific team, as well as the amount of teams interested in hiring him. Assuming he still wants to coach and there are teams interested in him I would think the Patriots can get a draft pick for him – maybe a second-rounder depending on how high that team will be picking in the draft. Belichick will be 72 in April so I don't think it's realistic that a team will want to give up a first-round pick, a multi-year deal and significant money when more than likely he won't be coaching much longer. But all it takes is one team to be interested and depending on that team's level of desperation maybe the Patriots could get even more.

What do you think of the question that Belichick was asked recently about possibly having a position already lined up elsewhere for next season? Where would that rumor originate? Was it a legitimate question or something the asker pulled out her his/her …?
Peter Clement

That report originated with Dan Orlovsky speaking on the "Pat McAfee Show" when the former Lions quarterback indicated that he had heard Belichick already had a plan in place to land somewhere specific next season. So, Belichick was asked about that report and that's when the coach responded by saying it was "ridiculous." So, the question was legitimate (even if Orlovsky's original comment was off base) and not something pulled out of the air.


Why is everyone so gung-ho about starting Malik Cunningham? Sure he could bring some excitement but at what cost? There could be a new coaching staff next season, and no matter who is coaching Malik would not be QB1. Playing him doesn't allow the staff, and potential other coaches, the opportunity to evaluate the young guys and rookies already on the roster. This is the time to play Kayshon Boutte, Atonio Mafi, Tyquan Thornton, etc.
Troy Osgood

I couldn't agree more. Cunningham has spent the bulk of the season working as a wide receiver and although he might offer some excitement as a runner in some zone-read looks, he would not be the one to get the most out of the young offensive players who should be playing more. Using Bailey Zappe or even Will Grier makes a lot more sense if the Patriots have seen enough of Mac Jones at this point. If Cunningham is to be a potential quarterback at some point then he needs to spend the offseason working in the system as a quarterback. Then once OTAs, mini-camp and training camp roll around we can get a better idea of his ability to play the position in order to determine whether or not he is a viable option moving forward. Until then he would be little more than a gadget guy – like he was in the Raiders game.

I hear a lot about "the modern NFL" and "playing in space." What does this really mean? Has the game changed since the Patriots won three Super Bowls a few years back? Aren't all the screens and jet sweeps playing in space? And why do I hear that offense is more important than defense? You hear this relative to basketball and baseball as well. Aren't scoring and preventing scoring equally important?
Peter Hill

You are taking phrases and ideas a bit too literally here. First, the Patriots won those Super Bowls (which were more than a few years ago by the way) with Tom Brady operating at an extremely high level. Even the last title in 2018 against the Rams that saw the Patriots win 13-3 featured the offense scoring 41 and 37 points in the two playoff games to get there. Most of the great teams in today's game are great because they can score. If taken literally then yes, it's equally important to score and prevent scores but if you can't score consistently it doesn't really matter if you prevent scores, as the Patriots have learned in recent weeks. Playing in space generally just means finding ways to get the ball into the hands of your playmakers and allowing them to make big plays. Screens can be a way to do that but it's more effective if you can push the ball downfield on deep crossing routes and look for receivers to make defenders miss. Obviously, that's a pretty simplistic answer as there is a lot of nuance to what you are talking about but in general in the modern NFL where quarterbacks dominate it's hard to consistently win without great offense.

DISCLAIMER: The views and thoughts expressed in this article are those of the writer and don't necessarily reflect those of the organization. Read Full Disclaimer

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