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Replay: Patriots Unfiltered Wed Dec 08 | 12:00 AM - 11:55 AM

Patriots Mailbag: Focusing on emerging playmakers

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Do you think we could see rookie Rhamondre Stevenson take over RB1 duties once Damien Harris comes back? He looks to be a better receiver and has a little more X factor to his game. Pearce Bennett

Maybe not immediately, but perhaps in the future. Stevenson has great potential, as he's demonstrated thus far. Harris is no slouch, though. Both players, when healthy and available, will likely be used as a 1-2 punch combination, regardless of which one gets the first snap of the game. That, in the long term, would be in the best interest of the offense. Erik Scalavino

What part of the team do you see adding any free agents available that would impact the team the most to make it to and possibly through the playoffs? Thanks. Gabe Fonseca

At this time of year, there are almost no free agents of any quality that you're asking for, Gabe. If they were that good, they'd already be employed. Situations like Odell Beckham's are rare occurrences. So, don't get your hopes up in that regard. The Patriots are just going to have to finish off this season essentially with the players they have, which, to this point, has worked out pretty well for them. Erik Scalavino

If J.C. Jackson reaches free agency, he will surely be set for a massive payday. Bill's usual tactic of letting players test the market doesn't look the way to go here and the Patriots would end up with a compensatory pick. Given the team will need CB help even if Jackson stays, isn't it time to tie him down? Len Carmody

Jackson's situation is among the most urgent that the Patriots will have to address, one way or the other, this coming offseason. I find it unlikely – not impossible, but unlikely – that the team will want to focus on it during the regular season, but given Belichick's history of letting top corners go prematurely – Ty Law, Asante Samuel, Aqib Talib, and most recently, Stephon Gilmore – you'd have to assume Jackson's chances of sticking around aren't that high. However, if there's anything I've learned in my almost 16 years with this team, it's that you can never say never when it comes to what Belichick will or won't do.

Several questions must be answered here. Does the team believe Jackson is a top-flight cornerback, and if so, will they be willing to shell out the kind of money ($18-20 million per season, most likely) that it will take to keep him in Foxborough. Does Jackson like playing here enough to work with the team on a reasonable new pact, or does he simply want to be paid market value, wherever that may be? Will the Patriots just kick this proverbial can down the road by assigning Jackson their franchise tag during the offseason? We'll probably be asking ourselves these questions until mid-March when the new league year and free-agent signing period begins. Erik Scalavino

There is a talent hole on one side of the CB position that may cripple this team's chances of playoff advancement, and I wonder if BB may still find a way to fix it this year? Ken Kannapan

As I already indicated, your roster is basically what it will be for the remainder of 2021. I assume by your question that you're unhappy with the play of free-agent acquisition Jalen Mills, who typically occupies the opposite cornerback spot from the aforementioned Jackson. While I think it's a bit unfair to single out Mills, who's probably playing out of position (slot corner or safety have been more productive areas for him), you may have noticed that the Patriots have been playing a lot more zone defense of late, and with considerable success. This might correlate with what you're asking, Ken, and could be a trend we continue to see for the rest of this season. Erik Scalavino

J.C. Jackson
J.C. Jackson

Colin Cowherd has expressed on multiple occasions during his podcast that Mac Jones has a "low ceiling." Do you guys agree and could you elaborate on why or why not? Thanks! Miles Stetson

It's such a subjective characterization. Each of us has a different definition of what a "low ceiling" means. Does a low ceiling mean an average quarterback who never makes the playoffs? Maybe wins a playoff game or two, but nothing more? Never winning a Super Bowl, or winning only one? What kind of ceiling did people think Tom Brady had after his first 10 NFL starts? I'm sure no one predicted one Super Bowl win, let alone seven. Point being, it's a fruitless exercise.

All I can say for certain about Mac Jones at this point is that he's shown steady growth since arriving here in the spring. He's given me no reason to believe that his upward trajectory will change anytime soon. How far that will take him in his Patriots career is anyone's guess, and that's all it would be – a guess. If I were you, I'd just continue to enjoy watching this young player mature week-to-week, because no one has any idea how high or low his so-called ceiling will be. Their opinions are worth what you paid for them. Absolutely nothing. Erik Scalavino

In the past few years, the league has become enamored with quarterbacks that can run to "extend plays" and "make plays with their legs." I think this was a major reason why Mac dropped so far in the draft. Do you think a mobile quarterback could actually be at a disadvantage in the long term because 1) they rely too heavily on escaping the pocket instead of working through reads and 2) they have a much higher chance of being injured? Over the course of, say, 8-10 years, I think I would rather have a really strong, not so mobile, pocket passer (e.g., Mac or TB12). Do you agree? Morgan Brown

If the league has "become enamored" with such QBs, as you say, there's a legitimate reason why. Those are the kinds of players that high schools and colleges are producing, based on the prevalence of spread offenses at those levels. The traditional pocket passers of old are facing extinction as a result. Sure, there might still be some of them floating around, but for the most part, NFL offenses are having to adapt to the new kinds of players who are overtaking the quarterback position – more athletic, mobile players who can also make plays with their arms. The QBs who learn to run when necessary, not just as a panic reflex, are the most successful ones: think Russell Wilson, as one example.

That's where the league is heading, Morgan, and that's why it's adapting to the change. You'd be wise to do so, as well. Erik Scalavino

What's the deal with linebacker Ronnie Perkins? From the descriptions in draft books, he seemed like the perfect fit between edge setter and pass rusher. And while the good players Josh Uche and Chase Winovich get some playing time, Perkins has never been active, has he? Ron Miller

No, he hasn't. Not since the preseason. It's not unusual for rookies like Perkins to be caught in a numbers game – too many veterans ahead of him on the depth chart – so, there might not necessarily be anything wrong with him. Think of it as a redshirt year from which Perkins may benefit when 2022 rolls around. Erik Scalavino

Mac Jones throws a pass against the Browns
Mac Jones throws a pass against the Browns

The offseason acquisitions at the pass-catching positions have been hit-and-miss. I would call Hunter Henry and Kendrick Bourne hits, Jonnu Smith and Nelson Agholor misses. Of the latter two, whose performance is more encouraging? What are the likelihood and cap ramifications of moving on from one or both after this season? Chris Hallen

Do you think that Agholor and Smith are living up to their contracts, and if not, could some of that money be spent on a Stephon Gilmore or some other quality CB? Stan Cohen

None of the four players mentioned in the first of these twin questions is going anywhere anytime soon. Sure, Henry and Bourne have made more big plays thus far than Smith and Agholor, I'll grant you. But Agholor has been a factor at times, while Smith, unfortunately, has been played injured of late. I had higher hopes for Smith, too, but I'm not ready to abandon him or the potential he brings to this offense. Be patient. And appreciate the fact that your team has a winning record and a legitimate chance now of qualifying for the playoffs. Erik Scalavino

Do you think the Patriots will finally draft an effective wide receiver early or just keep what they have? I would like them to go for a guy with top-end speed. You can see it now. Defenses are creeping up in the box because they don't respect the current WRs. A.J. Blanchard

It's too soon to talk about the 2022 NFL Draft with any specificity, but at this point, wide receiver is only one of a handful of positions that New England will likely have to consider addressing with their high-round draft choices. Cornerback and offensive line are likely among the others. We'll address this more at the appropriate time, namely the offseason, whenever it gets here. Erik Scalavino

Nelson Aghlor tries to evade a Browns defender
Nelson Aghlor tries to evade a Browns defender

I found all the questions about the offensive line interesting and credible as far as this year goes. But it appears to me that the ultimate question is: who will play left tackle in the future, because we do not appear to have a franchise left tackle at present? Bruce Armstrong, Matt Light, Nate Solder … the Patriots have always placed value on that position. The team did not neglect it. Isaiah Wynn was intended to be that guy, but I do not see him in the same category with the names that I have mentioned. I think that a left tackle would make a very good first-round pick next year. David Pineo

The team clearly believes in Wynn, a former first-round draft choice, as evidenced by its decision to pick up his fifth-year option. And to stick with Trent Brown at right tackle when the Patriots re-acquired him in a trade with Vegas earlier this year. That doesn't mean they won't try again to find a player for that left tackle position in the upcoming draft, but for now, Wynn is the man there. Erik Scalavino

Do the new roster rules and expanded practice squads improve the quality of competition as much as I think they do? Bill Belichick seems to make more moves with his entire roster including practice squad than most teams. The Patriots are using every nuance of the new rules to supplement the game day roster to their competitive advantage. The injured reserve being three weeks with unlimited returning players is money. Kudos, Patriot management. Bryant Smeeth

The rules, which went into effect in 2020 as a result of the league having to adapt to the pandemic, have absolutely been beneficial to all 32 clubs, not just New England. Just this past Sunday, for example, the Browns made about a half-dozen roster moves the day before the game, just like the Patriots. Every team has been taking advantage of the relaxed rules each week as needed, as we who cover the NFL on a regular basis can see from the volume of moves submitted to the daily transaction wire. It's been great for the entire league and I hope the rules stay in place, even improved upon, in years to come. Erik Scalavino

James Ferentz was released after the Carolina game, but I can't find specifics online about the practice squad rules in his case (veteran with his two promotions already used, then signed to the roster, then released). If he passes through waivers and becomes a free agent again, can he be re-signed to the PS, or would it have to be to the active roster? If he can be resigned to the PS as a FA that nobody else signed, would that mean he would be available for 2 more game-day promotions? Nick Williams

Ferentz is back on New England's practice squad. Having already been called up twice from there, he's no longer eligible for such a promotion. He could, however, be signed directly to the active roster, as he did most recently before being released and re-signed to the practice squad. Yes, the rules are a bit convoluted, but Ferentz is clearly a player the Patriots want to keep around and are using every method they can to do so. Erik Scalavino

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