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Replay: Patriots Unfiltered Fri May 27 - 12:00 AM | Tue May 31 - 11:57 PM

Patriots Mailbag: How will Pats' Free Agency approach tie into the Draft?

Patriots fans are concerned about the team’s free agency approach, while wondering how the returning players might develop and help the team finish stronger than in 2021, while keeping an eye on April’s draft.

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Will the Patriots go on another large spending spree and build a young core around Mac Jones or will they not have cap or will the Patriots not spend that much money? -Luke Bertrand

Yes, the Patriots will have a bigger chunk of cap space for 2023, so yes, next year will probably be a little busier than 2022 has been so far. But I'm not sure I see the connection between "large spending spree" and "building a young core." The way to build a young core is to hit in the draft and I think that is the most important thing to rebuilding this team over the course of Jones' rookie deal. The 2020 class should get more of a chance to prove themselves this year, starting with Josh Uche and Michael Onwenu, who at this point project into substantially larger roles than they had in 2021. We can optimistically expect Mac, Rhamondre Stevenson and Christian Barmore will build on what they did last year, while Ronnie Perkins should have every chance to show what he's got. Continuing the success of 2021's class is imperative and then in 2023 they'll be able to reset, make some targeted additions where they need it most and then things should really come together. ­-Mike Dussault

Hi from Croatia. Have to say that I'm a bit underwhelmed by Pats signings in FA so far. So is the priority the draft and cheaper players? If so will the Pats be competitive next season? -Bill Games

After the way I laid it out above I think it's fair to wonder what's in store for 2022. I expect a similar kind of team to 2021 with better execution on offense and a reverse of what we've seen lately on defense. By that I mean maybe not starting off the year on fire and ending the year like a dud. I think there will be a lot of new faces in significant roles and that could mean some growing pains on that side of the ball. Mac and the offense might need to carry more of the load early on, but the hope is that the new pieces overcome those early fits and starts and end the year with their best football. With a few more impact rookies integrated into the picture, I could see this as a late-peaking Patriots squad that ends the year with far more promise than they did in 2021. ­-Mike Dussault

With the devastating news to Andy - no more fullbacks… does this mean Jonnu Smith will come out of the backfield more, and we could actually see one of the other 3rd round tight ends finally make an appearance? Who has a better chance at some kind of impact - Asiasi as a tight end with Jonnu in the backfield or Keane in a hybrid role? -Justin Haag

Great question, I do think this could mean an increase in role for Smith and in my opinion that's the most likely scenario. Asiasi made some plays downfield in camp last year that we didn't see in his rookie season, he has some athleticism to work with, but I haven't seen enough yet to see him pushing Hunter Henry or Smith for playing time. Keene did a lot of things in college and he's closer to tight end, H-back size than he is fullback. He'd fill a Swiss army knife role, but he'll need to get on the field immediately in OTAs and start establishing a presence. We haven't seen him do anything since the end of the 2020 season so it might be a long climb. But he does have some intriguing skills that make him a bit unique. -Mike Dussault

OL Yodny Cajuste clears a path for Rhamondre Stevenson
OL Yodny Cajuste clears a path for Rhamondre Stevenson

Is there any way for us to keep tabs on what Mac is doing in the off season? I know he doesn't use social media much, but I hope there is a way that we can find out if he's already putting work in, like quite a few players from other teams have been posting about…not to mention Brady. -Bill Alexander

Looks like that will be up to Mac, though recent reports had him training locally around Foxborough during the offseason. Personally, I find his lack of social media activity to be a bit refreshing, at least it shows he's focused on things that can help on the field this fall. Mac had quite the year in 2021, it's good that he's getting a chance to catch his breath this offseason and fully focus on his job as quarterback of the Patriots. Check out this article I wrote earlier this offseason about what to potentially expect from his Year Two jump. I feel pretty confident that Mac is doing everything fans would hope he's doing and that's great news. - Mike Dussault

Do you think that Derek Stingley will fall in this year's draft? I haven't heard much about him even though he is supposed to be one of the best players in the draft class. Do you think this could mean he ends up somewhere around the Patriots pick at No. 21? -Billy Schmidt

Stingley has been one of those under-the-radar prospects who started off high on everyone's draft boards but as other players, including cornerbacks and other positions, banged out impressive testing numbers it appears that Stingley has fallen, when in reality not much has changed since his season ended. Between him, Andrew Booth, Sauce Gardner and my personal favorite Trent McDuffie, there are quite a few appetizing options at cornerback to consider at 21. I still think Stingley will be gone by 21, but any of those corners would make sense. I'd also keep an eye on offensive line and edge in that slot. I'm all about Day Two for wide receiver. -Mike Dussault

Are any of the young offensive linemen like Herron, Sherman, Cajuste able to start? -John Bowes

That's a good question to consider when you look at the injury history of the projected starting tackles. Sherman seems like he's probably headed to guard, where it would be fair to wonder if he's in position to take a big step forward in Year Two. Cajuste played 77 snaps at right tackle in 2021, Herron played a balanced 187 at left tackle and 182 at right tackle in 2021, and had a similar breakdown in 2020 (LT – 223 snaps, RT – 119 snaps). That's good experience for Herron and while I'd pencil him in as the swing backup I think taking a tackle early in the draft is a big need and that player could supplant him if he doesn't make some strides. Cajuste could be a wild card as well now that he's finally gotten some experience as he heads into his fourth season. Let's not forget he was a third-round pick. -Mike Dussault

Alabama wide receiver John Metchie III (8)
Alabama wide receiver John Metchie III (8)

Like most years, everything I read says there are really only 12-15 legitimate first round picks. So I really believe BB will trade down in the draft. When I look at the trade chart, trading down to say pick no. 38 (Cincy) we could pick up a 3rd and 4th round pick. It seems to me this make more sense with all the holes we need to fill. In fact, I believe BB will trade down multiple times to accumulate more picks (maybe 2 or 3 times). Secondly, what is the value of a future pick, say our first round pick next season. Sure we don't know where it will be, but if you put an estimate of 24 what would that get us this year. -Badax Michaud

Given the Patriots' needs I wouldn't be surprised to see them trade down from 21 into the early 30s while picking up additional picks. In the mock drafts that I have run, I'm far more satisfied when I had four Day Two picks rather than just one each in the first, second and third rounds. A rule of thumb for future picks is that you get a pick that is one round higher than what you're giving up, but it gets a bit more complicated with first-round picks. For reference, here's what the Pats gave up to get Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower in 2012 when they were the ones trading up. The Pats traded picks 27 and 93 for pick 21 where they took Chandler Jones, then traded picks 31 and 126 for pick 25 and took Dont'a Hightower. -Mike Dussault

My name is Isaac Rosenbloom and I'm 14 years old. I live in NYC but I was born in Brookline so I'm a lifelong Pats fan! I play tackle football in NYC and I'm a quarterback. My dream is to make it to the NFL. My question is who do you think would be the best WR the Patriots could draft. I think Metchie because he is one those guys that I can see being a number one WR which we need. I don't see someone like Jameson Williams being a number one receiver for any team although I do think he will be a solid receiver. I could see Williams having a career like a faster Sammy Watkins. Also I like Metchie because he already has a connection with Mac. Thx and I love your show.Isaac Rosenbloom

Thanks Isaac and best of luck to you in your football career. I'm with you on Metchie, he's a good combination of a Day Two receiver who has some history with Mac but also has the kind of reliable skillset the Patriots could use an injection of. I'm not as high on Williams fit in New England, though I certainly wouldn't shoot down any of the top-rated receivers coming to New England. I just have my favorites and those are Treylon Burks, Garrett Wilson and Metchie, along with later round slot receiver Kyle Phillips, who looks like a Wes Welker cosplayer. Jahan Dotson, Skyy Moore, Wan'Dale Robinson… there are lots of options up and down the draft at receiver, if they don't get at least one in the first couple days I'll be frustrated. -Mike Dussault

If you're the Pats in Round 1 and you had the choice between Nakobe Dean, Devin Loyd Jameson Williams or Chris Olave who would you pick? -Brian F

With this group I'd go with Lloyd easily as he has the size, athleticism and versatility to do a number of things within the Patriots defense. Dean's size is a concern though his instincts and quickness are remarkable. I just have a hard time seeing him check all the boxes necessary to be a first-round pick for the Patriots defense, they need sure things and it's hard to say he's a sure thing for me. Williams obviously will need recovery time and his athletic profile is undeniable but when I think of the Patriots offense and what they ask of their receivers, I have some trepidation whether he could be the same kind of factor that he was in college. Olave is clearly the smoothest receiver in the class but I have concerns about going against physical teams and coverages for him. I'm not as enamored as others are with him in the Patriots' spot at 21. I always lean toward hard chargers that are physical after the catch and get yards after contact. The Patriots will do their due diligence on all these guys, but it's not much of a stretch to see how quite of few of them could instant game-changers. -Mike Dussault

Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd (0)
Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd (0)

In your opinion, where is there more value: a true number one wide receiver or a true game changing edge rusher? I ask that because I am torn between the importance of having a true shut down corner if you have an edge rusher who speeds the timing up of the opposing QB and doesnt make it as necessary for DBs to cover as long versus a guy who can take over a game as a receiving threat and move the chains and put points on the board. A long-winded way of saying EDGE or WR 1? -Hugh Sager

It's a worthwhile debate and it's easy to make arguments for both sides. A WR1 changes the way an entire defense has to play you, but his direct impact can be limited. A true EDGE1 changes the way an offense must protect but extra attention can take him out of the game as well. I think the answer you get depended heavily on who was on the mailbag and this week it's me so I'm going to go with EDGE1. The quarterback should be "the guy" on offense, and you need one of those for the defense as well, often a versatile edge defender who gets moved around the defensive front to expose matchups. Disrupting the quarterback is everything these days and if you have someone who can do that, you're going to be able to make the big plays that close out games. -Mike Dussault

I'm probably expressing frustration more than asking a question here, but honestly I'm tired of hearing "be patient with Bill". I consistently read where we should be patient as making no moves is the way Bill has always done it. Yes, that may be true, but that was when we had Brady. Having Brady and pretty much anybody at receiver made us a playoff team. Yes, Mac looked "good" last year. But he did not seem to elevate the people around him. Yes, I know he was a rookie, but the loss of McDaniel and the thinking that Judge is the "offensive guy" does NOT give me hope for the future with Mac. In my mind, he is likely to regress, particularly with a MUCH weaker O-Line and no improvement in the receiving corps which was only decent at best. We don't have a great position in the draft, and with the exception of last year, we haven't done well in the draft on offense very often. When I look at the Bills who got a lot better on top of owning us last year, the Chargers, Raiders, Broncos, Ravens, etc who all get a lot better and then look at the Pats who at best treaded water on a good team that wore out down the stretch and had no answers for elite offenses I can't accept "be patient". So my question, specifically, is what do you point to that should make me think we can defeat the Bills, Chiefs, Broncos, Raiders, Chargers, and even the Dolphins? I'm not seeing it. Thanks. -Vince Tumminello

Why is all the optimism reserved for everyone else, where apparently every big-name addition will absolutely be a slam dunk across the league, while everyone on the Patriots will certainly regress? The truth is somewhere in the middle, some of last year's young Patriots will improve and some of those huge signings won't quite work out like everyone assumes they will. So, it took a 7-9 Cam Newton pandemic season, a 10-7 trip to the playoffs with a rookie and an unsatisfactory free agency start for you to lose all faith in Bill Belichick's coaching philosophy? Are we to believe the post-Brady mode of team building should now be to just start collecting every big-name free agent that they can? I'm staying the course here in late-March. I believe the Patriots sustained success for 20 years not solely because of Brady, despite what a huge part of it as he was. They were competitive in 2008, 2020 and 2021 and I expect they'll continue to be competitive going forward by staying true to what they believe. They were measured, opportunistic and, most importantly, they hit on critical needs in the draft when they needed to. Burning draft picks for stars is the hot trend right now, maybe teams will sustain success with that method, but I have my doubts when their depth is tested and they've got no more high picks to give.

I respect that the Patriots are staying true to what they believed before Tom Brady, during Tom Brady and now after Tom Brady. I also just don't think the most direct route to taking the 2021 Patriots back to championship level was to throw everything at the wall in '22 Free Agency. It needs to be driven by the next generation of Patriots, starting with Mac and last year's class, and then carrying that over to this year's class. They need continuity and development, not more overpays on the open market. They have enough draft capital and their finances are such that they can continue to be opportunistic without being hamstrung. Hit on another two or three rookies this spring, allow for some development of their young players and you just might be surprised that you end up with a promising young football team with all the resources they need to get to the next level and stay there for another extended period of time. -Mike Dussault

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