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Replay: Patriots Unfiltered Tue May 21 - 02:00 PM | Thu May 23 - 09:55 AM

Patriots Mailbag: Reassessing things at the bye

The bye week has brought a lot of frustration among fans looking for changes.

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Can you explain the rationale of those saying that Bill Belichick should be fired before the season ends? I am disgusted with him as the general manager but he is a great coach (HOF for sure). Surely, he is worth as much as Sean Payton to the right team, Commanders, Giants, Bears, Panthers, Chargers even the Cardinals. Why would the Krafts, whose business acumen is highly regarded, throw away a valuable commodity?
David Brown

I agree there is nothing to be gained by firing a coach in the middle of the season. Unless under extreme circumstances where the players are openly revolting against the coach, there aren't many reasons for teams to do that. As for Belichick, I don't think we've reached that point and I agree there's no reason to let him go now. As for what he would potentially be worth down the road, who knows? You mention Payton but ignore the difference in age between he and Belichick. Under best circumstances maybe Belichick has a few more years left. He will be 72 at the start of the 2024 season and it's hard to imagine him going much beyond 75. So, while the Saints got first- and second-round picks for Payton and a third-rounder, at age 59 that's a huge difference. The Broncos made that move believing if Payton worked out he'd be their coach for the foreseeable future. So far it hasn't been a great move for Denver but there have been signs of life lately. I'm not sure what Belichick would command on the open market, assuming he's even available in the offseason.

Can Bill O'Brien please hold a card up in front of his face when calling plays on the sidelines? It seems every time the camera is on him I can see him talking, calling out offensive plays.
Duane Freeman

I'll do my best to pass along your concerns, but I think the Patriots offense has many more pressing problems to worry about. And no one needed any cards to see how he felt on the bench when he was talking to Mac Jones in Germany.

My question is why haven't the Patriots benched Mac Jones for either Bailey Zappe or Will Grier? Mac Jones is inconsistent, which has contributed to the eight losses. Why not give another QB the chance to right the ship?
Jacqueline Rex

This is a perfectly acceptable request and one that I honestly share at this point. And based on the end of the Colts game it certainly seems like Belichick has reached that point as well. Whether or not you believe Zappe or Grier is the answer moving forward, it's hard to imagine any reason not to give them a shot. When Zappe started his two games last season the offense appeared to run more smoothly than it did in most of Jones' starts. Zappe then suffered through a tough training camp and preseason, eventually getting cut before being re-signed to the practice squad after clearing waivers. So, it's clear the coaches didn't feel he was pushing for playing time during the summer. I don't think Zappe was pushing for playing time last year, either, but when injuries to Jones and Brian Hoyer forced him into action he played reasonably well. Why not take a chance and see how Zappe plays this time around? As for Grier, maybe the coaches are trying to give him more time to acclimate himself to the system before throwing him into the fire. But at some point Jones has to start avoiding the mistakes that are plaguing the offense, and maybe Belichick's choice to pull him with the game on the line is an indication of more permanent changes.

I read your mailbag comments about Mac Jones and agree with you. Jones is not comfortable in the pocket, it's obvious he expects blocking to break down and is looking to just get rid of the ball. As you said many of his throws are off his back foot or he is falling backward; and he just doesn't have the arm strength to do that. A young QB needs a good offensive line that can run and pass block. Next he needs a strong running game. Third he needs some weapons, not necessarily a Jamar Chase or Tyreek Hill, Cee Dee Lamb, but guys who can get open and catch the ball – Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola or how about Jakobi Meyers. He could also use a pass catching RB like James White, Dion Lewis or Kevin Faulk. Personally, I blame most of what's wrong with Mac on Belichick. I'm wondering if Jones has been completely destroyed over the last two years.
Badax Michaud

Neither Bill Belichick nor any of the offensive coaches have ever instructed Mac Jones to keep his eyes on the pass rush and throw passes repeatedly falling away off his back foot. Yet, that's what Jones has done consistently over the course of the season. Putting the shortcomings mostly on Belichick is not fair to the coach. You want receivers who get open, yet both Hunter Henry (on second-to-last red zone drive) and Mike Gesicki (last one) were available for routine touchdown passes but each time Jones misfired. He was lucky to get away with the first when the Colts Julian Blackmon dropped an easy pick and then wasn't as fortunate when he underthrew Gesicki and Rodney Thomas intercepted the short-armed, back-foot floater. The pass protection wasn't nearly as bad as Jones made it look throughout the game, but he consistently looked to move out of the pocket and instead of keeping his eyes downfield he tried to run before eventually getting sacked. Yes the Patriots don't have an exceptionally talented roster of players on offense, but Jones hasn't done much to lift those around him. And that's what solid starting quarterbacks do in the NFL.

With a lot of the benching guys and even cutting Jack Jones in a position that's already thin, do you think Bill is losing the locker room? I don't see the effort on the field, I'd love to watch the all-22 and see what Mac is seeing, or how the defense is lining up, but from my vantage point it just seems like players aren't fighting like they used too. Do you see that same lack of effort or is it just being simply out-talented?
Phillip Norria

Those kinds of questions are tough to answer because we don't always have all the information necessary. From my perspective watching the team this year I'd say the biggest problem by far has been talent. In most games the opponents have had more talented players than the Patriots and that has been the difference in many of the games. I haven't seen many instances where I've wondered about the effort or intensity of the players. I feel for the most part they've been playing hard but haven't always played with discipline and execution. Like I said, they've fallen short mostly because the opponents have been better. I'm not saying this has been the case 100 percent of the time, but overall I don't think effort has been the problem.

It's been said that the Patriots have a ton of cap space and most likely will have a top-five pick as well. You guys know who is hitting the free agent market. From what I've heard not so much with regard to positions with the most glaring need (tackle and wide receiver). How would you approach the offseason?
Peter Boll

There actually are a number of solid wide receivers who might be free agents in 2024 depending on how their teams deal with them. At the top of the list in my view is Cincinnati's Tee Higgins. He would require a pretty sizable deal, however. Mike Evans also is set to hit the market. Calvin Ridley is also heading toward free agency, so there are some pretty talented options. Moving down the line Michael Pittman and Gabe Davis might make some sense as well. The tackle spot is less impressive but there will be options there as well. Cincy's Jonah Williams could be available but most of the potential tackles would be depth pieces at this stage. Building a team through free agency is difficult and rarely works, so the Patriots will likely look to add some pieces while focusing more on the draft, where they project to be picking near the top of each round. Rebuilding is difficult but unfortunately that's where the Patriots are at this point. If they wind up picking in the top five, there should be some very talented players to choose from even if the quarterback they desire isn't available.

I have been a Mac apologist. I thought he needed help from the O-line. After that throw that ended all hope against the Colts I'm now on board the dump Mac train. He's had chance after chance and always comes up short, and he always looks like he's playing like he's scared to death. Is it time to draft a new QB and give up on Mac?
Dave Phillips

Considering that the Patriots left at least 14 points on the field again the Colts and it seems that Mac Jones has zero confidence and under throws a wide open Mike Gesicki in the end zone near the end and Jones was benched for Zappe a third time this year, is it time for the Patriots to make a change at quarterback? With the way Jones has played, I would be shocked that they win another game this year.
Nicholas Robson

I feel we've reached that point. At the moment the Patriots look like they are headed to a top-five pick and if the season finishes that way then they will have an opportunity to be in position to take a quarterback. I would never advocate for taking a quarterback just for the sake of taking one. If the brain trust feels Caleb Williams or Drake Maye or some other quarterback is worthy of such a selection, then I feel they have to do it. But I don't want to just take one if they don't feel it's the best option. There will be a lot of tough questions to be answered in the coming months as New England tries to work its way back into contention.

The New England Patriots take on the Indianapolis Colts in Week 10 at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, November 12, 2023.

How foolish was it for Belichick to keep exposing Demario Douglas to the waiver wire? That should prove his inability to grade wide receivers. Remember, he also let Julian Edelman walk away one year and lost Wes Welker to free agency, and let's not forget the JuJu Smith-Schuster tragedy this year.
David Brown

Well the Patriots never exposed Douglas to waivers so I'm not really sure what the point of this is. Belichick never cut Douglas and therefore he was never on waivers. He's been on the active 53-man roster every week of the season. As for Edelman and Welker, I think you could find much better examples of Belichick struggling with the wide receiver position. Both of those guys came and excelled in the Patriots system under Belichick. Both were free agents and Edelman wound up staying while Welker left. But both had extremely productive careers with the Patriots. Smith-Schuster hasn't had a great season and he would be the lone example of your point, and based on the state of the offense as a whole I'm not sure how much of that is his fault.

Paul I know that you have endured the very worst days of the franchise from before Robert Kraft stepped in and rescued long suffering fans from the pits of despair, so can you give me your honest opinion on where this completely disjointed underachieving team ranks alongside the disastrous teams from years gone by and do you believe that anything can be rescued from this dumpster fire of a season and if not what in your view what would be the right way to handle the situation?
Marc Saez

I will start by saying I do not think this team is underachieving but instead just isn't quite good enough to win these games. That said, I don't think this is anywhere near as bad as it was back in the early 1990s when the team not only couldn't win games but it also dealt with embarrassing off-field controversies that made the team a laughing stock. Robert Kraft buying the team from James Orthwein went a long way toward fixing those issues. The Rod Rust era of 1990 when the team went 1-15 and had issues with reporters in the locker room was much more a sense of despair than anything going on in this disappointing season.

Team photographers David Silverman and Eric J. Adler present their best photos from the Patriots international series game against the Indianapolis Colts in Frankfurt, Germany on Sunday, Nov. 12, 2023.

I know there is a lot of debate as to whether a professional team would actually tank, but surely that's the best possible course for the Patriots now? I realize it would be hard for Belichick to consider this but currently they are in third in draft order and have a shot at drafting a potential franchise QB. If they lose to the Giants they would be in the second spot. I can't see any argument for not rolling over. Can you?
Len Carmody

Professional pride. Respect for the game. Respect for the players who are playing for their futures in the league. It's easy to sit from the outside and say tank the season for a better draft pick but it's much more difficult to tell 53 players that they shouldn't be doing their best to win and that the coaches won't be doing the best they can to make that happen. I would say play more young players and try to get experience for them moving forward. But tanking shouldn't be an option.

If Mac had just turned out to be a competent QB, not a Patrick Mahomes or Joe Burrow, but a normal competent QB who makes the plays when he needs to make them, would we still be saying all this about Bill has to go etc? From what I can see, yes Bill has made some horrendously awful draft selections but the QB play of Mac Jones has not been good enough for three years and if we had a half decent run of the mill guy up front we wouldn't be in this mess.
Robert Edwards

Part of being a coach is drafting and developing players and the biggest reason the Patriots are in the situation they are currently in has more to do with failings in that regard than anything else. Yes, Mac Jones has struggled and he's responsible for his performance. But he also was a draft pick who hasn't developed to the point where the offense can operate smoothly. And Belichick also is responsible for the lack of talent around him as the de facto general manager so ultimately it's on him. At this point there's a lot of problems going on with the Patriots and Belichick and Jones are certainly among them.

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