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Patriots Mailbag: Remaining Free Agent Options, O-Line Projections and Maye's Timeline

Patriots fans are counting down the final weeks until training camp with questions about potential free agent additions, when Drake Maye should play and how the OL could shake out in 2025.


So I am sitting here by a campfire, loons calling over the lake and a Samuel Adams in my hand and I know many people are freaked out about the Patriots and this brutal schedule. Is there something I'm missing? I have been a fan of this team since 1972. I don't expect them to even be playoff ready this year. I do expect to see a team that has turned the corner and maybe even with a tough schedule get to 6 or 7 wins and a few losses that leave you saying, "damn they made that a game and almost won". Tell me am I crazy to think there is more positive than negative to see this year? - Jeff Stanley

Personally I don't get too worked up about the schedule because to me a successful season always starts with the same there divisional opponents, Buffalo, Miami and the Jets. Those teams look pretty much the same to me as they did last year, even if Buffalo and Miami are starting to have some rising questions. I think those six games will tell us a lot more about where the Patriots are at than the other 11, certainly how far they are away from legitimately contending for the AFC East crown.

The schedule's difficulty is always attached to last year's performance and a lot changes from year to year so who knows how tough or not this schedule actually will be. Another big factor this year is that it's a total reset. All we really might know is that the defense should be pretty good, but even then we're assuming there won't be much dropoff without Bill and Steve Belichick involved in the defense and that's a pretty big leap.

So yes, expectations should be more in line with what you're saying, Jeff. This is a team that is somewhat in a holding pattern until their quarterback who was picked third overall is ready to start. A theme this year for me is searching for sparks, for players with star potential that can lift the team out of the basement. If new faces start to shine and we see some sparks to build a winning fire out of and maybe gain confidence that the gap between the rest of the division and New England isn't quite as big as we might've thought, then I think this season will be a positive success regardless of win totals. - Mike Dussault

At this writing (7/3/24) the Pats have about $44 million in 2024 cap space which is #1 in the league by far. The Dolphins at #17 in the league have $16m, the Bills at #24 have $10m and the lowly Jets at #29 have but $6m. All total, the Pats have $12m more than all their division rivals COMBINED. Those other teams have little room to add too much talent at this point. How do you see the Pats competing for proven veterans as training camp cut downs occur or for other experienced veterans who have not yet signed? - Steve Murawski

Patriots linebacker Matthew Judon takes the field ahead of a game vs. the Cowboys on Oct. 1, 2023.
Patriots linebacker Matthew Judon takes the field ahead of a game vs. the Cowboys on Oct. 1, 2023.

I think the first places to look are at Matthew Judon, who almost certainly is in line for some kind of contract tweak at least, and Davon Godchaux, who also is looking for more money this season. Those two players shouldn't take up all of that space so you're right to keep an eye on the veteran market. David Baktiari is a 32-year-old veteran who could give the Patriots another option at left tackle if their plan with Chuks Okorafor doesn't work out or if injuries further deplete the tackle depth. Donovan Smith is another veteran tackle still available to consider.

Stephon Gilmore could make sense for a reunion if the Pats' depth at cornerback doesn't step up. Players like Isaiah Bolden, Alex Austin and Marco Wilson all have chances to win roles, but Gilmore would still be an appealing option to join Jonathan Jones and Christian Gonzalez as the top trio. OLB Carl Lawson could warrant consideration if injuries hit the edge spot again this year or they can't figure something out with Judon, same with Emmanuel Ogbah.

I think a lot of fans are lamenting the huge amount of cap space but I am a big fan of the measured approached taken by the new Patriots management. They locked up their own core players first and have stocked their biggest question mark positions with a lot of depth. They don't have a bunch of overpriced free agent deals hanging over their heads. They have maintained flexibility, which I believe is key during a rebuild so you can identify the pieces you want to build around and move on from pieces that won't fit.

One final internal move that I'd make is to extend Jabrill Peppers, another of the in-hoouse guys who should become a long-term cornerstone. - Mike Dussault

In looking at the Patriots roster, is there any indication about what will be the offense's focus? Will it be focused on the running or passing game or will the team take a well-balanced approach? - Ed Helinski

I think we can say they're going to want to run the ball first to get things in gear, but after that it's hard to truly project how they'll do it. Signs point toward a lot of wide zone running, however both the offensive linemen and running backs aren't ideal fits for that kind of attack. Will they tailor more inside zone or gap runs to their offense? I think they could and it would be one of the surprising twists on offense that no one is really expecting. Alex Van Pelt has told us the scheme has to be made to fit the players and certainly in his first year in New England he could be forced out of his comfort zone simply because they don't have the entirely correct personnel.

I don't think this will be a spread offense that spends no time under center and runs a lot of four-receiver packages. Everything will be tied to a successful ground game, which leads to play action shots downfield. It may take a couple of years to get the personnel entirely right, but in Year 1 I'd expect a lot of two tight ends, a lot of Stevenson and Gibson and the chance for their speediest receivers to make splash plays down the field. - Mike Dussault

Hey guys, thanks for the insight about what is happening in Patriots land. We'll take any tidbits this time of year. I think that the Pats should work out some kind of deal with Judon so he can play out his career in New England. You're not going to get that kind of experienced and effective pass rush from a new young player for years. If he is good enough for another team to use then the Pats should use him. I'm sure that they could work out a deal...what do you guys really think.? - Daniel Micue

I tend to agree even though Judon is one of their only real trade assets and it's hard to see him being a part of the next great Patriots team, whenever that happens. So yeah, I'd give him a two-year deal now for 2024 and 2025, maybe even with some fake void years tacked on to spread out the hit a bit. Simply put, Judon is their best front seven player and aside from last year he's been incredibly resilient. There isn't much behind him and with Uche due for free agency again the edge spot is a major concern for 2025 already. I like that the front office has focused on younger players for their offseason extensions, but Judon is one veteran that I think would be worth keeping around for at least the next two seasons. - Mike Dussault

I know there is a lot of debate as to when Drake Maye will play. I was of the opinion that he should sit for a while but I reviewed the games last season. There were multiple games where the defense gave opportunity after opportunity for the offense to win games and they couldn't get the job done. That was a defense with Gonzalez and Judon for most of the year. Obviously, Bill and Steve have left but for the most part the talent on defense is there and could theoretically be stronger from a talent perspective. If the defense is elite and shuts down teams does that speed up when Drake plays? You wouldn't need him to play hero ball and he would learn to manage a game, something that seems to be criminally underrated in QB evaluation, and even if he was a little raw the defense could ball him out. - Steve O'Brine

Patriots quarterbacks Drake Maye (left) and Jacoby Brissett (right) run drills at mandatory minicamp on June 10, 2024.
Patriots quarterbacks Drake Maye (left) and Jacoby Brissett (right) run drills at mandatory minicamp on June 10, 2024.

Yeah, I'm with you Steve, although I'd point out that Gonzo and Judon only lasted four games each. Still, your point stands, the defense continued to play at a high level even without those two, even if their pass defense did trail off. With those two back in the mix, there's no reason why they can't be a top-10 defense and that's why I think the sooner Maye gets in there the better. We've talked a lot about this on PU since Drake was selected. Once we saw him on the field looking as comfortable as any of the rookie QBs I've seen during my time, it felt like the clock began to tick louder and louder. If the offense in training camp looks basically the same under Brissett or Maye, what are we waiting for? There are plenty of opinions from former quarterbacks saying they didn't learn much of anything sitting and being a backup. While I still think there's value to easing Drake in, letting him see what kind of adjustments need to happen on the fly in the NFL, each week the itch to see him play will get bigger and bigger, especially if he picks up in training camp where he left off minicamp, firing a touchdown pass to Ja'Lynn Polk on the offseason's final play. - Mike Dussault

Greetings from steamy and humid Virginia. Any ideas as to who the free agent left tackles could potentially be next year and who do you see as the #1 tackle in the draft in 2025,Center will be an issue next year potentially as well. Thoughts on the rebuild of the O-line? - Hugh Sager

Free agent left tackles for 2024: Cam Robinson (JAX), Garrett Bolles (DEN), Taylor Decker (DET) and Ronnie Stanley (BAL). All of those players will be over 30 next offseason. Tristan Wirfs will be a free agent as well and is looking to get paid now. He'll be 27 in 2025 and would be one to throw the bag at if he hit free agency. Otherwise, there are some good tackles to consider at the top of the 2025 draft, including Will Campbell (LSU), Kelvin Banks (Texas) and Earnest Greene (Georgia). Campbell and Banks are projected inside the top five picks and are potential franchise left tackles.

I think the OL will be ok this year, but I think a reasonably optimistic projection would be that Sow settles in as a very good LG, while Caeden Wallace is good enough on the right side that it allows Mike Onwenu to go back to RG. David Andrews is locked up through 2025 so I'm just going to assume center is in good hands. I'd like to see Okorafor hold the fort at left tackle for2024 but still think they'll need a long-term answer there in 2025, and it's hard to bang the table for Campbell or Banks knowing it would take another four-to-five-win season to be able to land either of them. But it seems like it could all line up for a high-pick tackle in 2025, although don't ignore the edge rushers. That could be another position of significant need depending on Judon and it's a stacked class that would be worth tapping. - Mike Dussault

After listening to Tom Brady at his Hall Of Fame ceremony talk about how much the New England Patriots and the fan base meant to him I got the feeling that even though he won another Lombardi in Tampa Bay a large portion of him wishes he stayed till the end and had seen where it would have went. Mike if TB12 and Bill Belichick could do that portion of their lifetime over again do you think that they would have done it differently or do you believe that these two great men were always going to finish their careers in separate places? - Marc Saez

It's easy after all the feel-good memories that came from Tom's retirement ceremony to try to imagine how things might've been different at the end. Even hearing Tom recently say he wished he wasn't so serious was a little jarring. That seriousness is part of what made him great in my book. Ultimately, I think the things that made Bill and Tom great had to eventually be the things that resulted in how it all ended. Tom's seriousness and highly demanding nature was perfectly mirrored by Belichick. Bill was hard to play for but so was Tom. Hence they drove each other to unparalleled heights. But I think things just snowballed too much from 2017 to 2018 and into 2019, when we started to see a team that couldn't just look to Tom to take them deep into the playoffs. There are a lot of little problem points that played a part. It wasn't just Tom and Bill got sick of each other and then it all fell apart. There were coaching and player departures that were never overcome, there were draft misses and suddenly there was a rise of bad football that accelerated post-Brady and ultimately left the 2023 Patriots looking like a shell of the team that had won a championship five years earlier. A team consistently built to at least play good football around the quarterback. That was no longer the case by the end, it was a team that beat themselves as much as other teams took them to the proverbial woodshed.

It's amazing that it lasted for 20 years but unless they both just retired after walking off the field after Super Bowl 53 I believe it always was going to end like it did. - Mike Dussault

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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