With so many issues everywhere what do you see as the top three items the Patriots must do in the offseason to even begin to resemble a functional NFL team. - Paul Oleksak
Nice straightforward question to lead us off this week, so I'll try to provide a simplistic straightforward answer. In no particular order the Patriots need to find a quarterback, fix the offensive line and add some weapons in the passing game. Those would be my three top priorities when it comes to getting the Patriots back on track. Obviously it's easy to say that but much more difficult to execute it. But with a mix of the draft and some shrewd free agent signings I feel like the Patriots can at least put some of these improvements in place, particularly the offensive line. Adding one high in the draft as well as a veteran through free agency could make the group look a lot better right away. Lots of work to be done for sure.
Are the Patriots wide receivers really fully gradeable when you consider that the offensive line could not block pass plays of more than 10 yards with any consistency, and the QB had the yips in the pocket and essentially imploded? I see so much criticism of the wide receivers and people wondering why Rhamondre Stevenson wasn't playing well. If the line and or quarterback fails, does it matter if you have Jerry Rice flanked wide? -
I agree to an extent – certainly the line and the quarterback are bigger issues than the pass catchers. But there is a need for an upgrade at wideout too. Kendrick Bourne and DeMario Douglas are solid complementary pieces – maybe third and fourth options on a good team. DeVante Parker is injury prone and inconsistent. They need an overhaul at that spot. You mention that no one would succeed with the Patriots issues along the line and at quarterback. The Jets have a terrible offensive line, especially after losing Alijah Vera-Tucker for the season, and the quarterback play was a disaster. Yet Garrett Wilson still managed to catch 95 passes for 1,042 yards despite constant double teams and erratic quarterback play. Breece Hall fell 6 yards short of 1,000 coming off a torn ACL and added 76 catches for another 600 yards as a receiver. So, if the players are talented enough they can overcome shortcomings around them. The Patriots absolutely need to upgrade the line and quarterback but they need to get better weapons as well.
I think Jerod Mayo has all the tools to be a great coach, the only question mark for me is NFL coaching experience. Can you give us some details at what the defensive coordinator responsibilities split between Mayo and Steve Belichick was this past season? - John Smolak
There is still plenty of uncertainly as to exactly how the duties of the coaching staff were divided on defense but both Mayo and Steve Belichick had roles in leading the unit. As it has been explained to me in the past, Bill Belichick has been largely responsible for coming up with the game plans most weeks while Steve Belichick calls the plays during the games. Mayo's strength comes in the form of relaying the message to the players during the week as they prepare for Sunday. Mayo generally led the defensive team meetings, explaining the game plan and how it would be implemented to the players. Then on game day he helped with the personnel groupings and organization while Steve Belichick called in the plays. That's a simplistic explanation to be sure but that's how I understand it worked.
We all know the Patriots need to find young talent wherever they can get it. They've had way too many drafts recently where they've gotten basically nothing out of them. However, if you were talking about specific positions outside of the obvious (QB, WR, OT), which positions do you think they may target early in the draft that could surprise us? - Cory Palmer
The Patriots roster is such that I wouldn't be overly surprised to see the team select virtually any position. Clearly I feel the offense needs to be addressed first and foremost, but I could see a talented edge rusher or even another cornerback to pair with Christian Gonzalez being taken early on. The defense performed well for the most part but there isn't a lot of depth at most spots. And edge rusher is a position that is always at or near the top of my list just because of the importance of having players who disrupt the passing game. So, while I believe the offense will and should be the top priority, I wouldn't be stunned to see a defensive player or two selected over the first two days of the draft.
I'm wondering what is going to happen to the rest of the coaching staff now that Bill Belichick is gone and Jerod Mayo is in? Certainly, Bill's sons will go with him wherever he ends up and I wouldn't be surprised to see some of the other coaches go with him too. How much of the holdovers do you think will remain with the team? Somehow I don't see Billy O'Brien wanting to answer to a coach 20 years younger than him. And typically when a new coach is brought in, he fills his own staff. But Jerod being an internal hire, he may want to keep as much continuity as possible. And for the holes he does need to fill, I wonder how much harder it is for someone Jerod's age without the decades of relationships that Bill had. So, what are your thoughts on all of this? - Joel Lindgren
I think you make a lot of solid points when it comes to assembling the coaching staff. It will be interesting to see what Steve and Brian Belichick decide in terms of their future. I agree with you that the most likely outcome is them joining their father at his next stop – assuming there is one. But I also could see them staying with Mayo. Steve and Mayo have a strong relationship and worked well together in their time running the defense. I wouldn't be stunned if they decided to stay. O'Brien will probably look for another opportunity after a difficult season in New England, not necessarily because of the age difference between he and Mayo but rather due to the lack of weapons on the Patriots offense. I could see DeMarcus Covington sticking around, perhaps being elevated to defensive coordinator. The players have been very complimentary of his work along the defensive line the past few years. It might be tough for Mayo, who has only been coaching for a short time, to find suitable candidates to fill the open roles. However, he has been around the league as a player and coach for a while and should have some relationships to fall back on. We shall see.
After the way last season went, I'm OK with Bill Belichick and the Patriots mutually parting ways, and completely understand why Jerod Mayo is the new head coach because of his interpersonal skills and tactical acumen. My only reservation is that he hasn't had any experience as a coordinator and wasn't even doing the defensive play calling last season, so having the headset with complete oversight of defensive and offensive play calls, personnel groupings, timeouts, challenges and fourth down decision-making is a massive step up from his previous responsibilities. When it comes to standing on the sideline and making crucial decisions in high-pressure situations when the clock is ticking, do you have any reservations about his capacity to handle them and not be overwhelmed by the enormity of the role? - David Beckett
I absolutely do have some reservations about those things. I would have reservations about game management for any first-time head coach, whether he was a true coordinator in the past or not. First-time coaches need to learn all of the intricacies like clock management, challenges, fourth downs etc on the fly, and Mayo will be no different. Until a coach gains some experience making those tough decisions there's at least some uncertainty about it. I don't believe he will be overwhelmed by it but it will be something to watch as his first season gets underway.
I think moving on from Bill Belichick is short sighted. Belichick has nine Super Bowl appearances with the Patriots, and 20 winning seasons. The stock market doesn't rise every year. There are lows, and you don't sell during the down years. That is what the other teams do, and that is why they are long term losers. The Patriots need to stay the course with Bill, and if they do, they will be back. Would you move on from Bill at this time? - Matthew McCarthy
Obviously, it doesn't matter now what we think because it's done. The resume and past record are clearly beyond reproach. Belichick has accomplished more than any other coach in league history, so if the sole determining factor is track record then there would have been no decision to make. The question here is do you think Belichick is equipped to lead the team back out of the four-plus-year slump it's been in? Since the halfway point of 2019, when the team was 8-0 during Tom Brady's last season in New England, the Patriots are 33-44 including a pair of postseason losses (one with Brady and the other under Mac Jones in 2021). It's not just one down year … it's been three-and-a half terrible years and one good one that featured a 30-point playoff loss in the wild card round. Belichick's age certainly plays a role in that thinking as well, as it's unrealistic to expect him to still be coaching long enough to lead this turnaround. I completely understand why some fans are upset with the move but the bottom line is results and lately those results have not been good.
If the Patriots bring in a new general manager and turn his draft picks over to coach Bill Belichick why wouldn't that work? Belichick has a long history of success with good players, he just is poor at picking them. - Paul Noury
This is another post that came in before the Patriots announced the decision to move on from Belichick. I'm including it because I though Robert Kraft offered a good answer as to why he felt such a set up wouldn't work so I'm going to let him explain: "We thought about that, but, I've had experience running different businesses and trying to develop a team. When you have someone like Bill, who's had control over every decision, every coach we hire, the organization reports to him on the draft, and how much money we spend. Every decision has been his, and we've always supported him. To then take some of that power away and give it to someone else – accountability is important to me in every one of our companies, and where he had the responsibility and then someone else takes it, it's going to set up confusion. And, 'It was his pick and that was a bad pick' or 'He didn't play them right.' It just wouldn't work, in my opinion."
The 2022 draft class seems like a pivotal moment in the team's trajectory over the past two seasons with the top three offensive picks not performing as hoped. Tyquan Thornton and Pierre Strong were the fastest at their positions, and Cole Strange was measured as one of the most athletic guard prospects ever. This all points to these picks being made to fit the shift to a wide zone scheme. However, after that was quickly failed and abandoned, how much did these players find themselves miscast and that resulted in their underperformance? Both Thornton and Strong just seem to lack the ability to work through traffic and require space to be schemed open for them to utilize their speed, whereas Strange performed admirably (though was still undersized for the scheme) his rookie year before his unfortunate injury issues in 2023. - Mike Aboud
I'm not sure I go along with the narrative about players being selected with a change in offensive scheme in mind. I do feel the team made an effort to find more speed in the draft, at least as it relates to Thornton and Strong. Strange is a guard so his athleticism isn't necessarily something that would be targeted, but he is undersized and played at a lower level of competition and he has struggled in his two seasons. He was benched multiple times as a rookie and suffered through injuries in Year 2. Thornton is not a precise route-runner and I feel that's his biggest issue. He also has trouble separating from press coverage. I'm not sure those problems would be eliminated if the offensive scheme was any different. Strong seems like a guy the team gave up on too quickly. I'm not suggesting he is a budding star or anything but in very small opportunities he's shown some ability to make plays. While the potential to use more of the zone running schemes may have fit better with Strong's style, or even Strange's, I don't think the players were selected solely for those reasons. Strong and Thornton added athleticism to the lineup, which was needed regardless of scheme. Unfortunately neither has panned out.
We all know that Bill Belichick was upset with Mac Jones for seeking outside consultation in his second year under a foreign offensive coaching regime. Is it possible that Jones was intentionally given minimal support in terms of personnel and coaching going into Year 3? As such Belichick put the majority of quality draft assets into the defense? Not that the players selected weren't quality picks, but even they did not get a lot of opportunities this past year to develop. I worry that Bill's ego clouds his coaching and personnel judgement. - Scott Vierstra
So, I guess the suggestion here is Belichick was so upset with Jones that he was willing to lose his job rather than trying to do what he felt was best for the team? I agree the decision to take all defensive players early in the draft was curious. Obviously Christian Gonzalez was a solid choice but it's hard to imagine there were no offensive options in the following rounds until Day 3. But I'm not willing to go so far as the say Belichick wanted to sabotage Jones and the team and thus risk putting his job in jeopardy. I'm sure he wasn't pleased with the way Jones handled the 2022 season from how he took the coaching of Matt Patricia to dealing with those struggles and seeking outside help. But I don't think Belichick wanted to jeopardize his job just to prove a point. I think Belichick thought he was doing what was best for the team by keeping Jones under wraps. Clearly that didn't work.
With the dust thankfully settled on the diabolically painful 2023 season it seems like it is OK to start thinking about life after Belichick so can you give me your opinion on the potential benefits of maybe bringing onboard a young upstart who is in demand like Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson or would you prefer to go with Mike Vrabel the battle hardened coach with broad shoulders who has plenty of experience and a complete understanding of the franchise he is taking control of? - Marc Saez
Timing this week is definitely an issue with Jerod Mayo being announced as Belichick's successor already but we can still entertain varying points of view. Personally I was in favor of the new approach of finding an offensive mind to lead the way. Whether it was Johnson or Houston's Bobby Slowik or Washington's Eric Bienemy or some other young offensive coordinator. Not saying I would hire any of them, but I would have been interested in talking to as many of them as possible to get some differing thoughts on today's game. Vrabel obviously would have been a solid option with some experience under his belt as well as some success, although not over the last two seasons. Mayo certainly has worked to put himself in the position he's in and we're all looking forward to watching him grow as he attempts to start the rebuilding process.
Arguably the Patriots handling of offensive linemen has been just plain self-inflicted injury. Between trading proven assets and allowing assets to leave in free agency the group is a mess. Can one draft year and a large amount of free agent spending fix the problem in time for the upcoming season? The drain of linemen talent is well-documented and the league has several very good former Patriot offensive linemen contributing as starters in positions of need on the Patriot roster. - Bryant Smeeth
The Patriots will have high drafts picks in every round and should be able to add some quality options to the mix come the spring. I don't like the idea of investing heavily in free agency at that position but I wouldn't be opposed to finding a veteran option as well. The first order of business will be figuring out if you can keep Mike Onwenu, who will be a free agent. David Andrews said he felt he still had some gas left in the tank, and if Strange is healthy heading into 2024 the possibility of having a solid interior nucleus of Strange, Andrews and Onwenu exists. Jake Andrews also could be in that mix. The problem is at tackle and that's where I'd expect a high draft pick to be used – maybe a second-rounder. Keeping Onwenu and hitting on a tackle in the draft would change the outlook of the group immensely.
Why are the Patriots not seeing the potential in Nathan Rourke as next year's starter at QB? - M. Marynowski
Didn't expect to get a Nathan Rourke question in my mailbag this week … or any week really. Rourke is a project who has bounced around from the CFL to various team's practice squads. I don't think he's shown the ability to be a legitimate starting candidate in the league at this point. He will likely stick around and have the opportunity to be with the team throughout the offseason and learn the team's system. We'll see how he looks during the spring at OTAs and then during training camp and if there's some marked improvement then perhaps we'll rethink the idea of having Rourke in the mix.
It's a business. It was said by several experts the Patriots could get a first- or at least a second-round draft pick. Why didn't the Pats put it out there that Bill Belichick is available? - Ron Scarlata
Well first it's not about the Patriots putting it out there it would be about what team was Belichick interested in going to and then would that team be interested in giving a draft pick. It's a complicated and at times messy process that can take some time to sort out, and often isn't worth the hassle. Tennessee did the same thing with Mike Vrabel, opting to fire him rather than dealing with protracted delays. Again, I'll defer to Robert Kraft from his press conference last week: "We try to create a culture and develop an environment where people want to stay and stay long term. And, I guess if you look at this as a transaction, he is so valuable. In how we could extract something, I didn't think that was right. I didn't think it was right for Tom Brady, who gave us 20 years, and I don't think it's right for Bill. I think each of them earned the right to be in a position where they should do what's right for them, given what they have done for this franchise. So, some people might criticize me for not extracting as much value, and I understand that, but we just try to do what we think is right for the proper values and ability to operate and try to get people who want to come and feel that we're going to treat them fairly."
Letting Bill Belichick go is the most pathetic response ever to his achievements for this franchise and New England. No gratitude. No respect. Just pandering to the media storm. Most of which would never lose their jobs from a lousy column -- but should. Why has this travesty happened? - George Frode
I can assure you that Robert Kraft did not move on from Bill Belichick due to any media pressure. That's actually pretty silly. If the Patriots continued to win over the last four seasons as they had previously this wouldn't be an issue. But the fact is that has not been the case and the Patriots felt it was time to move on. And just to be clear people lose their jobs for poor performance all the time, media included.
Now that Jerod Mayo has been tabbed as the next Patriots coach, do we pick up an additional third-round pick from the NFL diversity hiring program? The way I read the incentive, he's been with us for more than two years, so we should get a pick at the end of the third round, after the other comp picks. - Badax Michaud
I do not believe this is the case. Teams are not awarded extra draft picks for promoting their own minority coaches. That would only be the case if another team hired Mayo as head coach, which in turn would net the Patriots third-rounds picks in each of the next two drafts. The program is designed to increase the incentive for teams to develop minority candidates and put them in position where other teams find them attractive. Otherwise teams could add to their draft picks simply by promoting their minority coaches to coordinator or head coaching roles. Developing coaches to the point where other teams have interest in them is a much different story – and much more difficult to do and therefore earns the organization draft picks when it happens.