Given the loss of key veteran players and in the midst of a very underwhelming set of 2020 draft selections, is it possible that Belichick and Co. may be setting themselves up for a poor 2020 season in hopes of landing a Top 5 draft pick next year (i.e., a decent QB) along with more compensatory picks? Would they be willing to "tank" the 2020 season for an earlier return to contender status in 2021 or 2022? Tony Ess
This is a popular talking point among some fans and media alike nowadays, but I don't subscribe to it. I think it's rather preposterous, actually. I can't tell you how many times I've heard Bill Belichick tell a reporter, "Believe it or not, we try to win every game." It's usually in response to some question about his team taking things lightly or resting players or the like, but the answer still merits consideration in this case. When he answers that way, he's clearly irked by the suggestion that he and his team are content to mail it in, regardless of the outcome.
So, no, I don't believe the 2020 Patriots are going to trip over themselves on the way to the worst record in football, just to have a guaranteed top pick in the 2021 Draft. Yes, New England should be in a better financial position, with respect to the salary cap, next season, and will likely have as many or more draft choices than this year. In theory, that should allow them to be more aggressive in terms of acquiring blue-chip talent, either in free agency or the draft, or both.
But the bottom line is still winning, and competitive people abhor losing. Besides, having a high first-round pick does not automatically ensure that a team is going to be a contender sooner or later, as you intimated in your question. Nor does having a new, young quarterback guarantee that your team will be a loser. I think we need to let this season unfold in order to evaluate how near or far this Patriots team is from remaining in the Super Bowl contender discussion.
Will 2020 be a tough transition? Perhaps. Maybe even likely. But that doesn't mean the Patriots won't try to win with whoever they have. Erik Scalavino
I'm over here in the U.K. – a Patriots fan since '82, so, I know all about suffering, too! – and was wondering, whichever QB ends up under center this season, who are we going to rely on to allow us to have an aerial game? Notwithstanding Lord Edelman of course, and the two TEs [drafted over the weekend], which I think will add a massive boost, I can't see anyone to enhance the long game. Am I missing something? Guy Wyn-Jones
I have no idea what these two tight end draft choices are capable of at this level, but unless they're anything like Rob Gronkowski splitting defenders down the seam, I don't expect much from them in terms of the long ball. If newcomer Marqise Lee can stay healthy, perhaps he'll contribute in that regard, as well as another free agent speedster, Damiere Byrd. So, your question is a legitimate one, but we probably won't have a definitive answer until we get into training camp and the preseason. Erik Scalavino
In a historically deep wide receiver draft class, the Patriots got none. What do you think is the best way for the team to address this roster need, given the need for time spent between QBs and WRs to build some chemistry? And also time needed for players outside of the organization to learn the system? Rosen Rashkov
Barring some sort of trade for a bona fide receiver threat, the time for acquiring such a player has come and gone, with free agency and the draft now in the books for 2020. New England still has salary cap limitations, so, there's very little more that the team can do at this point.
Meanwhile, time will tell if the receivers in this year's draft class are as historically good as they're being labeled right now. Your point, though, is a valid one. Wide receiver has been a glaring need for New England each of the past two seasons, and at the moment, it remains such. Erik Scalavino
It's Sunday morning [after the draft] as I write this, and as I understand it, the Patriots selected 10 players and got commitments from another 12 UDFAs. They've also got a reported approximately $1M in cap space, with [left guard Joe] Thuney's massive $14.8M salary hanging over their heads. So, cap space has to be cleared in order to sign these players, and soon, right? Do they trade, cut, or re-negotiate Thuney, [linebacker Dont'a] Hightower, [2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Stephon] Gilmore, or someone else? Finally, do you think this dearth of cap space played a significant role in BB trading down, out of the first round in order to avoid a big salary with some portions of it guaranteed? Thanks. Thomas DiGangi
As of this posting on Tuesday, New England has around 25 new rookies: the 10 draft choices, but another reported 15 undrafted rookie free agents (the UDFAs you referenced). So, yes, they desperately need to create breathing room beneath the salary cap, and renegotiating high-priced veterans' contracts is the best place to start, and soon. The limited financial space might have had some impact on the team's decision to trade out of the first round, but considering they almost always do so anyway, this had more to do with which players they were interested in who were also available at the time. Erik Scalavino
[Regarding the trade of Rob Gronkowski to Tampa Bay last week], how is a fourth-round draft pick the same value as an All-Pro tight end? We all know fourth-round draft picks can be hit or miss in the NFL, while Gronk is a known commodity. It's a maybe verses a sure thing. It's like buying a house after looking at pictures verses taking a tour, getting an inspection, comparing comps. How can the two be valued the same? I don't get it. Thanks for your insight. Pete in Camden, ME
First off, Pete, EVERY draft pick, regardless of round, is hit-or-miss. There are zero guarantees when it comes to rookies. That said, the Gronk trade, with his having come out of retirement, should be put in context. The most recent two NFL trades involved players who were heretofore retired were in 2017, when the Seattle Seahawks received a fifth-rounder in exchange for a Seattle sixth and RB Marshawn Lynch, one of the league's most productive ball carriers, and in 2014, when the Baltimore Ravens got a sixth-rounder for a seventh and LB Rolando McClain.
New England did better than both of those teams, getting a fourth in return for a seventh and a player of Gronkowski's caliber. Gronk's been out of football for more than a year, and in his final season with New England wasn't close to the dominant player he was just a few years before that. It remains to be seen if his hiatus reinvigorated him enough physically to do the kinds of things for Tampa that he once did for the Patriots. At this point, New England got as much as they could have reasonably expected in this deal, I'd say. Erik Scalavino
Will the Patriots' run game be more productive with the return of [center David] Andrews and [fullback] James Develin? Develin is a Pro Bowl fullback, but can he get back to a Pro Bowl level to help [RB Sony] Michel? Edward Guertin
I certainly hope so, Edward. Andrews' and Develin's absences in 2019 surely had a negative impact on the running game, which was so effective when both were in the mix during the Super Bowl run of 2018. Andrews seems to be well on his way to a full return, though.
We hadn't heard much in terms of Develin's status, which concerned me somewhat, until Monday, when my suspicions were confirmed and he announced his retirement due to complications from last year's neck injury. His loss will be difficult to overcome, but the Patriots have a pair of options in returning veteran Jakob Johnson and newcomer via free agency Danny Vitale.
If either or both men are able to contribute in 2020 as well as Develin did in the past, coupled with Andrews' expected return to full strength, that should be a positive for New England's rushing attack. Erik Scalavino
Am I the only person that doesn't understand the thing with [backup QB Brian] Hoyer, his stats showing almost as many INTs as TDs? Why would anyone have this guy to mentor anyone? He has never done anything worthy of even being watched in my opinion. Scott Mitchell
I'm assuming this isn't the same Scott Mitchell who once quarterbacked the Miami Dolphins and Detroit Lions. If so, though, it might explain the rather harsh assessment of Hoyer's career. In any event, Scott, Hoyer is an experienced veteran who knows this Patriots offense as well as any quarterback other than Tom Brady right now. So, having him around, even as a backup, is a logical move. I'm not a big believer in the whole "mentoring" of younger players by veterans. Meaning, I don't think it happens the way many in the media often portray it.
Clearly, Hoyer isn't a long-term solution at QB. As Bill Belichick told reporters following the draft, his team's not selecting a QB over the three days of picking was not by design. Hoyer is here as insurance right now, in case Jarrett Stidham, the presumed incumbent No. 1 QB, is, for whatever reason, unable to perform. That's how you should view it, and nothing more. Erik Scalavino
Hello from Vienna, Austria! What do you expect from players like Yodny Cajuste, Byron Cowart, Hjalte Froholdt, Damien Harris, and Derek Rivers during the coming season? I'm a great fan from Austria and want to say thank you for your ongoing reporting the whole year. Best regards, Matthias Olensky
Well, danke schön, Matthias! Of that group you listed, I'm most intrigued by Harris, the running back entering his second season. He didn't have much of an opportunity to showcase himself in 2019, but his skills (from what I've seen of his college tape) lead me to believe he'll have more of a chance this year to compete for playing time.
As for the others… I have concerns about Cajuste and Froholdt, a pair of linemen drafted last year, especially after the Patriots went to the o-line well a few more times this past weekend. That doesn't bode well for either man. Cowart saw some action as a 2019 rookie, and could continue in a complementary role this season. Rivers, meanwhile, is a great young man who seems to be cursed with injuries. I wish that wasn't the case, but after several years on this team, it'll be tough for him to establish himself if he can't stay on the field. Erik Scalavino
I know we had a pretty good defense last year, but would any of you consider the Patriots hiring Wade Phillips as Defensive Coordinator to mentor Steve Belichick and Jerod Mayo, allowing Bill to focus more on the offense this year? Tony Malcolm
What we think is of little consequence in this situation. What matters is what the head coach thinks, and my guess is, he'll stick with the squad of coaches he's already got. It's extremely rare for Belichick to reach outside Gillette Stadium for coaching assistants and assistance. As good a DC as Phillips is, I don't see him coming to Foxborough. If he were, we'd have already heard rumblings of that by now. Erik Scalavino
Why the big secret in posting members of the coaching staff for the 2020 season on the team's website? I can't believe [Bill Belichick] hasn't already settled on his staff. Specifically, who's going to coach the 1) offensive line, 2) defensive line, and 3) serve as defensive coordinator (if not Belichick himself)? Thanks. Edward Grady
We're at the mercy of the head coach, Edward. Whenever he decides to announce his staff, we'll gladly post the names on the website. Normally, we don't get that information until spring practices begin, but given that those workouts are taking place remotely this year, we might have to wait until training camp before we get any definitive word on assignments for the assistants this year.
My best educated guess (and that's all it is) is that Carmen Bricillo, a 2019 coaching assistant, will take over as O-line coach. Cole Popovich, last year's assistant running backs coach and a long-time coaching assistant here, is another option.
Any number of assistants could assume the D-line job, including, but not limited to: Brian Belichick, the coach's youngest son who's been on the staff as a coaching assistant for several years; Joe Kim, a pass rush coaching specialist the past couple seasons; even DeMarcus Covington, last year's outside linebackers coach. Covington has some D-line coaching experience on his résumé.
Your 2020 defensive coordinator could be Belichick, Mayo, or even Belichick's other son, Steve, based on what I observed of that group last season.
But you're right, I'm sure Belichick already knows who his staff will be and what they'll be doing in 2020. I wouldn't lose too much sleep over it. Erik Scalavino