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Patriots Unfiltered Q&A: Bracing for the Free Agency storm

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Will Julian Edelman play next year and will there be a lot of new weapons going forward in the 2021-2022 NFL season? –Jahsorn Blackman

It wasn't good news from Ian Rapoport that Edelman's status was still unknown as he's recovering from off-season surgery. Edelman has been beaten up a lot over the last two seasons and maybe we have to adjust our expectations that he could very possibly start the season on the PUP list and miss the first six weeks at least. Look, Jules could play with one leg and one arm and still be able to get you a third-down conversion so there's always a spot for him this year, but time is definitely running short.

For that reason, wide receiver has to be a top need. Jakobi Meyers broke out in 2020 and proved to be a reliable target who can contribute a few different ways. N'Keal Harry enters his third year and continues to have big expectations. It's unfortunate that both third-year receivers will likely be on their third starting quarterback in three seasons.

Mel Kiper Jr. teased us last week suggesting Jaylen Waddle could fall to the Patriots, what an addition he would be as a dynamic playmaker who can do it all. The offense desperately could use an injection of electricity at receiver and again this is a solid receiver class with multiple options who would instantly increase the speed of the Patriots attack.

With a shallow depth chart, it's assured that there will be some new weapons, even if they choose to retain Damiere Byrd. –Mike Dussault

Give us your best guess who Bill will sign on March 17? -@CheyenneSulli14

A move that would make the most sense to me would be a four-year deal for Dalvin Tomlinson, a rock-solid DL from the Giants. It's not the splashy move that could also possibly happen, but it's the kind of good football decision that makes sense. Tomlinson would solidify things up front, bring back Lawrence Guy, along with the return of Beau Allen and development of Byron Cowart and it will give the youngsters on the edges and around Hightower a chance to use their speed to make plays.

I could just easily see them making a similar move at tight end with Jonnu Smith or Gerald Everett, solidifying one aspect of the position after a two-year void. And don't rule out special teams, there are a number of outstanding young special teamers due to be RFAs. With limited cap space, teams could be forced to choose an original draft-round tender on them, making undrafted players available without compensation to the team. Keep an eye on names like Tavierre Thomas, Miles Killebrew and Edmond Robinson. ­–Mike Dussault

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2021 Patriots Unrestricted Free Agent Rundown

Breaking down the 2021 list of internal unrestricted free agents that the Patriots will have to make decisions on.

Could the Pats have four QBs on the roster? A qb1, Stiddy, a draft qb and Dolegala? I think it boils down to Cam or Jimmy as bridge. - @James27152778

I like the four quarterbacks idea because I feel like they need another veteran presence and a draft pick seems like an absolute must. Really, Cam and Jimmy are the only two options that make the most sense, but I have my doubts San Fran moves him any time before the draft. I can't entirely rule Cam out, but I think he ends up with Washington.

For the Patriots' draft position it might make the most sense to wait until after the draft instead of pouncing on a lackluster free agency market, when teams like the 49ers, Jets and others might've traded up to get a rookie they love, making players like Garoppolo and Sam Darnold now available for the right price. The 49ers and Jets would be foolish to cut ties before they know they will get the guy they want.

As for the draft, general consensus seems to be pointing toward all five of the top quarterbacks going in the top-10. That will push significant talent down the board and the Patriots could be a prime spot to get a real top-10 talent, even at 15. –Mike Dussault

Serious question, would you want to sign Cam Newton just to show a little bit of stability with the same quarterback for two seasons even though he was pretty bad under 10 yards with touch passes? -@kenfaretra

And this is why I can't rule Cam entirely out. It was a crazy season and the guy got Covid in the middle of it. He worked his tail off, he did everything they asked him to do and was accountable all season long. I loved the energy that he brought to the team. And he might even be willing to take a low-money deal to stay with the Patriots. For those reasons I could see it happening.

But from the play on the field, along with the fact that the Patriots have a long-term need at the position whether it's Cam, Ryan Fitzpatrick or Jarrett Stidham, I think it's best to turn the page. If they really don't want to pay big money for a quarterback they need a shotgun blast of the young cheap draft picks. –Mike Dussault

Is there a QB and/or coach that came along in the AFC East during the Brady-Belichick era who could have made that team a successful franchise if not for the fact that they had to face Belichick and Brady? -@sidelinesalvos

Great question. I think Rex Ryan and the Jets gave the Patriots the most problems as far as I remember. Those were always tough games, yet Rex and the Jets seemed to stink against just about everyone else after a hot first two seasons.

The Patriots pretty much relentlessly pounded the Bills over the two decades, but the Dolphins stole the one of the titles (2008) from them and always were a tough matchup, especially in Miami. Which of those teams really stands out? The rushing attack of Sparano's Ronnie Brown and Rickey Williams? The Wildcat game is one of the signature Patriots-got-a-butt-whupping games. But they were a flash in the pan along with the rest of them.

I guess if I had to pick I'd go with the Rex-Sanchez Jets, but I'm not pounding the table for them. That defense with Revis and Ryan's pressure defensive front were tough to beat when they were on. But like Rex, they tended to meltdown in the big spots and couldn't sustain it from a wins nor personnel standpoint after 2010.

Sanchez played a perfect game when they knocked the Patriots off in 2010. Of all the non-Super Bowl losses that one might've hurt the most. –Mike Dussault

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2021 Patriots Mock Draft Tracker

Find out what the top 'experts' are predicting the Patriots will do in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft.

Assuming Pats can't trade up for one of the Top 5 QBs, what secondary QB options are fits in draft? Trask, Mond, Ehlinger? -@washsi_

Since getting my Free Agency fits in order last week, I've dived more heavily into the quarterbacks over the last week. Big recommendation for former Patriot J.T. O'Sullivan's QB School Youtube channel where he does a great job breaking down the rookie QBs.

Right now, my somewhat realistic take on the QB fits are Trey Lance, Mac Jones, Jamie Newman, Kellen Mond and Davis Mills. I am fine with Ehlinger and Ian Book, but both of those guys feel like back-ups at best, so I'm more focused on the others, Kyle Trask hasn't really popped for me. At this moment I'm really focusing in on Mond and Newman, I think the team will miss out on the top five guys and wait until day two. ­–Mike Dussault

Hi Mike, speaking just pure defense here. With the way the game is today do you think BB should put most of his focus in the front 7. If you look at good teams e.g Chiefs & Bucs, they have an OK to average DB's but very stout/explosive front 7. Edge rush and LBs needs upgrading. -@Fuadnehemen

The re-build of the defense that really started in 2009 was one of my initial motivations for starting to write my original blog, and I think the Patriots are in similar position now. Note some key parts of that re-build – getting run over in the 2009 playoffs, the porous secondary of 2010-2011 and finally turning a corner in 2012 with the additions of Chandler Jones and Hightower.

I err on the side of the front seven. They are involved in every play and I still believe the game is truly won or lost in the trenches. That doesn't minimize the need for talent in the secondary. Having speed is vital in today's NFL, but as the refrain goes, nobody can cover forever.

There are some pieces in place, but right now, it's heavily dependent on development of guys like Winovich, Uche and Jennings, while it looks like there might be a major reset at defensive tackle. There's a lot of needs, but a three-down defensive lineman would be a huge boost over the piecemeal defense we saw last year that was very specialized.

Miami rookie Gregory Rousseau is really tempting to me, he could be that kind of player, almost a merge between Richard Seymour and Chandler Jones who could play practically any spot in the front seven. He's raw, but he could develop into a big problem for opposing offenses.

The Pats have had good luck with cornerbacks in all manners of the player acquisition, but these impact front seven players have really only been high-round picks. Eight of Belichick's 18 first-rounds have gone to the defensive front seven, only two have gone to the defensive backfield. I think that says a lot. –Mike Dussault

Do you think the Patriots will try to restructure Hightower's contract? - @joelshapiro20

Unless cap space gets to be an issue, which is hard to see right now, I'd put any Hightower contract redo near the back of the line of priorities. Due for a $12.44 million cap hit, Hightower's worth it to me and I'd put far more focus on what happens to Stephon Gilmore's deal, he's the highest-paid player next season, and Marcus Cannon, due to be the four-highest player next season. ­–Mike Dussault

What's the possibility that Chung and Hightower are both cut creating even more cap room? -@Dale07149987

I don't see it, Chung's contract is really team friendly, and as I explained above, I think there will be other contracts that could be altered before Hightower and Chung. I think their returns are a good veteran boost to a young defense that could've used them last year. Are both still on the upswing of their careers? No, but both have a lot to offer the team and I'm just excited to be able to see them both play as Patriots again after missing them so much last season.

The strong safety/hybrid linebacker position does look a bit overstocked right now with Chung and Adrian Phillips, as well as Kyle Dugger, but I still think there's a way to get all involved. –Mike Dussault

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Full list of Patriots 2021 NFL Draft selections

A breakdown of the New England Patriots current Draft capital.

If Hightower does come back, would you be more tempted using the 15th pick for a CB? Would Hightower solidify the LBs enough to pass on someone like Parsons to go for one of the top CBs? -@Tomhilbilly

It does seem like there will be a cornerback or two to consider at 15th, with Caleb Farley likely gone, but Patrick Surtain and Jaycee Horn probably still there. If the team were to trade Stephon Gilmore, with J.C. Jackson probably back for just one more season, cornerback is certainly a long-term need, especially for a tough man coverage corner like Surtain and Horn are.

They've invested first-round picks in defensive backs just twice – Brandon Meriweather in 2007 and Devin McCourty in 2010, both came near the bottom of the first. They paid Gilmore in free agency in a way that signals how much they value a true number one, but are they ready to make that leap in the draft? Surtain makes a lot of sense there, but like Parsons, it would have to unfold in just the right way for the Pats to get a shot at him, or even Jaylen Waddle for that matter.

But cornerback and tackle seem like the two positions most likely to have value fall due to a run on QBs in the top 10. –Mike Dussault

Should we focus this offseason as "Find the QB of the future" or "Build a team for the QB of the future"? Seems like we should build up everywhere else and focus on QB next year. Ride or die Stiddy-ites. -@brassandbranch

I think the "ride it out with Stidham" crew is having their moment right now because pre-FA and pre-draft, no appetizing option is truly available. I'm focusing specifically on Marcus Mariota and Jimmy Garoppolo, the two most popular names for the Pats right now and still are both under contract to other teams. So unless you can talk yourself into Ryan Fitzpatrick, who could actually be retiring, what's really the difference of just being patient until the draft?

It might look like the Patriots are rolling with Stidham, but I think for them to get their best possible option at quarterback for 2021 and beyond they have to wait until the draft. Then, after teams get their quarterbacks of the future, as many as five in the first ten picks, other options, like Garoppolo, will actually become more available. You're going to overpay by trying to pry one of them loose right now.

I know "get the QB now so you can sign weapons" is a big talking point, but I think the best route is letting things play out, drafting someone and then signing a veteran after the draft. And if none of that works out, roll with Stidham until he or another option emerges.

It doesn't have to be one or the other, but I don't think there will be a major departure from what we've come to know about the Patriots roster-building philosophies. A chunk of cap space probably needs to be reserved for a QB, but after that I expect they'll make some splashes on some young free agents elsewhere on the roster. Hitting on multiple players in the draft is everything though. –Mike Dussault

Do you think we should write off the season and focus on picking up younger players with a long term view or roll the dice on some good quality veterans and see what happens (assuming we have a good QB option)? -@april29ste

As I wrote above, right now it's hard to see that good QB option, or at least an option that really moves the needle immediately. There is an important roster mix, but the Patriots need to get younger. I think the vets they have, and I'm including Chung and Hightower, along with McCourty, are enough old guys to keep the locker room culture intact.

I wouldn't look for the old kind of "veterans looking for a championship" signings for obvious reasons. Instead, use the cap space to get solid players in their mid-20s. I'd love to see the team get young players with experience in free agency and guys who are worth a four-year deal to solidify unstable positions like defensive line and tight end. ­–Mike Dussault

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Key dates on the 2021 NFL / Patriots Calendar

A calendar of important upcoming dates for the NFL and the New England Patriots.

Hi Mike! Can we talk defense? Given our cap space Im assuming its a no brianer that we bring back both Adam Butler and Lawrence Guy. Would love your thoughts! -@JaniacNYC

I'd be all for keeping both and either's departure would be a big blow. They're the Patriots' best two defensive linemen and now the team has to choose how much football Guy has left in him and if Butler does enough in the defense for the Patriots to pay him more than another team might give him. He's a really good pass rusher and could be an every-down player in a more traditional scheme. I'm not quite sure how Butler will play out, his pass rushing skills have been really valuable, albeit streaky.

I have to believe the team can figure it out with Guy, he's just such an important piece, but they really need to surround him with more early-down rotational players. I'd love an injection of youth around him and that's why Dalvin Tomlinson is such a target for me. –Mike Dussault

Deuce! I've been a weekly listener for almost a year now. Really have enjoyed the discussion and even the occasional talking over one another. My question is about the possibility of bringing back the red jersey and white helmet throwback look? -@england396

Let's finish this off with some uniform talk! The white helmets coming back will depend entirely on the NFL and when they'll let teams make a change. They've had a one-helmet rule for a while now that has put the throwbacks on hold ever since 2012. I'm not sure why they have this rule. Multiple uniforms seem like a marketing no-brainer and I'd love to see the Patriots go in the direction of the Chargers with a bunch of different options like the red 80's throwbacks and even some royal blue 90's throwbacks.

Though I do like the new home uniforms that started off as color rush jerseys, I'd welcome the addition of a red version of those modern uniforms. But after 2020, the Patriots have to have one of the most limited uniform combos in the league.

Really the 90s ones should be easy since it's the same helmet. Hopefully, things will expand in the coming seasons because ultimately it does boil down to money and those kind of throwbacks would sell like hot cakes. –Mike Dussault

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