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Patriots Unfiltered Q&A: Coaching staff changes and trade options

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The situation of the AFC East appears more competitive this coming year because our foundation was always stabilized by a mostly intact coaching staff. Have the Patriots ever lost so many coaches in one year? In the past it always seemed they were able to" experiment" different things because, seriously, they would make the playoffs just by winning the East, hence it was like an extended preseason, will they have the same luxury?

Stanley Joe

Short answer, probably. New England remains very much the team to beat in the AFC East led by Bill Belichick and Tom Brady – the reasons the Patriots have dominated the division for two decades. Could things be closer this year? Maybe. It all depends on how the young quarterbacks in New York, Buffalo and Miami play in their second seasons as would-be franchise passers. The exodus of coaches this offseason is far from ideal, especially given that Steve Belichick is really the only returning coach on the defensive side of the ball. But until it proves to be something that Belichick – and to some extent Brady – can’t overcome, I’m going to give the power structure in New England the benefit of the doubt. I think they’ve earned that. Of course someone might need to remind me I wrote this if the team struggles out of the gates next September as I’m prone to react somewhat passionately in the moment. Stay tuned on both accounts.

Andy Hart

With the age of our safeties, who out of the current CBs would be most likely to make a move to safety if needed? Could Jon Jones play the Pat Chung role? Good speed, can cover in the slot, seems to be a decent tackler. What say you?

Vote for Pedro

First, I don’t think too many could play the Chung role -- he’s too versatile, physical, smart and important to be replaced easily. That said, given the current roster, the most likely guy to slide to safety out of need would probably be Jason McCourty, who took reps at the position last year. And given the way the Patriots move so many pieces around in the back end and teach guys at multiple positions, I wouldn’t rule out guys like Jones, Duke Dawson, Joejuan Williams and others as possible candidates. But even with the age of Chung and Devin McCourty, let’s hope it doesn’t come to this next fall.

Andy Hart

Gilmore is a very good but not a great CB which was seen as he was burned in AFC and SB games. As such, I think that he is overpaid considering his massive signing bonus. Devin McCourty is also a bit overpaid. I bring it all up because Patriots don't have much cap space and wonder why wouldn't they approach McCourty to help the team?

Ken K.

Why, exactly, do the Patriots need to create extra cap space at this late point in the team-building process? What will they use it on? And why would they risk breaking up arguably the strength of the defense – the deep, veteran secondary – to do so? Makes no sense. While I agree that Stephon Gilmore is not a truly great cornerback, he certainly is among the best the NFL has to offer at the position these days. Is he a little bit overpaid? Maybe. But who cares? And trying to adjust McCourty’s contract would be difficult. He’s in the final year of his deal, so it would have to either be a true pay cut or likely come as part of an extension. I don’t think he would want the former and think the team would be hesitant regarding the latter. I do think McCourty is overpaid, but he’s a key cog in the back end and it pretty much is what it is at this point. I don’t think you want to go down the road of Lawyer Milloy with a late cut of a safety captain over a money dispute. Doesn’t seem worth it to me.

Andy Hart

I've seen guesses on who's going to return punts, but who is going to be the primary kick returner? James White? Any other guesses?

Brian Clark

Looking back at last year, the only guy other than Cordarelle Patterson to return kickoffs was Sony Michel, who had four chances with a 19.3 average. (Not even I put much stock in fullback James Develin’s one 15-yard return.) Other guys on the roster with past kickoff return experience include Devin McCourty, White, Patrick Chung and Matthew Slater. Phillip Dorsett did job in college at Miami. I would guess that Belichick would prefer not to use Michel in the role if he becomes entrenched as the Patriots lead back as he was last postseason, but he might need to do some of it. Barring a rookie or random defensive back earning the job (Keion Crossen anyone??!), it might need to be a shared role. That could mean McCourty taking his almost-yearly turn as well as a handful of others. Really, there is no obvious option right now. Personally I’d prefer it not to be White, who’s going to likely be a key factor in a new-look passing game and a guy who’s had late-season slow-downs in past years. But it might be all hands on deck.

Andy Hart

The Pats have added players who could significantly upgrade the team. They have essentially replaced all players lost via free agency and retirement, possibly even upgrading. With that said, I think the Pats have a great chance of making another run at a perfect season. Yes, their schedule is not easy, Chiefs, Pitt, Cowboys, and Eagles. The only game that may wreck the perfect run, is at the Eagles. All the other games the Pats are very capable of winning and should be favored. This may be the last thing for Kraft, Belichick and Brady to check off their to-do list. Do you think I am delusional or do you agree the Pats could make a legit run at perfection? Thanks for keeping all of Pats Nation dialed in!

Mel Ford

This is the most optimistic email I’ve read this offseason! I wish I had Mel’s glass-half-full view of life, never mind the Patriots. I’ll stop short of calling you delusional but will say a 16-0 regular season on the way to perfection would absolutely stun me. Given all the personnel changes, the major questions at tight end/wide receiver, Brady’s advancing age and the massive overhaul of the coaching staff it’s hard not to see some bumps in the road this fall. I can’t agree that they’ve replaced/upgraded at tight end with the retirement of Rob Gronkowski. The contributions from Chris Hogan and Josh Gordon also need to be replicated. Another year and another left tackle protecting Brady is less than ideal. Certainly having the meat of the schedule at Gillette Stadium is helpful, but I’ll take the under on your 16-0 prediction.

Andy Hart

I´m really curious about Andrew Beck. What do you think he could bring to the tight end depth chart? He appears to be a solid blocker and a kid with a great personality. Do you think that, at some point, he and probably Ryan Izzo could turn into real solutions?

Andre Palmeiro

Even with a breakout 28-catch senior season Beck had limited production in the passing game at Texas. At 6-3, 255 he has decent size. I think he’s a pretty average athlete, so I don’t expect him to be a high-end NFL target if he can even earn a job in the league. I would say both he and Izzo are likely No. 2 or No. 3 tight ends at best in the NFL. If I had to guess which guy has a better shot to make the team in 2019 I’d go with Izzo. I don’t think either is a “real solution” at the position for the Patriots. For now I think the team will count on either Ben Watson or Austin Seferian-Jenkins, or both, to lead the position and continue to look for better options.

Andy Hart

There's been a lot of rumblings recently about Gerald McCoy from the Buccaneers possibly playing somewhere else next season. He is a great player who has the perfect combination of skills and now anger as well to prove himself to his doubters. Do you think he would be a good trade asset for us to go after? Thank you for your offseason coverage, it gets me through the downtime!

Dakoda Esposito

Even as he moves on in his 30s, McCoy is a consistent, relatively durable, productive stud on the defensive line. He’s had at least six sacks in the last six seasons. I think he would look really good in a Patriots uniform. He’s not taking part in OTAs right now with the Bucs due to his contract dispute. If he hits or is already on the trade market I’d very much look into it, even with a $13 million salary. It’s probably not likely, and isn’t the biggest position of need in New England, but you can never have enough good players.

Andy Hart

Since I see last year’s rookie class other than Sony and Jackson as basically first-year players, what 5 players not mentioned previously would you expect to make the biggest contributions to the team this year and what would your basic stats projection and role be for this upcoming year? Thanks for all the work you all put into keeping us fans entertained all offseason.

Kolton Benish

Certainly the two guys who landed on IR as rookies last fall expected to make the biggest contributions this fall are 2018 top pick Isaiah Wynn and linebacker Ja’Whuan Bentley. Even though not fully healed from his torn Achilles – and maybe even destined to rotate early on with veteran Jared Veldheer – Wynn should be in line to be the left tackle at some point very soon. Bentley started a couple games at middle linebacker to open his career and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him snag that role from Elandon Roberts again this fall. He has 100-plus tackles written all over him if he can stay healthy. I know you asked for five guys, but those two are the only ones I feel confident in. I think Dawson has a tough job trying to crack the rotation in the secondary, as was proven true when he returned from IR late last season. Christian Sam has a shot to be a special teams contributor and backup linebacker, but fights pretty tough competition for a roster spot. I think both Braxton Berrios and Ryan Izzo fight uphill battles for roster spots and regular roles at wide receiver and tight end, respectively.

Andy Hart

I understand that there is a lot to these contract numbers, but still wonder why Veldheer was reportedly signing a 1-year deal worth up to $6.5M, while Waddle who is 4 years younger was let go and got only $1.5M from the Bills. And 38-year old Watson is getting $3M while he got only $2M last year from the Saints.

Bill Hall

The first one is easy. Veldheer is a starting-caliber NFL tackle. He’s started every game he’s played in during eight of his nine pro seasons, including all 16 games four times. He was deemed starter for three different teams in Oakland, Arizona and Denver. Waddle, on the other hand, is pretty much established as a backup and only a fill-in starter at this point. As for Watson, who had announced his retirement, his pay increase from past years may be out of supply and demand. If the Patriots wanted him they had to pay enough to make it worth his while to not walk away from the game. Also not sure exactly on the details of his reported $3 million deal yet.

Andy Hart

So the Pats have named Joe Judge as receivers coach. Is there any concern that "those that can't do, teach?" Especially since they invested a No. 1 pick in Harry? Isn't our offensive playbook so complex that even experienced vets (like Ocho Cinco and Torey Holt) can't grasp it and need tutelage?

Tom DiGangi

First, New England has not yet officially announced Judge as the receivers coach or many of the other new assistant coaching roles. The special teams coach did admit, though, that he will be coaching the position in 2019. While I don’t really get your “can’t do, teach” line, it is certainly a pretty unique situation. That’s even more true given the turnover of personnel at the position and the team using a first-round pick on a receiver for the first time during Bill Belichick’s 20 years in New England. Yes, the receiver position can be difficult to learn for the Patriots. Having a first-year coach teaching it isn’t ideal. But I would also expect Nick Caserio, the director of player personnel and former receivers coach, might help out. Plus, Brady and Julian Edelman will be factors in the transition for Harry and others. And let’s remember that Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels know the New England offense – for all positions – as well as possible and will be on hand to give Judge and his pupils extra tutelage as needed.

Andy Hart

Rudolph from Vikings might be available for trade. Do you think Pats might trade for him? I think he would be a good TE to go along with Ben. I think he would be an upgrade over the Jags TE we got a little while ago. I know he is in last year of contract with between 7 to 8 million I don't know how good he blocks but he is a good TE.

Tom Gordon

With the team opting to pass on the TE position in the draft as well as missing out on Jared Cook in free agency, what do you think are the chances of sending a late-round pick to the Vikings for Kyle Rudolph seeing as they may have drafted his replacement? He's dealt with injuries of late but when healthy could help fill the pass-catching TE role as well as give Brady another big body in the red zone. If we could grab him as well as a potential signing of Ben Watson I believe we could have reasonable depth at the position to fill the void left by Gronk at least partially.

Blake Wright

I think trading for Rudolph would be a homerun for the Patriots given the current situation at the tight end position. I would argue the former first-round pick is a poor man’s Gronkowski. He’s not anywhere near the same level as either a blocker or a pass catcher, but he can do both at a very solid level. Like most tight ends he has dealt with his share of injuries, but he’s been durable of late playing in all 16 games in each of the last four seasons while catching between 49 and 83 passes over those four years. I would give up a mid-round pick (maybe with a late-rounder coming back) for a year of Rudolph in a heartbeat. And I would immediately feel much better about the Patriots offense if that trade were to happen as he would become by far the team’s No. 1 tight end. Clearly Rudolph and the Vikings are heading down the road to a breakup. The Patriots would make a great rebound relationship for the 6-6, 265-pound tight end.

Andy Hart

Everyone keeps talking about the tight end position in New England, however, given the recent roster moves do you think Belichick is going in a different direction? Example, using some of the roster spots from tight end on the backfield adding more depth to there with both two physical backs and two pass catching backs to go with a bigger more physical receivers to get a more physical team that can power through the smaller and faster linebackers and safeties that we have seen lately?

Thomas Castagno

Nope. I still think that Belichick values the tight end position. He’s added plenty of players at the spot this offseason. Roster spots and roles at tight end have always been tied to other spots like wide receiver, tight end, running back and even backup tackle. But in an ideal world I think Belichick likes to have multiple versatile tight ends. Does he have that this season? Maybe not. If not, he and McDaniels will find other ways to fill out a roster and an offense. But I still think they very much value the position and will continue to try to find guys to fill the void left by Gronk’s retirement.

Andy Hart

Who do you see as the replacement for Flowers? I know we traded for one but he is getting older and slower. Plus he really doesn't have the versatility that Flowers had. I had a lot of hope for Rivers but he really hasn't shown much and was inactive more often than not last year on game days. When he was active, he really didn’t do much. Winovich has been compared to Clay but I think that's more to do with looks than talent. If he plays like Clay then we got a steal in the draft. So who do you see as our breakout pass rusher this year?

Leif Santana

The trade addition you alluded to, Michael Bennett, is the most likely candidate to fill Flowers’ shoes. Bennett has been every bit as versatile and productive as Flowers, so he’s really a perfect fit even if he’s not getting any younger. Beyond that I would hope that Deatrich Wise continues to evolve and improve, even as he works through an offseason injury. I still have hope that Rivers is going to have a breakout third season and could surprise people with maybe a half-dozen sacks. But as you point out, given his lack of production and playing time last year it wouldn’t be stunning to see Rivers cut, either. Winovich certainly could have a rotational role on the edge of the defense, but I can’t see him being a Flowers-level contributor right out of the gates. So, I guess I’m crossing my fingers and taking Derek Rivers as the Patriots breakout pass rusher for 2019.

Andy Hart

It appears to me the Pats have picked up a few bigger WRs and even a powerful new RB, any chance they try to convert one of them into a TE? And why not? The Pats are the team best equipped to pull that off!

Marc Robidas

Infinitely unlikely. None of the “bigger WRs” is even close to the range of a tight end. New England has plenty of guys on the tight end depth chart with the size to play the spot, many with significant experience in the job. Hard to think some undersized RB/WR would be able to convert and be even close to a better option.

Andy Hart

Concerning Jake Bailey versus Ryan Allen, it is interesting the Patriots moved up to 163 to take a punter. Do you think Bailey's ability to kick off and maybe kick field goals is a factor here? I mean on an emergency basis if Gostkowski got hurt in a game. Bill is always polishing the finer details of "what if". As a punter, Allen has been pretty darn good overall. It did not seem to a situation needing competition.

Rick Malec

I disagree with the last part. Though he’s finished strong at times the last couple years, including a very good Super Bowl LIII, Allen has been inconsistent and at times bad in the regular season. New England clearly wanted competition last year, maybe even to groom as a replacement, in the form of Corey Bojorquez. That plan blew up when he was claimed by the Bills after camp. Bailey has a strong leg on both punts and kickoffs. I think he will be given a chance to compete for the job in camp. I don’t think he was brought in for some emergency situation but rather as the possible punter of the future and/or present. Belichick has drafted punters, kickers and long snappers before and turned the job over to them as rookies. I think Bailey has the chance to be next in that line. Now he just has to seize the opportunity.

Andy Hart

I understand the angst that Gronk has retired, and the loss of what he brings to the offense in terms of pass-catching and blocking. But I get perturbed when everyone seems focused on replacing him with a player of equal ability (not likely), and the assumption that the offense will stall without said replacement. Belichick will adapt the offense as required to be successful. We didn't always have Gronk and were just fine with the receivers and runners we had in those days. We will likely see the big-body receivers used more to replace that aspect of the game, and more running plays. The TE position will likely revert to a more traditional supplemental role. Coach will scheme things to account for Gronk's loss, but also each opponent and their weaknesses as well. Trust in Bill.

Ian Hayes

I agree with your overall point. The Patriots offense under Brady’s leadership was very good before Gronkowski and is quite likely to remain very good after him. But, that also minimizes Gronkowski’s contributions with the game on the line over the years, including last winter. When the season was in question, it was Gronk who made huge plays in the AFC title game and Super Bowl to jumpstart the victorious attack. That go-to weapon is gone and has not been replaced, and in some ways is irreplaceable On a 16-game basis there is reason to have faith that Belichick and Brady will find a way to be good enough. But with games and the season on the line, who will step up in Gronk’s absence. That’s a question that may not be answered until next January, if at all.

Andy Hart

With White, Burkhead, Michel and now Harris combined with Brady's penchant for short quick release passes, can we look forward to a plethora of backs flooding the zones and driving the defenses crazy? Slip one long receiver into the mix and a continuation of offensive line protection for Tom combined with great offensive play calls from the coaching staff and you have a formula that can keep Brady in there for a few years to come while he trains his replacement. Does this all sound too rosy?

Jon Gates

Yes, yes it does. While I do think McDaniels will lean on his depth of running backs and versatile options out of the backfield this season, those players may find the going a bit more difficult with opposing defenses that no longer have to focus on Gronkowski. Remember how different Tennessee treated James White with Gronkowski out of the lineup last season in the loss to the Titans? That could happen more often this fall. The backfield will clearly be a key part of the offense in 2019, but there is a question how successful that approach can be given the limited options at tight end and receiver at this point. Oh, and just for added difficulty points, Brady will have to work his passing magic with a new left tackle again this season.

Andy Hart

Which has best chances of making the roster? Extra credit: show reasons for your calculations. Rookies: Myers, Beck, Ubosi

David Gonsiorowski

Well, since Ubosi has already been cut much to the dismay of many fans and media types, I’ll take him out of the equation. I’m going with the wide receiver Jakobi Meyers. He has some size, versatility and supposed route-running ability. I thought he could have been a mid-round pick after a very productive career for N.C. State. I like his hands. Given the lack of proven options and locked up roles at receiver I think Meyers has a very good chance to make the team. Being a former QB may also help him pick up the offense!

Andy Hart

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