The AFC appears poised for dominance, considering the number of young top flight quarterbacks, over the NFC. And the AFC East looks to become a division like the AFC North was this past decade with the ascendancy of Buffalo and apparent change of fortune in Miami. The difficulty the Patriots will also face is not just finding talent, but a much more difficult schedule in the conference in general and the East in particular going forward rather than the 5 or 6 victories they could count on in their division. Do you feel, as I do, that even if the Patriots, or any team, finds the next TB12 that the norm will be 10-12 victories and the road to dominance will be a divide of hill and valley years vs. consistence dominance like we have had over the past 20?
You make some interesting points about the overall improvement in the AFC East, led by some talented young quarterbacks. I do agree that the division looks more formidable than it has in years and that the conference has an advantage over the NFC. However, that has been the case in the past as well, specifically back during the first part of the dynasty when the Patriots were the cream of the crop but had to deal with the likes of Pittsburgh, Indy, Tennessee, San Diego and Baltimore at various times. Even the AFC East had some solid Jets teams that made the playoffs back in those days. So, while I agree the division and conference are tougher, I don't agree that having a great quarterback wouldn't put the Patriots at the top. They were the best with TB12, and if Bill Belichick somehow got the next one they'd be the best again. Obviously that's a lot easier said than done, and I understand your larger point is the Patriots need much more than just a quarterback. But without one things get that much more difficult.
With some key defensive guys coming back, solid draft capital and loads of cap space, do you see the Patriots moving toward the direction of playoff contention or more of a rebuilding and adding youth approach for next season?
I hate to give you a copout answer but I need more information to make a definitive determination. You mention three things without getting into specifics: key defensive guys coming back, draft capital and cap space. First, which guys are coming back? If one isn't Dont'a Hightower then I don't see much of a difference. As for the draft capital, how is it used? Does Bill Belichick hit on his high picks and do those guys make an immediate impact? Same questions with the cap space. How is it used and do the players make an impact? And assuming everything goes well, I still need to know who the quarterback is. Because without quality play at quarterback it's awfully difficult to make a playoff run. In either regard, the Patriots will be moving further into rebuild mode as the need for young talent on this roster is apparent.
Well, I know this one may be a far too long of a shot, but I was just curious what might be your thoughts on drafting Patrick Surtain with the first-round pick? With Bill known for building the defense from the secondary up, he might have a true lockdown corner for years to come and provide the stability to build on that, instead of retaining JC Jackson or Stephon Gilmore.
While I don't see cornerback to be the top need (quarterback, defensive line, wide receiver, tight end all would be higher on the list) I do like Surtain and wouldn't be shocked to see Belichick take a corner if he felt that was the best option available. Surtain has good size at 6-2, 205 pounds and plays with physicality. I'm certainly no draft expert so I'm not sure where he's expected to go, but his pedigree (his father was a terrific cover corner for many years) and experience playing for Nick Saban bode well. I'd rather have another position first, but I wouldn't mind the thought of a solid first-round corner to replace Gilmore and to take some pressure off the need to re-sign Jackson to a long-term deal.
It appears that most of our local broadcasters are ready to write off N'Keal Harry as a bust. But since we don't have a top quality tight end, why not get Harry to put on 20-25 pounds and try him at tight end? He'd probably be faster than most tight ends, and be able to beat linebackers, a lot better than the cornerbacks & safeties.
A lot of people have suggested a position change for Harry and at this point I don't see the harm in trying. But I'm not sure the idea of having him at tight end changes the equation as much as people suggest. First, there's no telling how adding 20-25 pounds to Harry's frame would affect his agility and speed. Second, if Harry does prove to be more productive when covered by safeties and linebackers, then wouldn't it make sense that teams would then adjust and put corners on him? Then he'd have the same problem he has now – trouble separating against tight coverage. Also, although Harry is pretty physical for a wide receiver, there's no way of knowing if he'd be able to handle the physicality of tight end. So, overall I wouldn't be opposed to taking a shot but I wouldn't expect anything dramatically different either way.
Who do you see as the heir apparent to Belichick? Do you think that Josh McDaniels will stick around because he'll inevitably take over? I'm not necessarily sold on him as a head coach, but I do like the idea of a familiar face taking over when Bill hangs it up.
I honestly have no idea who would ultimately replace Belichick, but I'm not in the camp that it will be McDaniels. I could see Robert Kraft taking a good look at his options and probably preferring to go after somebody outside of the current structure in an effort to avoid the inevitable comparisons to a legend like Belichick, and not wanting someone from inside the Belichick circle to have to deal with those comparisons. But that's probably not for at least another couple of years because Belichick has no signs of wanting to step aside anytime soon.
Tedy Bruschi and Scott Zolak have suggested the return of Jimmy Garoppolo. That would make the most sense. Why would Coach Belichick take on a rookie project at age 68? Bringing Jimmy back gives the team the best chance to win now. They could surround him with fresh talent in the draft. It was obvious that he didn't want to trade him in the first place. He was overruled by Brady and whoever else. Sure, a lot of re-doing of his contract will have to be done. The Patriots have a ton of cap room. I predict a reunion this March. What says you?
Of all the veteran quarterback options I would agree that Garoppolo would make the most sense. He obviously is familiar with the system and his acclimation to the Patriots would be seamless. However, unless San Francisco finds a better option I'm not sure why they would trade him. Kyle Shanahan would like to keep his job, and turning things over to a rookie out of the draft might not be the best way to do that. And while it's a small point that really has nothing to do with your overall post, why would Garoppolo's contract need to be redone? As you said, the Patriots have plenty of cap space and Garoppolo makes what typical starting quarterbacks make, so I don't see him wanting to take any cuts to his salary. I do think Garoppolo makes sense but it won't be easy to get him.
With Doug Pederson getting fired over who to start, would and should Bill look into trading for a young QB with promise? Jalen Hurts looked good, having him still on rookie contract so Patriots would still be able to build around him, add some WR, TE, RB and some OL help to go with work all over D. Gilmore for Hurts would be ideal.
Why would Philadelphia want to trade a young second-year quarterback who is under contract for three more years at short money? If they want Carson Wentz to start, then Hurts represents a solid backup option. If they want Hurts to start, then Wentz' contract might be too difficult to move. Hurts also didn't play as well as most people think. He started the last four games and won just one of them. He completed 51 percent of his passes and threw six touchdowns and four picks. Obviously he was a rookie and also did some impressive things as a runner, picking up 354 yards and three touchdowns, and the Eagles likely want to hang on to him to see how he develops. The key here for Philly is Hurts represents young, cheap talent at the most important position. It makes little sense to ship him out of town when he's not costing much to stick around and compete for playing time – even if they want to stick with Wentz.
Assuming the salary cap comes in around 176M that leaves about 13 teams with negative salary cap space, and the Patriots with close to $60M. Even if Bill commits a chunk to a major free agent contract, seems like this is a great opportunity for him to stock up on some bargain price free agents who are salary cap casualties for other teams. Are there any under the radar players you're tracking who might fall into this category that would fill a key need for the Pats? On a related note, seems like it would make sense to let a few of our free agents (Butler et al) test the market before signing to a high priced extensions. Do you see it the same?
I don't really see it the same way and it's due to the first facts that you mentioned. With an obvious advantage of having more money than most, why should the Patriots hang around the bargain basement racks and look for under the radar types? The Patriots need some talent and in general terms talent costs money. The Patriots have a lot to spend so the onus should be on Belichick to identify some options that would make sense. Personally I'd like to see a tight end (Gerald Everett, Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith) and at least one wide receiver (Allen Robinson, Chris Godwin, Curtis Samuel). Most of these players figure to get hefty deals, and I'm fine with that because resetting the cap is what the 2020 season was all about. I don't want to try to rebuild by using castoffs and cheap fill-ins. I'd rather Belichick try to infuse the roster with some talent and go from there.
Do the Patriots have any extra draft picks to trade up for a needed player spot that you mentioned earlier?
The official draft pick compensation has yet to be made determined but many have projected the Patriots to have 10 picks in the 2021 draft. That includes their own picks in the first (15th overall) and second rounds, a third-round compensatory pick for losing Tom Brady, three fourth-rounders (two comp picks for Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins) and picks in the fifth, sixth (two including one from the Michael Bennett trade with Dallas) and seventh rounds. While 10 picks is a good amount, they don't have the early selections needed to make a dramatic move up the board. However, if Gilmore is indeed headed out of town via trade, the cornerback coupled with a draft pick could move the Patriots into the top 10 if that's something Belichick would be interested in doing.
How about bring in Ryan Fitzpatrick, who will bring with him high energy and excitement to the locker room and field? Draft a top prospect at No. 15 if it's there and only if it's there and don't reach. Possibly trade up if need be to get a top prospect at quarterback. Let him learn behind a proven veteran for a season or two. Fitzpatrick I believe would be a great fit for this role.
I believe Fitzpatrick is a solid backup quarterback because of his experience and mentality to step off the bench and perform. I don't believe he's a very good starting quarterback, but in general during his career the more he plays the more mistakes he will make. For his career, which has spanned 16 years, he has a career record of 59-86-1, 27 games below .500. I do believe he'd be a solid alternative to start while a rookie gets the necessary time to develop, but it's a solid possibility that the Patriots won't be in position to draft a quarterback at No. 15 and won't be able to move up far enough to get one they deem worthy of selecting. So if there's no rookie to help mentor, I'd rather not have Fitzpatrick in the mix. If a rookie is added, then Fitzpatrick would be an option for sure.
I feel like Tuesday you guys are slowly coming to the conclusion that I've come to … the QB of the future will not be on the roster in 2021. Back in November when asked about Jake Dolegala the practice squad QB, Bill said he learned a lot in terms of learning a new system and getting acclimated to the way we do things, he works hard but then said "it's not really the same as being able to run our offense." Plus Cam was quick to point out at the end that he struggled to learn this system. These things lead me to believe there is ZERO chance they draft a guy who will be able to start next year at any point. My question: What about forgetting about offense and focusing solely on fixing the defense this year? We won seven games with a horrible offense and defense. They could get a stop gap QB, get a real WR and TE and just focus on defense?
I'll start by saying it has been anything but a slow conclusion when it comes the Patriots quarterback situation. From the day Brady left I've felt the team's next quarterback will need to come from somewhere outside the organization and nothing that happened in 2020 changed my mind. I agree that finding the next quarterback won't be easy, but ignoring the problem and focusing just on defense won't help make it any easier – and it won't help win many games. The Chiefs, Bills, Packers and Bucs are the final four, and all of those teams can score. It's pretty tough in today's NFL to be a defense-dominated team that has a lot of success. Improving the defense is certainly on the list of things to do, but unless the offense makes significant strides as well the Patriots will continue to struggle.
Mac Jones from Alabama looked great in the NCAA championship game. I read a mock draft that had the Patriots drafting him in the second round. What do you think about Mac Jones?
The problem with evaluating Alabama quarterbacks is determining how much the team's success has to do with the guy throwing the passes as opposed to the immense talent all around him. Alabama typically has NFL-caliber players at wide receiver, running back and along the offensive line. For example, over the past two seasons when Jones has played, he's had four potential first-round picks at wideout – Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs last year (both went in Round 1) and Davonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle this season. Since the opponent doesn't generally have that kind of talent, his targets are often wide open and he's generally afforded plenty of time to find them. Now, that's not to say Jones can't play. He's been very productive and shown the ability to perform in big games – like the title game last week when he lit it up. I just don't see him as a first-round pick because he isn't the kind of dual threat quarterback that the others projected to go at the top of the draft are. As a possible second-round pick given time to develop I could see Jones as an option. Bottom line of me is I'd rather see the Patriots find a better option than Jones, but it won't be easy picking at No. 15.
Early draft prediction, trade up, trade down, or stay put?
Simple and right to the point with this post. As we stand today it's hard to predict but I'll take a shot and say the Patriots will move up slightly in the first round by trading Stephon Gilmore to get into the top 10 with the idea of grabbing a quarterback. Obviously just a stab in the dark at this point.
What role do you see Josh Uche having in our defense next year? Can he ever be more than a situational pass rusher?
I don't think he was used strictly as a situational pass rusher this year so yes I could see him doing more than that. He didn't get a ton of playing time due to injuries but he did show some versatility as a guy who could be used to help contain mobile quarterbacks in space. He did that well at times and showed he could make plays in the open field (Miami was an example late in the year). I don't think he would be the best option in pass coverage, but I do believe he could have success as a pass rusher and against the run playing moving forward. I like Uche's athleticism and mobility to make plays sideline to sideline, but he has a lot of development ahead of him.
I need you to explain something to me. How did Jarrett Stidham go from a guy the Patriots coaches supposedly loved, and who was making all the throws in practice last year, to a complete non-factor this year? Especially since he's never had the opportunity to start one game. There seems to be more to this story than meets the eye. Any insight?
I guess this all depends on where the information is coming from. I, too, read stories from some of my colleagues that suggested the coaches love Stidham. However, I never really heard that from the coaches themselves. And I certainly never saw anything from Stidham as a rookie to suggest he was ready to emerge as the Patriots starter last season. It looked like that would be the case before Cam Newton signed late, but in terms of performance Stidham never got a chance to play as a rookie so I always met those stories claiming he was the future with more than a bit of skepticism. Perhaps Stidham will get the job in 2021 and then we'll see if he's the answer. But based on what I've seen thus far I'd be surprised if Stidham turns out to be more than a backup. As for any story behind the story, I'd answer by explaining only what I saw on the practice field during training camp and that is that Stidham got off to a decent start before suffering some sort of leg/hip injury. That derailed him a bit and he never regained any momentum thereafter. But even before the injury it was apparent that Newton would be the starter from the day he signed, so perhaps Stidham grew discouraged at that point and didn't compete for the job in the manner in which the coaches would have liked. Either way, I agree with you that the stories we read last offseason certainly disappeared in a hurry.
I know a lot of people are wondering about that Patriots quarterback situation for next year, but I actually have a question regarding this past season. Why was Brian Hoyer on the roster? He seemed like a solid back-up for Brady (a veteran QB, with experience running the Patriots complex offense, and who you hope will just make good decisions), or if the Patriots had drafted a young franchise QB, I would understand wanting to keep Hoyer around in a mentor role. But Cam Newton seemed too provide that veteran leadership, and Hoyer doesn't have the legs to take over an offense designed for Cam Newton.
After they signed Newton, I was hoping they would also go out and also sign Colin Kaepernick and let them both compete for the starting role. Like Newton, I feel like Kaepernick could have also been signed for relatively cheap due to the questions regarding his ability to play, but like Newton there's a chance he could still be great (certainly more upside than Hoyer). I would have felt more confident having Kaepernick take over for Newton when he had COVID than Hoyer. After losing Brady, why would the Patriots keep a known back-up on their roster when they needed to find a starter? Why didn't the Patriots take a shot on Kaepernick or literally any other QB over Hoyer? What value did Hoyer bring this season?
The Kaepernick situation is obviously a hot-button topic that brings out strong feelings for many. I'll do my best to leave that out and focus solely on the facts – the man hasn't played football since 2016 and I'm not sure he would be a better option than anyone who has been playing at this point. I agree that his style when he was playing five years ago was more conducive to what the Patriots were doing with Newton, and I'd also agree that Hoyer's presence as a third-stringer after his tough performance in Kansas City seemed superfluous. Hoyer is a backup and with Stidham still here it didn't seem necessary to have both. But I also don't think Kaepernick is a realistic option at this point given his long time away from the league. I don't think Hoyer or Newton will be back, and we'll see about Stidham. Obviously the quarterback situation is the team's most pressing issue and it will likely take some time to sort it all out before we know what is going to happen.