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Patriots Unfiltered Q&A: Plotting a course for the offseason

Fans' questions answered in our weekly mailbag. 


Which of the rookies entering year 2 do you feel are ready to start in their respective positions on the team? @ShawMellors

As far as being three-down players, I think Kyle Dugger and Michael Onwenu are the best places to start. Dugger started off closer to the line of scrimmage in more of a linebacker-hybrid role, but as the season progressed, he started to show real potential as a balanced safety who can pretty much play any role in the secondary. Dugger and Devin McCourty should make an excellent back end pair and are my penciled starters for 2021.

The only question with Onwenu is where does he start? Does he stay at right tackle or does he end up sliding to guard to replace Joe Thuney if he were to depart. My gut feeling is that Onewnu's best potential is inside and that's where the Patriots will put him next season, though having the ability to slide outside only increases his value.

Anfernee Jennings and Josh Uche seem like opposite sides of a coin, Jennings should at least be an early-down run stopper with some inside/outside versatility, while Uche looks like he's already knocking on the door of being a dangerous pass rusher. Can either of them round out their game to be three-down defenders? The potential is there and hopefully a full offseason will give them a chance to blossom.

As for the rest, the jury is still out. Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene still have a ways to go, while Justin Herron showed swing tackle potential, but is he a starting-caliber player? Herron has probably the best chance of the rest of find a starting role in 2021, perhaps at right tackle. –Mike Dussault

Does Anfernee. Jennings have any future potential on the team? He seemed invisible this year and not making any plays, but he was a rookie after all. @TuckerRossCon

Continuing along the lines of the previous question, I think Jennings is a physical specimen as far as the Patriots linebackers go. He fits the mold of an inside/outside versatile second-level defender that they groomed in Dont'a Hightower, Jamie Collins and Kyle Van Noy. His size and length are not questions, but I think his processing speed is something that showed up negatively at times during the season, where he was too late to react and missed his chance to make more plays. For a rookie linebacker it's not all that surprising, especially because the Patriots were forced to rely on Jennings far earlier than they probably would've wanted to.

As with all the rookies, they should have a long leash when it comes to evaluating their 2020 seasons. Jennings is certainly one of their most intriguing players because he checks all the boxes and just needs experience to speed up his recognition. Again, a full offseason plus a real training camp with maybe even some preseason games will do wonders in getting guys like Jennings to the next level. –Mike Dussault

Will the Patriots sign Hunter Henry in the off-season? @joelshapiro20

I'm not sure the Chargers will let him escape, but if you saw the way Bill Belichick made a beeline to Henry after the LA-Pats game this past season, it would sure seem like Belichick has an appreciation for the kind of player Henry is and how could he not?

The Patriots have four tight ends on their roster for 2021, including two they traded up for in last year's draft. Combine those with Ryan Izzo, who got a ton of experience with over 600 snaps this season and then Matt LaCosse, who was signed to a two-year deal in 2019, and the team does already have some interesting depth.

Now, it's not top-level depth, and the lack of production by all four of those players in limited action over the last two season should correctly give anyone pause to think any of them are locks to elevate the position group to the next level. But there is enough there to foster some competition and all four should at least be somewhat better in 2021 than we've previously seen.

Henry would certainly put them over the top, but are the Patriots interested in making that kind of splash move when they've already invested significant draft capital in the position? Or would they prefer to see what happens in a competition in those players and address the cap space elsewhere? If LA locks up Henry, Jonnu Smith could be a potential target. –Mike Dussault

Why hasn't there been any interest in Josh McDaniels as a HC? (Obviously don't want him to leave) just curious if you had any thoughts? Still the Indy debacle?! @micha2334

It seems like there's a lot of hot, young coordinators out there that are stealing some of McDaniels' heat this offseason. It's kind of how the league goes, it wasn't long ago that Brian Daboll was kind of toiling behind McDaniels with no chance for growth in New England and now he's one of the top names mentioned out there.

Given difficult circumstances this season, McDaniels pulled about as much as he could've out of this offense, but after two years of sub-par attacks there's no question they need to make strides in 2021 and that's hard to do with so much uncertainty at quarterback, running back and along the interior of the offensive line.

I still wouldn't be surprised to see him pop up as a candidate this offseason and a resurgent effort in 2021 would put McDaniels' name back atop the head coaching candidates list. –Mike Dussault

Out of the crazy long list of free agents this season who would you expect to be nailed on keepers? And with Edelman getting older and more injured do you think a trade might be in the cards for him with only a $2.5m-ish dead space cap hit? @april29ste

My keeper list would start with Lawrence Guy and David Andrews, with James White right there with them. There are plenty of other agonizing decisions, I love Adam Butler's game and think his pass rush is vital but I'm sure other teams see that too. Deatrich Wise has made great strides as well and is a valuable locker room guy.

And I guess I've just accepted that Joe Thuney will walk this year, as much as I think he's one of the most consistent guards in the game and wish the Pats could figure out a way to make it work with him. There are just too many holes at other positions so there will have to be some unfortunate casualties along both sides of the line.

And don't rule out the special teamers too, Cody Davis and Justin Bethel were big parts of the Patriots top-ranked special teams units this season and we all know how much the Pats value special teams.

As for Edelman, it starts with him and his intention to keep playing. If he still wants to play there's no question the Patriots could use him. He's a competitive tone-setter and leader and I wouldn't rule out one more year from the unequalled Edelman. If healthy, he will help any team but hard to see him having much trade value. –Mike Dussault

Who's your realistic WR option at free agency, Mike? I like Corey Davis from the Titans as an option. @Fuadnehemen

This is a big debate for me. There's no question the Pats offense needs an injection of playmaking ability and signing someone like Davis makes plenty of sense. The other option that continues to pop up in Carolina's Curtis Samuel. But is expending a huge chunk of cap space on a single receiver the quickest and best way to improve the roster? And would any big-ticket receiver sign with a Patriots team that doesn't know who their starting quarterback is?

Right now, as I see it, between the definite unrestricted free agents at quarterback and the Patriots 15th overall draft pick, I believe the best plan is to allocate the biggest chunk of space to a quarterback and then wait for the draft to get a weapon upgrade. Take some mid-range shots in free agency as well, but focus the bulk of spending resources on retaining their own players, then at quarterback and the defensive front when looking externally.

Start with Damiere Byrd, a free agent who showed some promising signs during his one-year deal.

At 15th overall you're probably not getting the quarterback of the future, but you could certainly get a player who could be on a level of Davis or Samuel at a much cheaper price for four seasons. That could be the sweet spot for a receiver if there's an early run on quarterbacks. –Mike Dussault

Would you be in for Wentz trade, and if so what's you be willing to give in draft capital? @BrettHunt_

Yes, absolutely, I'm open to any creative way to shake loose any kind of quarterback with some unreached potential. What would I give up for him? Probably not more than a third-round pick, at least as far as the Patriots' current resources go and what they need. But I could be talked into a second-rounder if there's a way to make the salary manageable for the Patriots.

There are no easy answers this offseason for the Patriots quarterback needs, and really that goes for any team picking outside of the top eight or so. New England will have to be crafty to build a quarterback room that has a range of experience and potential.

Given all the options that have been thrown out there I'd still have to say Jimmy Garoppolo would be my favorite option, despite his injury concerns and that the Patriots might have to give up more to get him back than they originally got for him. –Mike Dussault

Hi all! Getting a QB at 15 is probably going to be a stretch. They might pick up a developmental QB further down but we already have Stidham and Dolegala. I think Jimmy G, Matt Ryan and Stafford are pipe dreams. Why would any of those teams trade them away without a known commodity in place to take over? Makes no sense... Even if they got good QB's in the draft, they likely won't be ready day 1. That leaves Jacoby Brissett, Tyrod Taylor, Fitzmagic and Jameis Winston. Jacoby and Tyrod have low ceilings and Fitz and Jameis are turnover prone. There is no way Wentz is an option unless something big changes. That leaves the draft and Cam. Cam has a lot of issues... the 8 TD passes is unacceptable but he did get 12 rushing TDs. That total is half of what Brady produced touchdown-wise passing at one-eighth the price. Plus, I think we can agree their record would have been better with Brady but not to the point that they would make it to the playoffs. He was never staying in New England anyway. No one would have made this team a playoff team with their weapons and porous defense.

Hate to say this but bring back Cam, get weapons and hope he works on his throwing in the offseason. Any of the viable options outside the draft will give you the same record that you would have sticking with cam. Same dog different fleas. I know Paul is probably having a seizure right now but am I wrong in my analysis? You're not getting a good QB outside the draft without selling the farm which Bill won't do... correct?George Alexander

Thanks for laying it all out, George and I mostly agree with how you've said it, though I think no matter what, any veteran QB that is available comes with some kind of concerns, whether it's Cam or any that you mentioned. So I'm okay with part of that risk and really, I think there's more truth in your argument for Cam than most people want to admit. Though I've mostly closed the door on his return, for the reasons you laid out, I can't completely close it.

The one thing I keep coming back to is just how dysfunctional the passing game was and how little strides they showed over the course of the season. Injuries played a part in that, losing their two best running backs was a death sentence, but I just don't have a lot of confidence that even with an improved receiver or tight end that things would look much better with Cam than they did last season.

But the way you put it shows how complicated and difficult this decision at quarterback will be. -Mike Dussault

What's top of your draft wish list? @PierreB840430

Such a hard question to answer at this point before internal or external free agency. Positions that we think are major needs could be fixed by mid-March so most draft projections at this point are, at best, just guesses of where teams will be at after the free agency dust settles.

But generally, I think given the needs the Patriots have, I think they must find a way to hit in the draft on the positions that are too expensive to regularly stock in free agency. Those positions include quarterback, receiver and defensive line, which would include edge players.

Otherwise, I think you can figure out the rest of your roster for the most part, when you don't have playmakers at those key positions it's tough to keep up in the NFL. That's a big part of why the Patriots have been trending down the last two seasons. They had a pretty solid draft in 2020, and they'll need similar success in 2021. –Mike Dussault

Is there a time frame for the players who sat out last year to declare their intentions for the upcoming season?Bob Snowdon

That's a great question Bob, and one that I'm not sure the league has addressed yet. As I laid out in 21 Burning Patriots questions for 2021, the decisions by the opt-out players is one of the biggest factors of the offseason. I just can't shake the feeling of thinking Dont'a Hightower and Patrick Chung's return would be a huge step for the defense even if they can't singlehandedly solve all the problems that need to be fixed. Their toughness and leadership is unparalleled.

My guess is that they'll have to declare an intention before the new league year starts in mid-March, but it gets complicated from there. Will players have the opt-out option again? Would any of them take it again? Would new players opt out?

There are a lot of COVID-19-related issues that the league will have to navigate heading into this offseason. It seems they'll just want to navigate this post-season first before bringing a plan together. –Mike Dussault

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