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Patriots Unfiltered Q&A: QBs, FAs and other rebuilding items

Plenty of rebuilding talk in this week's mailbag.


Now that we have struggled through a very difficult season for players and fans, will the Patriots brain trust admit they have a serious problem with player personnel? The lack of quality players to keep up the Patriots tradition of AFC East championships is not pandemic-related. This is the NFL and all any fan can ask is that my team is competitive each and every week. That has not been the case this season and we all know why so please take ownership like you preach to the players. Looking forward to a busy offseason.
Bryant Smeeth

I'm not sure exactly what the question is here. I don't think there's any doubt that the Patriots current roster isn't at the level it has been over the course of the past 20 years. I also don't think Bill Belichick or any other member of the team's brain trust would disagree with that. You say that all you can ask for as a fan is to have your team be competitive each week and you claim that wasn't the case this season. How many times were the Patriots not competitive this year? San Francisco? The Rams? Am I missing any others? Obviously sitting with a 6-8 record and being eliminated from the playoffs isn't the kind of season we're accustomed to, but that doesn't mean the Patriots are content with the situation. There's a lot of work to be done, and nobody knows that better than Belichick.
Paul Perillo

Rebuilding takes time and talent. To think the Patriots were going anywhere this year was foolish. The fact that BB is rotating in players on defense is good. Many more have been juggled on and off the practice squad which gives the player field experience and an opportunity for evaluation. So, why hasn't Bill Murray been thrown into the mix on defense? What are we doing with quarterback Jake Dolegala and tight end Paul Quessenberry? Rebuilding requires players who have a good possibility of sticking not just taking up space. Draft picks need improving and if not it will be a long time before we see playoff team caliber.
Gib Chase

As you mentioned the Patriots have used a lot of young players this season and many others have gained some experience moving up from the practice squad. That's certainly a good thing as the Patriots try to fill some holes on the roster and they will need to get as much evaluation time as possible over the last two weeks. In terms of the specific players you mentioned, Murray could be a candidate to get a longer look. His season was put on hold when he was stopped by COVID earlier in the year so perhaps that halted his progress. With three quarterbacks on the active roster it would be hard to envision Dolegala getting any opportunities to play. He has been on the practice squad for large portions of the season so Belichick must feel he is showing some signs of development. Quessenberry is a project as a hybrid fullback/tight end but he isn't likely ready for active duty just yet. Overall I agree with your larger point and that's using these games to find out as much about the team's young personnel as possible.
Paul Perillo

This season has been the most intriguing, frustrating and entertaining season by far. What I would like to know is what type of rebuild is required for the Patriots? Is it return to playoffs at all costs next year and trade/draft accordingly or do you think the Patriots can afford the longer term rebuild of draft around a young quarterback? If you were the GM after this season what would you recommend to the Krafts?
Adam Williams

I'm not sure I agree with the entertaining part of your description as the team's lack of offense has been tough to watch all season, but we definitely agree that a rebuild is necessary. I don't think there is a specific type of rebuild or timetable that would make sense. There's nothing glamorous about what needs to be done. Belichick needs to find good players who can be part of the future, and that starts with quarterback. I feel the best-case scenario would be to draft one in the first round and sign a veteran as well. That way the veteran could play while the rookie gets some time to learn the offense. But there's no way of ensuring that path will be available. The Patriots will be picking in the middle of the first round and it's impossible to know what quarterbacks, if any, will be available at that time. And adding a veteran quarterback is no sure thing either. So, given that uncertainty, it's hard to know what the rebuild will look like in the immediate future. But as long as there are some talented young players added to the roster it will represent progress.
Paul Perillo

For years, BB could afford to try his luck with drafting low-order QBs, but this genius ran out. Now he has to deliver or Pats will sink even further next season. Maybe that's the default strategy. Are you OK with another busted season as long as Pats finally get a SB-caliber QB?
Ken K.

There have been a lot of questions already about the length of the rebuilding process and other quarterback-related posts. Obviously we'd all be fine with a subpar season if the Patriots can get a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback (I love the "finally" part of that question … like it's been so long). Fans are going to have to come to grips with the fact that finding quarterbacks isn't easy, and replacing ones as great as Tom Brady is impossible. At this point we're all going to have to trust the rebuild and enjoy the process of team-building over the course of the next couple of years. We will see if that process involves drafting a quarterback in the first round, but it will be more important to find the right one regardless of how/where.
Paul Perillo

This past game emphasized the lack of offensive firepower on the team. What are the chances that either Sony Michel or N'Keal Harry are back with the team next year as they both appear to be non-existent in a healthy offense? What trade value could they bring?
Jeff Scott

I think there's close to 100 percent chance that both of those players will be back next year. Both will still be on their rookie contracts and therefore are quite affordable. Michel has been productive when called upon this season, and averaged more than 7 yards per carry in Miami on Sunday. Harry hasn't been consistent but it would be shocking to see the team give up on a first round pick after just two seasons. The problem with the offense has to do with a lot more than just Harry and Michel, starting with subpar quarterback play. Neither has been great, but given their youth and affordability I expect both to return.
Paul Perillo

For 20 years Belichick has told us that he plays the players that "give us the best chance to win the game." Accordingly, he and Josh McDaniels must believe that after nearly two years, Stidham is just not ready to take over the reins. Since he's only had limited game time experience, and most of that in garbage time, none of us fans/media have been able to fairly formulate our own judgments. So my question is, what is the plan going forward? While I don't blame Newton for every offensive woe this year (he's had no TE's and basically no WR's for most of the year), he is clearly not the answer. Is there any harm in starting Stidham the rest of the way?
Tom DiGangi

My short answer is yes and I've felt this way for several weeks. The offense simply is not making any progress under Newton and that's been the case most of the year. Obviously we don't have the information on Stidham that the coaches have, but either way I feel it's more important to find out if there's anything worth developing with Stidham than to keep playing Newton. Even if Stidham isn't the potential starter next year, why not find out if he can be a suitable backup? At this point playing Stidham could only help. If he fails and you feel he's not the answer, then at least you figure that out by watching him and evaluating his play on the field. It's time.
Paul Perillo

I just heard one of the CBS color TV personnel say that Cam Newton will not be the Patriots quarterback next year. I did not think that this decision has been made yet. If it is not true, this was not the right time to mention it with such an important game to play today against the Miami Dolphins.
Bob Murray

It is not the job of analysts to worry about the implications of the games that will take place. Most people don't believe Newton will be back next season and they shouldn't have to worry about how that makes anyone feel. Based on this season, it would be foolish to think otherwise. He's been one of the least productive quarterbacks in football and I can't see Belichick thinking it would be a great idea to bring him back. Either way the fact that the Patriots and Dolphins were playing later that day has no bearing on whether or not an analyst can offer his or her thoughts.
Paul Perillo

Why are you using so many quarterback running plays, third and short everybody knows it's going to be Cam so they key on him. More passes downfield trick the defenses with a shovel pass when he hits the line. I thought last Sunday's game on 4th and short could have been one of those times.
Al Scapicchio

Lots of questions about play-calling as well this week and honestly I don't really know what else to expect from Josh McDaniels based on the lack of playmakers he has at his disposal. One legitimate second-guess from the Miami game would be the use of Sony Michel. Michel carried 10 times for 76 yards, which is tremendous production but not enough carries. McDaniels certainly could have given him more opportunities and perhaps the Patriots may have turned some of those field goals into touchdowns. But overall I don't know what can be done with such a limited passing attack in terms of play calling. They run on third-and-short because they've been tremendously successful using Newton in those cases, and honestly they don't have many other reliable alternatives.
Paul Perillo

Every Sunday I am reminded when the Seahawks play about how badly we messed up in the draft passing on DK Metcalf. Not only once in the first round but then trading Seattle our pick in the second round and they took him. That guy continuously lights it up every week for the Seahawks. Are we ready to finally say that Harry is a bust? I sometimes don't know why we get so cute in the draft and look for these obscure players when in Metcalf's case the talent was just jumping off the charts. His size and speed are something you can't even coach and he has no problem getting separation. Will we move on from Harry this season and actually draft a legitimate first round receiver?
Chris Manko

Metcalf has been terrific in his two seasons and he's emerging as one of the best young receivers in the league. Honestly there is no sugarcoating that miss in the draft as he's been outstanding. But I'm not sure I understand the notion that the Patriots were trying to be "cute" by drafting Harry. He was taken exactly where most of the draft publications had predicted – at the end of the first round. There was nothing out of the ordinary with that pick. It hasn't worked, but not because the Patriots reached and took a player that they overvalued. Whether he is a bust or not is irrelevant because the fact is that many receivers taken after him have greatly outperformed him. As I said earlier, Harry will be back because he's cheap and will be in just his third year. He will get more time, but at this point it's not looking good.
Paul Perillo

I know Bill will be Bill, but should we expect to see Stidham with some real playing time before the season ends. I'm asking this because it's apparent that Cam is NOT the answer at QB going forward. I keep hearing about who might be available to us for next season - Matthew Stafford, Alex Smith, Sam Darnold - I'd be happy with him as a reclamation project. I'll throw another guy out there Marcus Mariota. And then there are the rookies possibilities Trey Lance, Mac Jones, Zach Wilson, Kyle Trask (didn't include the top 2 guys due to the cost). So of the guys, I've mentioned above who do you see as the Pats starting and backup QBs for next season. PLEASE don't include CAM!!!
Bob Michaud

You don't have to worry about me including Cam because I would consider that a disaster if he returns as the starter next year. Most of the possibilities you mentioned would be difficult to acquire. Trask and Jones will likely be available but the others would probably require trades to move up the board. Of the veterans you mentioned I'd prefer to see Stafford, who also would require a trade. I feel Stafford still has plenty left and would be a great bridge option while Belichick begins the process of finding the quarterback of the future. In the meantime I think playing Stidham in the final two games would make some sense as well. Lots of unknowns to deal with, not the least of which is figuring out who will be available and what it would cost to get them. Should be a fun offseason with lots of holes to fill. Let the rebuilding begin.
Paul Perillo

Which of our own free agents do we bring back this year?
Charlie Taylor

The Patriots have a lot of veteran free agents to deal with and it won't be easy to retain all of them. The offensive line has two key free agents in Joe Thuney and David Andrews and neither will be easy to re-sign. Thuney will likely get big money on the open market and Andrews won't be cheap either. My preference would be to keep Andrews because Michael Onwenu would likely be a suitable replacement for Thuney. Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler have been productive on the defensive line and would seem to be strong candidates to return as well. And I'd also like to see Damiere Byrd come back as a complementary receiver. With some additions to the top of the wide receiver depth chart, Byrd could be a valuable piece to the puzzle. But the more important work to be done is in the free agent market outside of the organization where the Patriots should be quite active.
Paul Perillo

Something I still don't understand and even don't like is the draft picks list. How come teams who decide to not play so they lose game on purpose could have the first picks? It's rewarding cheaters. It provides also some ugly games to watch. Why does the NFL still not change that rule and gives first picks to the best team just missing the playoffs so the 15th best team would get 1st pick until the 32nd team gets the 18th pick. The 19th pick would go to the worst team reaching the playoffs but losing in wild card weekend until 32nd pick for the SB winner. With this draft rule every team would keep focused on winning all regular season long. What you think?
Ludovic Boisseau
Versailles, France

The idea behind the first pick going to the team with the worst record is to help the weakest teams improve through the draft. Some people might argue that teams lose games intentionally but I really don't feel that's the case. But even if we feel the Jets and Jags are trying to lose on purpose, would anyone argue that those two teams are not the worst in the league this season? If we can agree on that then why would it be a problem to allow them to get the first and second picks of the draft? I can assure you the Jets would much rather be in the playoffs right now than in the hunt for the first overall pick. I don't believe creating a drastic change to the draft rules would be good for the league. It would instead make it much harder for the bad teams to improve, and that lack of parity is not good for the overall competitiveness.
Paul Perillo

Joe Thuney is going to be a free agent again after this season. Should Bill re-sign one of the top guards in the NFL? And is Stephon Gilmore most likely gone after this season?
Alex Sein

I love Thuney's toughness and durability but that doesn't mean I want to pay him more than $15 million to fill one of the guard slots. Rookie Michael Onwenu has filled in throughout the season at various spots and I feel he would be able to fill that void quite nicely should Thuney leave via free agency. I think the money saved could be used to fill areas of the roster that are lacking like wide receiver, tight end, edge rusher, linebacker not to mention quarterback. As for Gilmore, I do feel he's probably going to be dealt after the season. He has one year left on his deal and is looking for more money, and my guess is the Patriots will look to get something in return. If he does come back, it will be interesting to see if the Patriots are willing to either give him some more money or offer an extension. Gilmore's injury in Miami could complicate that situation, but assuming the reports are accurate and he's expected to be ready at some point during the offseason it would not be surprising to see a team in need of a quality corner willing to take a chance on bringing him in.
Paul Perillo

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