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Patriots Unfiltered Q&A: Roster projections and more

Fans' questions answered in our weekly mailbag. 

AP Photo/Elise Amendola
AP Photo/Elise Amendola

Who do you think will be the Patriots starter [at QB] Week 1? I've seen a few opinions recently that [Brian] Hoyer might have the edge on [Jarrett] Stidham with a potential condensed offseason. Is that also a potential consideration for bringing in another veteran like Cam Newton or trading for [Jacoby] Brissett/[Josh] Rosen/[Mitchell] Trubisky? Finally for the veteran vs Stidham argument, do you think the extra time spent with the playbook or the chemistry with the receivers would be most significant? Alex Marr

I'm sticking with the answer I've given throughout this unprecedented offseason. At this point, I would say Stidham is the de facto starter, without having seen any of him on the field since he threw his famous pick-six against the Jets last season. Once the players get on the field, however, all that matters is who performs best and gives the team the best chance to win. That could very easily be Hoyer, or some other veteran who's brought in. But as I've also made clear in other Q&A columns, the team just doesn't have enough cap space right now to make such a move. So, with two undrafted rookies on the team, along with the veterans Hoyer and Stidham, I have to believe this is what the Patriots are going with into camp. Of course, that could change in a moment's notice, but right now, I'm sticking with Stidham as the favorite to win the starting job. Erik Scalavino

Do you think Bill Belichick would ever sign Cam Newton? The former MVP is a great QB and could be a better quarterback paired with Bill Belichick. Finn Reilly

I loathe to discount almost anything when it comes to BB and the Patriots, but the reality, at the moment, is that, even if New England wants to sign Newton, the club doesn't have nearly enough salary cap space to do so. For that reason, I'll say no, but again, moves can be made at any time to free up necessary space to make more transactions, including at QB. So, I won't rule it out entirely. Erik Scalavino

With drafting two TEs in the third round, do you see the Patriots making the offense work around them like when Gronk and [Aaron] Hernandez were with the Patriots to help the run attack and maybe the WRs? John Gresko

If Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene are as dynamic a duo as Gronk and Hernandez were, then sure, the offense will have no choice but to revolve around them. Those are unfair expectations, however, to place on these two rookies until we actually know what they're capable of doing on the field in the NFL. I would take a much more conservative approach when it comes to the TE position this season. Any overall productivity that surpasses that of the 2019 tight end roster would be my initial goal for these guys at the outset. Erik Scalavino

Do you think that there is any chance that Dalton Keene sees snaps at FB? Seems like a possibility. Also, what are your thoughts on the idea that [WR Damiere] Byrd and [safety Adrian] Phillips will be key players, and much better than anticipated as well as fan-favorites? Byrd is a single-coverage buster with his release, and Phillips IMO is another Rodney Harrison-type story. Brian Heisler

Without having seen any of the players you mentioned suit up for New England yet, it's virtually impossible to give you any sort of opinion that would be based in substance. Would I be surprised to see Keene take a few snaps at fullback during camp sessions? No. However, with veterans Jakob Johnson and Dan Vitale already at the position, they'll likely get the majority of reps, at least in the beginning. Could he supplant them? I suppose anything's possible, but remember, New England also has enough issues at tight end that it needs to see Keene perform there, too, in my estimation.

As for the veteran free agents, Byrd and Phillips, it would be great if they can come in right away and contribute, but I can only judge them based on what they do here in Foxborough, not what they did with their former clubs. I'm anxious, as you are, to find out. Erik Scalavino

I keep reading comments about problems in 2019. [Former QB Tom] Brady "didn't have a good supporting cast, running game was not there, etc." The single biggest problem in 2019 was injuries on the O-line. Those caused nearly all the other problems. The running game was weak because the blocking was weaker. The passing game was weak against good opponents because there was less time for receivers to get open. It appears that the O-line could return key players and could be much better. Hopefully the draft also added some good players here too. My question, will the new O-line coaches be able to get this part of the team back to where they have been in past SB years? David Fogg

I disagree with your underlying premise, David. Sure, the offensive line struggled with some injuries in 2019, and that certainly didn't help matters. However, the blame cannot be placed squarely on that unit's broad shoulders. The running game struggled not just because of the o-line, but, more importantly, because the team lost TE Rob Gronkowski to retirement – he was the best blocking tight end in football – as well as reliable fullback James Develin and his backup, Jakob Johnson, to injuries early on. New England's success running the football in late 2018, during the Super Bowl run, was due in large part to the blocks thrown by Gronk and Develin, in concert with the o-line.

As far as the passing game is concerned, this had absolutely nothing to do with the play of the o-line and everything to do with a deficiency in talent and overall inexperience among that group.

I'm moderately concerned, though, about the offensive line, given the change in coaching (we still don't know exactly who'll be taking over for Dante Scarnecchia, although we have a general idea of a couple of candidates), cautious optimism about David Andrews' return at center, and a long list of unknown commodities, particularly in the backup positions. This will be a position that'll bear close examination once the team is able to take the field together again. Erik Scalavino

I counted 10 O-linemen who could be making the team as starters or backups including two players the Patriots traded for in 2019 [Jermaine Eluemenor and Korey Cunningham], two redshirt draftees, and 2020 rookie Michael Onwenu. If the Patriots cut two of them, they will be lost. Who are you prepared to lose at this point? Ken Kannapan

As I stated above, I've got more questions than answers myself about this year's offensive line crop, and I'm certainly not prepared to put anyone's name in ink on this depth chart just yet, with the possible exceptions of Shaq Mason, Joe Thuney, and Isaiah Wynn. Most of the players on the O-line haven't proven much, if anything, so, we need to let the competition play itself out before I'm prepared to make definitive statements about any individuals. Erik Scalavino

Is it possible that Tom Brady could return to the Patriots in the future before retirement? Haley Lundkvist

Do you mean in one of those one-day contract ceremonies where he officially signs his retirement papers? Absolutely, I could see something like that. But if you mean, will he ever suit up in a Patriots uniform again? Highly unlikely. Erik Scalavino

In the playoff game [versus Tennessee in January], the Titans ran all over the Patriots' D, which lost two highly capable LBs on the inside. Do you think the Patriots have enough ILBs to stop the power run game the next season? Ben Goff

I assume you're referring to Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins? In free agency this offseason, New England saw KVN and Collins sign with Miami and Detroit, respectively. But those guys weren't inside backers. They spent most of their time on the outside. The only true inside 'backer to leave New England this year was Elandon Roberts (also a Miami defector).

The Patriots' problems against the run last season had more to do with a less stout defensive line than its linebacker corps, in my estimation, and I'm not yet sure if they've done enough to bolster the front seven overall to stanch the bleeding in that regard. It's definitely a concern, though, I agree with you, Ben. Erik Scalavino

We always read about the specifics of the dollar values of player contracts, but I don't believe I've ever read anything about what assistant coaches get paid, and only very rarely about what head coaches get paid. For instance, I when Josh McDaniels walked away from the Colts' head coaching job a couple of years ago, no one ever mentioned if he was financially lured to stay. Separately, does the league limit the size of coaching staffs or non-player personnel overall? Paul Bernard

Well, I'm afraid you weren't reading closely enough at the time, Paul, because almost every media outlet reported that, shortly after bailing on Indy, McDaniels inked a long-term deal with New England that made him the highest-paid coordinator in football, averaging somewhere around $4 million per season (a number never confirmed publicly by the team, of course).

Typically, NFL coaches make in the seven-figure range. Coordinators can earn six-figure salaries, while regular assistants – position coaches – make significantly less than that. Teams around the league have coaching staffs of various sizes, with New England generally on the lower end of that scale, although they compensate for it with coaching assistants (a lower-level rank than and not to be confused with assistant coaches). I'm not aware of any particular league rule that limits the number of coaches a team can employ. Erik Scalavino

Love reading your column every week from across the pond here in the UK! My question is, apart from [Julian] Edelman, who do I get on the back of the new jersey for the upcoming season? Ideally, I want someone who will be on the roster for the next couple of seasons. I want to go for [QB Jarrett] Stidham, but it's not a sure thing that he starts in September. Aaron Wykes

Jake Bailey and Joe Cardona! As a former kicker/punter, I'm always eager to promote fellow specialists, and after his promising rookie season, I'm pretty confident Bailey'll be around for a while. And not only is Cardona's long snapping job relatively safe, he's also a great guy. But I have another option for you. What's your favorite number, Aaron? If I were you, I'd go with that, and customize the jersey with your own surname on the back. That way, you'll always wear your favorite team's colors, and never have to worry about the name being irrelevant to you. Erik Scalavino

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