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Patriots Unfiltered Q&A: Teambuilding, rebuilding, and returning

In this week's mailbag, fans want to know how the Patriots might construct their 2021 roster through free agency, trades, and the upcoming NFL Draft. Plus, the reported return of opt-out players.


With the recent news of the Patriots 2020 opt-outs agreeing to come back, I was curious will this have an effect on available spending money? I know the Patriots were well set on cap space and I was wondering if these contracts were already accounted for in relation to this year's cap or if our free agent funds just took a hit? Thanks! Charlie Taylor

For the benefit of readers who might not have heard, Charlie is referring to this past weekend's media reports indicating that the eight Patriots players who opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 reasons are expected to return to action in 2021. The three most notable names on that list are linebacker Dont'a Hightower, safety Patrick Chung, and right tackle Marcus Cannon. The other five are running back Brandon Bolden, fullback Danny Vitale, tight end Matt LaCosse, wide receiver Marqise Lee, and offensive lineman Najee Toran.

When those eight men elected last summer to sit out the 2020 season, their contracts tolled – a fancy way of saying they carried over into 2021. You may recall at that time, New England's available salary cap space roughly tripled when those players opted out. It's my understanding that the 2021 cap space calculations you're likely alluding to already took into account the eight opt-out players' contracts. So, short answer, no, they're reported returns shouldn't have an impact on the cap space figures you've seen. Erik Scalavino

On this current roster which needs major improvements all over, would you rather draft someone who is an offensive playmaker or a defensive force? Johnny Tran

Very simple, Johnny. Whoever is the most talented player on the board at the time. As you correctly point out, the current Patriots roster is begging for impact playmakers across the board. If New England stays put at its current 15th overall spot in the first round, I'd be happy with the team selecting whoever it thinks is the most gifted player, regardless of which side of the ball his position might be. Erik Scalavino

What do you think about the Patriots re-signing Cam [Newton] and then trading up into the top five of the draft to take someone like Justin Fields or Trey Lance? Billy Schmidt

I'm all about the second part of your question, Billy. Every year, I hope the Patriots package picks to move up in the first round, because that gives you access to a greater pool of the most talented players. Of the two specific rookies you cited, I tend to gravitate more toward Lance, but it would be exciting to see New England move up that high to get a quarterback, no matter who it is.

As far as the Newton element goes, I'm less enthusiastic, given what we already know about him and his capabilities in this offense. I also believe Newton believes he's a bona fide starting quarterback in this league. Which means re-signing him would come with the expectation (at least on his end) that he's going to start. Drafting a QB in the top five would immediately force a legitimate competition, and I'm not sure the veteran would be amenable to that. Besides, when a QB is drafted that high, most people would rather see that player under center.

So, in my estimation, only one of these options could come to pass (no pun intended), and the likelihood of both seems minimal. Erik Scalavino


2021 Patriots Unrestricted Free Agent Rundown

Breaking down the 2021 list of internal unrestricted free agents that the Patriots will have to make decisions on.

Between [David] Andrews, [J.C.] Jackson, [James] White, and [Lawrence] Guy, who is likely to get the franchise tag this year before free agency opens up and what is the cost at their positions for 2021? Lars Dankers

My guess is the Patriots won't place a franchise or transition tag on anyone this year. This wouldn't be unusual either. There have been plenty of offseasons in which New England didn't tag an impending free agent. In Jackson's case in particular, he's only a restricted free agent, meaning he'll almost certainly be given a tender offer, at the very least, by New England before the new league year on March 17.

The other three players you listed are unrestricted free agents, all of whom are good guys and good players whom I'd love to see stay in Foxborough. However, I don't think the team will want to invest the sizeable dollars that come with franchise tags for any of their respective positions. Hopefully, they can all come to agreements during the negotiating process that begins later this month. Erik Scalavino

Would you pull a Mike Ditka/Ricky Williams and trade all our picks for the 1st pick in the draft? Do you think Jacksonville would do it? Robert Naegele

Wow, that would not only be the most exciting Patriots draft ever, it would also make for a lot less work on draft weekend for the content team! Nevertheless, it's unrealistic, on both ends.

No, I don't think the Jaguars would part with the pick, even for such a hefty haul of selections. Trevor Lawrence appears to be the closest "sure-thing" QB since Andrew Luck. And I wouldn't expect the Patriots to make such an offer because, well… that would be highly uncharacteristic, to say the least.

Also, with so many other positions of need to address, they need all the help they can get in acquiring new players. Limiting themselves to just one pick – even one as potentially game-changing as Lawrence – would put them far behind in that pursuit. I'll admit, though, it is tempting to consider. Erik Scalavino


2023 Patriots Mock Draft Tracker

Find out what the top 'experts' are predicting the Patriots will do in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft.

I know we need a quarterback bad, I think we need to address the front seven, and wideout position as well. Not to mention no production from the tight end position. Do you think we have enough cap space and enough draft picks to address all of our needs? Terrance Fleming

By "address," are you asking me whether or not the team will add new players at every position? Almost certainly, the answer would be yes. But if you're asking whether or not this will solve all their problems at each position, almost certainly, the answer would be no. The teambuilding process is rarely a simple, easy fix, and it's complicated further by having to rebuild entirely at so many positions. This could take a while to get it right. For fans like yourself, patience is what's needed most, difficult as that might be to accept. Erik Scalavino

What chance, if any, do the Patriots have of getting the Deshaun Watson? Wayne Humphrey

Not saying it's 100-percent impossible, Wayne, but I wouldn't hold your breath. Erik Scalavino

If no quarterback is found, do you think bringing back Cam is their best option, with adding another year of experience with the system and an offseason? Jimmy R.

Best option? No, but it might be an emergency option. That's why I am loathe to rule it out entirely. _Erik Scalavino _

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