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Replay: Best of Radio Thu Apr 18 - 02:00 PM | Tue Apr 23 - 11:55 AM

Patriots Unfiltered Q&A: Veteran free agents, rookie development and a quick 2021 look-ahead

Fans' questions answered in our weekly mailbag. 


How do you think the older guys that are still under contract or in their final year are responding to this season? Is there belief that a rebuild is as close as next season? Or are they all packing? -@theTomMalcolm

There's no question that this has been a challenging season on a number of levels this season, especially off-field for James White and Devin McCourty. I think Ivan Fears was being pretty honest last week when he commented on how hard this season has been. No one is going to make excuses for the COVID-19 of it all, the whole league is operating under those protocols and other teams have been affected as much or more as the Patriots.

But the convergence of multiple other factors… Brady's departure, along with a bunch of front seven veterans leavings, then more of them opting out, the lack of cap space early in the offseason to really fill any holes or improve, while the younger players haven't really contributed until the final third of the season. This was going to be a rebuilding year no matter what, but that's been compounded by the lack of a real offseason or preseason.

As for the vets, it's a great question which way the team goes next year. Do Hightower and Chung both return? Do the Patriots bring back Jason McCourty? Will Devin stay without him? What happens with Gilmore going into the last year of his deal? Who stays of Guy, Butler, Wise? Thuney, Andrews? James White? With Cam Newton the team has five captains set to his free agency.

Which players do they want to invest in? Which players want to stick around for what will certainly be a much younger team in 2021?

There's a lot of cap space but also a lot of questions that need to be answered, not even mentioning the quarterback position. ­–Mike Dussault

What was Bill's hoodie of choice when the Patriots missed the playoffs last time? -@joelshapiro20

The Patriots haven't missed the playoffs since 2008 and unfortunately, it came on a tie-breaker so there isn't one particular hoodie I can point to as the one that was bad luck. Perhaps it was the fact that there were only five true hoodie games that season and four of the last five came in raincoat conditions.

This season coach Belichick has worn a new version of the 2013 Hot Jacket nine times and he's 5-4 in it. The style is his most-worn piece of attire despite the notoriety of the hoodie. He's currently 46-18 all-time it. –Mike Dussault

With many tenured Patriots nearing the end of their careers, which young Patriot could you see being on the roster for years to come? I think Jake Bailey. -@ShawMellors

Jake Bailey's a good one, though I will say I felt like the Patriots had one of the best punters in the league in Ryan Allen. I would've thought he'd have stuck around more than six years but I guess that's life in the punting business.

Maybe I'm jumping the gun a bit, but I think Kyle Dugger is going to have a long, productive career with the Patriots. Sometimes it's hard to know which positions Belichick seems to value the most but the safety spot is a good place to start, there's been a concerted effort to keep Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung around. Dugger is rapidly ascending despite making a giant leap in competition level.

I think Jakobi Meyers should stick around for a bit as well, he's shown good progress in his second season and while the team needs to add a dynamic threat or two at the wide receiver position, Meyers should find a role by being reliable and affordable. He could lock up a third/fourth receiver role for the next few seasons if he can stay healthy and continue to grow. –Mike Dussault

How would you rank the rookies based on their performances this year?Mike "Hollywood" Maguire

Thanks Hollywood, who doesn't love a good list. With minimum explanation (there will be plenty of time for that this offseason), here's an initial ranking with movement still very possible over the last three games when many of these players could see significant snaps.

  1. Kyle Dugger – Playing more traditional safety shows Dugger has full-field potential.
  2. Michael Onwenu – Most steady rookie all season, is a long-term tackle or guard?
  3. Josh Uche – Athletic traits are starting to show up.
  4. Anfernee Jennings – Has size, strength and length to play inside and outside, starting to play faster.
  5. Myles Bryant – Late-rising surprise turning into a versatile gem in the secondary.
  6. Justin Herron – Getting valuable left tackle game experience.
  7. Devin Asiasi – Returned vs. Rams, could use strong finish to season.
  8. Dalton Keene - Should get plenty of looks in final three games.
  9. J.J. Taylor – Sparkplug made some big plays early in the season, could get another chance late.
  10. Isaiah Zuber – Got some early looks but might have to wait until training camp.

We know that the Patriots are a team that needs the practice in order to win, with that being said do you think that if the Patriots first played the Rams (full week of practice, better team) and then the Chargers (walkthroughs) they would have a better chance winning both. -@BklynDino

Not really, I think the Rams were the better team that were not going to beat themselves no matter when the Patriots played them. Similarly, I think the Chargers' special teams and inexperienced quarterback would've had similar issues, perhaps even more so on a short-week Thursday night.

The Patriots came out flat against the Rams, no question, and that really gave them no chance in the game with how well the Rams executed. –Mike Dussault

What do you think? Which veterans are out next season? Who will stay? -@AriReunanen

As I alluded to above, there's a lot to consider and I'm not sure I'm ready to just run down the list and kill everything I'm looking forward to writing early in the offseason. I've started thinking about all of it, but there's a lot of pieces to the puzzle.

So for now, let me give you three names that I think the Patriots should keep from their internal free agents.

  1. David Andrews – The coaches and his teammates rave about how much Andrews means to the offense and the difference with him back this season is obvious. It will hurt to likely see Thuney finally walk, but Andrews is an affordable leader who is on the verge of his first Pro Bowl.
  2. Lawrence Guy – Guy will be 31 this offseason but he's missed just one game in four seasons. He's a captain and the best player in the defensive front and is uniquely valuable to the Patriots system.
  3. Adam Butler – A homegrown player, Butler has shown in recent weeks how quickly he can destroy an offense when he's on his game. He brings such a vital element to the pass rush, the Patriots should do their best to keep him

I'd say it's likely a slam dunk that the Patriots retain James White as well. He's persevered through an incredibly hard season and has been an invaluable leadership presence. With no groomed replacement, it's easy to see the Pats figuring out a new deal with White. –Mike Dussault

Besides Stidham, are there any players that you would like to see more of these last few weeks, so we can evaluate the positions going forward? -@cwiegmann24

I'd start with the rookie tight ends and J.J. Taylor, along with the continued development of the other rookies who have been playing – Onwenu, Dugger, Uche, Jennings, Bryant.

Of all the young players the tight ends are the only ones left I truly don't feel like I have much sense at all of them. The position has been completely unproductive for two seasons and it would be a huge positive if Asiasi and Keene can show up a bit here in three tough division games. The bar really isn't that high, one nice catch-and-run and I'd probably be pretty happy. A touchdown grab, I'd be ecstatic.

We'll see if Damien Harris is at practice this week, if he's banged up it could thrust Taylor back into the lineup and I'd love the chance to see him develop a bit more.

–Mike Dussault

Were you surprised Olszewski didn't get any snaps at WR after Stidham was put in the game? Thought they might play guys based off their chemistry. -@proudblackmatt

That's an interesting point, could be something to look for in these final three games. It was great to see Gunner continue his punt return hot streak over the last three games.

Turning around his season like this could really help him find a role for another season and buy himself some time to continue to develop as a wide receiver. The Patriots have quite a few holes to fill and there will certainly be competition for Gunner by the time summer 2021 arrives, but he's solidified his spot for now. –Mike Dussault

Now that the season is over what would you like to see the team work on these last three games? I would love to see Stid at QB not because I think he is better but to get some answers for the future. And he can't possibly be worse...Can he? -@AndyGirres

Yes, I think at the very least I'd love to see Stidham get the start against the winless Jets, I agree, the Patriots need to get as much information about their young players as they can at this point, especially at the quarterback position. Even if Stidham is destined to be a back-up, there's value in having an experienced back-up.

Overall, I just want to see the continuation of their run game being effective. It's who they are and I don't see much value in hoping their passing game suddenly starts carving up defenses with consistency, especially these next two defenses that are very good.

Continue to let Damien Harris (hopefully) run wild, or give Sony and J.J. Taylor the chance. Get the tight ends just a little bit involved and keep letting Jakobi, N'Keal and Damiere chances to make plays. –Mike Dussault

I was watching the SNF game and Cris Collinsworth discussed the improved throwing mechanics of Bills QB Josh Allen. Much of his better performance this year was attributed to a digital analysis of his motion and delivery along with a prescription for a more efficient approach to his passing game. Is there any evidence that Cam Newton or the Patriots coaching staff has attempted this approach to improve the poor mechanics that have been on full display this season?Mike Dreese

It's an interesting analysis, but I don't think the Patriots got this extreme. Jedd Fisch has spoken plenty about mechanical adjustments with quarterbacks but many of them were small technique areas and not a full makeover.

At this point in Newton's career, it seems like it would be too much of an undertaking to try to re-make what he's done and what's made him successful. It is fair to wonder what toll his recent injuries over the last years have taken on his throwing mechanics as well. –Mike Dussault

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