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Unfiltered Q&A: Replacing Gronk, draft needs and more


Adios Gronk, You will be missed. That said a couple of weeks ago, during free agency frenzy, I posed the question if T.J. Hockenson or Noah Fant was worth trading up for, and if so how far up the Pats would be willing to go. I felt 18 would be the very limit of capital they would be willing to spend but now wonder if with Tom Brady's age and so many draft choices and so many second-year "rookies" if they might not go whole hog to get their guy for Brady's final years?_ Dave Brown_

To me the idea of trading up in the draft should always be with a specific player in mind, not due to a quarterback's age or the retirement of another player. If Bill Belichick and his staff feel that Hockenson or Fant (for me it would be Hockenson only) was worthy of such a move, then clearly the draft capital exists to make a bold trade. Again, only if the player is deemed special. Otherwise, it's trading up for the sake of making a trade instead of getting a specific player who you believe can help. I love the idea of identifying a uniquely talented player and using some of the extra draft capital to go get him, but that's a generality. It needs to be for someone Belichick believes in, and obviously there's no way of knowing whether either of the tight ends falls into that category. Personally, I like many of the tight ends in this class but not to the point where I want to make a dramatic trade to move up to get one – even with Gronk out of the mix.
Paul Perillo

What are the chances that the Pats will re-sign Josh Gordon if he's reinstated by the NFL? Also, being that Gronk has retired from football will we be targeting a TE in the draft or through free agency?_ Darris Robinson_

Really the only question surrounding Gordon will be whether or not he is reinstated. The league has said his case won't even be considered until May, but I'm not overly optimistic that he will be allowed to play. If he is, then the Patriots have offered him a restricted free agent tender and I can't imagine they would face much competition for his services. For as much talent as Gordon has displayed on the field he's never showed the ability to be a reliable part of a team. He's battled his issues throughout his career and doesn't seem any closer to solving them at this point. In terms of tight end, with or without Gronkowski in the mix I feel this is the team's biggest need and I expect the Patriots to draft at least one – and also perhaps look at what's left in free agency as well (Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Maxx Williams, etc.)
Paul Perillo

*Do you think free agency would have played out differently if Rob Gronkowski had announced his retirement two weeks ago? With approximately $10 million in additional cap space available prior to the start of free agency, might the Patriots have franchised Trent Brown? This would have allowed Isaiah Wynn to ease into the starting lineup rather than be forced to start in Week 1. Would the Patriots have been able to sign one of the wide receivers they were apparently out bid for? Would the Patriots have been more aggressive in trying to sign Jared Cook? Do you have any indication that the Patriots were pushing for his decision prior to the start of free agency? *Gary Madera
East Hanover, N.J.

These are all good and fair questions to ask after Gronk's decision to retire earlier this week. I obviously don't have any definitive knowledge on the situation since I'm not privy to the meetings between the team and the players, but that won't stop me from offering some thoughts. First, I'd say the Patriots were reportedly not out-bid for Adam Humphries and Cole Beasley but instead lost out despite offering more money – at least to Humphries. My feeling is there needed to be enough cap space in order to make offers to those wide receivers so it's hard to say that Gronk's timing had much to do with not getting them. I don't believe there was any chance the Patriots wanted to franchise Trent Brown with Wynn already here to replace him. That wouldn't have seemed like a wise use of significant resources. All signs indicate the Patriots are comfortable with Wynn and until he proves otherwise it's hard not to share their optimism. The Cook situation is the only one I feel may be tied to Gronk, but not necessarily due to money. Cook was hesitant when dealing with the Patriots due to Gronk's status, and that makes sense. So it's possible that if Gronk had retired in last month Cook would have signed with New England instead of sticking with New Orleans, as has been reported. I certainly don't hold anything against Gronk for taking his time with such an important decision, even if the team lost out on some potential cap space at the start of free agency.
Paul Perillo

Who do you see as the best reasonable replacement duo for the irreplaceable Gronk? Please, Unfiltered Q&A is not Patriots allusive at all. Could you please change for something that reminds more our team?_ Gregorio Ladeira_

Replacing Gronk is an impossible task but this year's draft has plenty of talented options to choose from. Iowa has a pair of tight ends in T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant, and Alabama's Irv Smith also has lots of talent. UCLA's Caleb Wilson, Stanford's Kaden Smith, Notre Dame's Alize Mack and Texas A&M's Jace Sternberger all have the ability to factor into the draft mix as well. I'd expect Belichick to spend some time with this position group and I'd be surprised if he didn't draft at least one tight end next month. In free agency, Austin Seferian-Jenkins is still available, and he's been reasonably productive when healthy. Maxx Williams is an interesting option as a former second-round pick who is still just 24 years old. Williams was a disappointment in Baltimore and has battled injuries, but Belichick has often targeted players who for whatever reason failed to live up to their draft stock and given them a second shot. Maybe that will happen with Williams, who is a free agent. Belichick also likes to trade, as we all know, and adding a tight end that way is also in play. As for the name … sorry you don't like it but Patriots is in the title. Not sure how much more "Patriots allusive" we can be.
Paul Perillo

*In Bill we trust, right? Bill the builder has a lot of work to do. In my 33 years as a Pats fan, I cannot recall this many players and coaches leaving, Gronk, Trey Flowers, Trent Brown, Malcom Brown, Cordarrelle Patterson, Dwayne Allen, Chris Hogan, (coaches) Brian Flores, Chad O'Shea, Brendan Daly, etc. With Brady aging and his last season being subpar, this adds yet another dynamic to the offseason issues. Fortunately the Pats are loaded with draft picks and many of their 2018 picks are coming back from essentially red-shirt seasons. However, Bill needs to hit a home run with the draft and other acquisitions for the Pats to remain Super Bowl caliber. What are the areas of imminent need do you see for the Pats? *Mel Ford

First I'd say the loss of personnel is pretty much in line with a typical year. Last year we saw Dion Lewis, Nate Solder, Danny Amendola and Malcolm Butler leave via free agency alone. So the losses this season in terms of players isn't out of the ordinary. There have been more departures in the coaching staff than normal for sure. Matt Patricia left last season but this year there have been multiple losses and the replacements will have to get up to speed quickly. As for the needs, I'd say tight end, wide receiver, depth at offensive and defensive line and probably linebacker and safety as well. But the most pressing areas are on offense at the receiver spots.
Paul Perillo

I'm intrigued by Mike Pennel and wonder how you would compare him to Malcom Brown and Danny Shelton? Some of the film and his play from last season show he could be an upgrade in that defensive tackle position alongside Lawrence Guy and Alan Branch._ David Beckett_

Not to go all Bill Belichick on you, but we'll wait and see how Mike Pennel fits in once he gets here and we see him working on the field starting in OTAs but more importantly in training camp. At 6-4, 333 pounds he would appear to be a replacement for Brown and Shelton on the inside working with Guy as a run stuffer. By the way, Alan Branch has been gone for over a year – he was released after the 2017 season.
Paul Perillo

Gronk: Thanks for all the memories. You're the best and we will miss you greatly. I wish you the best in whatever you do in the future. If you choose the movies, would you consider playing Jack Reacher? I've read all the books and the Reacher character is 6-4 and 250 pounds. You'd be great in the role. Best of luck in whatever you choose to do._ Keith Nelson_

A little career advice for the soon-to-be-Hall of Famer …
Paul Perillo

When will the 2019 schedule with this year's games be available?_ Melanie McLeod_

The schedule is usually unveiled by the league in the middle of April sometime. The league also likes to offer some highlights of the schedule beforehand like the Week 1 prime time matchups and things of that nature. But generally look for that info in April.
Paul Perillo

I may have found the steal of the draft. Check out the highlight reel of WR Hakeem Butler from Iowa State. I think the Pats should use one of their two second-round picks on this guy cause it's too risky to wait until third. Your thoughts._ Matt Bengle_

Butler is huge at 6-6 and 225 pounds but I'm not overly impressed with his ability. I watched him play a few times and other than winning an occasional jump ball he doesn't appear to be all that productive. He's not refined as a receiver and relies on his frame in order to succeed. You could find guys with less physical traits than Butler to take a flyer on and I could see him develop over time in the right program but I would let someone else do the developing unless he's there in the middle rounds.
Paul Perillo

I believe Rishard Matthews would be a good fit for the offense and not cost the Pats much._ Paul Bellamy_

Matthews wouldn't cost the Patriots anything other than a salary since he's a free agent, and I don't think it would take much more than the minimum. He's 29 years old and still available as we near April, which means teams haven't shown much interest at this point. I wouldn't mind the Patriots taking a flyer on a veteran like Matthews to add some depth to the group. Not much to lose there.
Paul Perillo

Would the Patriots be interested in Dez Bryant? He`s the kind of end-of-career player they love to revive. I'm sure he'd play hard for a chance at the Super Bowl._ Robert Davidson_

I don't think playing hard has generally been Bryant's problem; age and injury have. His days in Dallas ended because he lost a step and was no longer the focal point of the offense. He was expensive at that point and didn't like not getting the ball as much. Then he was out of football for most of last season before New Orleans signed him late in the season, and he promptly tore his Achilles. At this point I'm not sure there's much left, and I think there are other options that would be more productive than Bryant at this point – whether in the draft or with a veteran.
Paul Perillo

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