I have made some small adjustments to Coach Paul’s article. I don’t believe the Patriots will retain James Ferentz. He is a 32-year-old street free agent and there is a boatload of excellent OC in the draft. Second, I think Nick Folk will get an offer he just can’t pass up, especially at his age. That’s why the Patriots signed Aguayo. They will retain Rohrwasser for competition.
Coach Paul also suggests that the Patriots sign WR Marvin Jones. He is likely to sign with LA Rams now that Stafford is there.
I also left Michael Onwenu at Left Tackle. According to Devin McCourty, all COVID Opt-Out players are coming back including, Marcus Cannon. I think he will have to take a salary reduction to come back so he is not on the roster.
5) Defining the holes on our current roster:
With more than $45M cap space we have some luxury because that number is higher than the starting point one year ago. You are right, we have holes to fill, but with this amount, we can look around more open-minded than during the last few off-seasons. We have 66 players under contract, check the spreadsheets:
Is our roster strong enough? Definitely not. Despite the fact we have 64 players under contract for the next season, there are several positions where we need more or less upgrade.
QB: There is obviously need for a major upgrade. We have only Jarrett Stidham under contract, which is not an ideal situation. Stidham was a backup, saw only a few snaps during the season and he didn’t do anything to make us believe he could be the future. Free Agency or Draft? Some people say we need to sign a top-tier QB or trade for someone. My concern with this is that there is only one top-tier QB who might be able to test the market, Dak Prescott from the Cowboys. I am not sure he will, because Jerry Jones can tag him or they could sign him with a long-term contract before free agency starts. Even if he is available, his price tag would be way over $30M per year, which is far too high for the Patriots.We could trade for Deshaun Watson, but those trades would take away a lot of picks and/or his salary would be too high. I won’t trade for a middle-class QB. From free agency, we have some options. Cam Newton could come back (but as I wrote earlier he wouldn’t be my target), Fitzmagic could be a mentor-type player, who could fulfill his destiny playing for every AFC East team. Jacoby Brissett would be an ok signing too since he knows the team and would be a strong backup. If we would go wild, there is Mitchell Trubisky, who could turn around his career in New England. I would stay with the draft, pairing the potential selection with a mentor-type veteran signing.
WR: Upgrade needed. We need a number 1 wide receiver who is reliable and can be a real treat for the opposing defenses. We have a very good group of number 2-3 receivers. Julian Edelman, hopefully, will come back for one more season. Jacobi Meyers proved he is a capable number 2 guy and N’Keal Harry will get one more chance to show his abilities. I don’t think he will be a number 1 caliber receiver, but he might be a good number 2. After this group we have some role players, but nothing special. Signing a number 1 type of target in free agency would take a lot of money (at least $15-17M per year), so we need to see where else we need veteran help. Drafting someone in the early rounds gives us another problem. The Patriots playbook is not easy, which we could see during the years how challenging it is for young players. Do we want to risk another first or second-round failure, or are we ready to spend top dollars on free agency?
RB (FB): This is one position where I have no worry. I will go with the guys we have. That may include Brandon Bolden, who is not on the list.
TE: That is tricky. After Belichick drafted two tight ends last year in the third round, I am not sure he would spend another 1st or 2nd-day pick on this position. If yes, that should be Florida’s Kyle Pitts in the first round or Penn State’s Pat Freiermuth in the second. They could provide immediate help and could give the other guys some time to develop. Signing a tight end via free agency is not simple either. We would need a splash signing, someone from the top tier. I am just not sure if we’ll have that type of tight end this year. Please, don’t kill me because of my opinion.
Hunter Henry is the top dog this year, but he should play a full season first before I would give him $11-13M per year. Additionally, he should have better numbers than he has now. The other often mentioned player is Jonnu Smith from the Titans. His 2020 season was quite good. He scored 8 touchdowns, he’s great getting yards after the catch, but he is the same type of player that Devin Asiasi could be. Same height, same weight, etc. We could have Gerald Everett, who is the same again as Asiasi. We all know that tight end is one of the hardest positions to learn, so we might see a second-year jump from our two young tight ends.
OL: We will need a starter at LG or RT position, which depends on where Onwenu will play. We have some in-house backup options, but we will try to find gems during the draft. This is one position where I am confident with the Patriots development program.
DL: Lawrence Guy is a fantastic player for the Patriots (that is why we signed him back), but he won’t be younger. Deatrich Wise Jr. is more of a rotational player than starter, but still a valuable piece. Our number one nose tackle now is … well, we don’t really have a starter at the NT position, which is a very important spot in Belichick´s 3-4 plays. I can see some additions here.
Edge: Chase Winovich and Josh Uche could give us two good edge players. Uche will be only in his second year (a lot to learn), but Wino is quite good as a rusher (he still needs to improve to be a 3 down option). There is room for upgrade, but with an offseason, the youngsters could give us a good group here.
LB: Because Dont’a Hightower is coming off the COVID Opt-out group and his retirement is in this scenario, we potentially need another veteran presence. This group is ok at the moment, but I am definitely expecting 1-2 moves here.
CB: Another group where I am satisfied with the pool we have.
S: Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty might play their last year in the league. The Patriots drafted Kyle Dugger, who could be a potential replacement for Chung or even for McCourty. Joejuan Williams could play more safety since he is not in a good position on the cornerback depth chart. Adrian Phillips is another good player for the year. I won’t move big dollars for this position, maybe on the draft in rounds 4-5. That’s where I would pick a project player if there is someone good.
K: We have Folk, no reason to worry. (see my comment above)
P: If you have a Pro Bowler punter, you are in good hands.
LS: Cardona is good. Period.
As you can see the team has many spots to fill up with better players, but we have some groups which don’t really require upgrades. There will be positions where I would prefer experience over drafting someone, but you will see some opposite cases as well. This could change from analyst to analyst. My first thought here is, we now have too many holes to make really big money signings. I think the team should try to sign better players with mid-range salaries, which should allow them to strengthen this offense for the new QB or QBs who are brought in over the offseason. On defense, the team should and I am sure they will, upgrade the front 7.
6 & 7. Decide and pull the trigger:
First, there is free agency, which will be the place to spend money in big way. Again, we have almost $46M, but please don’t forget, from this amount we should keep $4-5M for in-season moves. This will give us $41-42M to spend:
Jacoby Brissett, QB: Ooooh yes, I hear some of you are mad as hell. As I wrote earlier, I want to draft a QB and I want to sign a mentor type backup, who could be a starter for the first half of the season if this is necessary. Brissett is a well-known name in New England, since the Patriots drafted him in the 3rd round in 2016. After just one season he was traded to the Colts in 2017, where he immediately played in 16 games. He didn’t do any top tier things, but he was a serviceable starter and a good backup. Another thing, which speaks well for him, is how much the teammates loved him in Indianapolis. They loved his attitude and his leadership. This is what the Patriots need at the moment. I really hope his second stint will be better than his first in Foxborough and both sides will likely be happy about the signing. I believe he would get a 2 years contract for $15M ($7.5M guaranteed), with a cap number of $7M in 2021.
Marvin Jones Jr, WR: He might not be the sexiest pick, but he could give the WR room veteran leadership and experience. The soon to be 31-year-old receiver can play from the slot or outside, he would be a valuable piece in the offense. During the last two seasons he made 31 20+ yards plays and had 18 TDs. In 2020 he almost reached the 1,000 receiving yard mark, so I would give him a 3 year, $30M ($15M guaranteed) deal with a cap number of $9M for 2021.
Curtis Samuel, WR: Yes, another WR from free agency. This signing gives Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels a swiss army knife type of a player. Samuel can run, he can catch, you can use him in different ways. He is a big-play guy too, in 2020 he had 13 20+ yards plays. He isn’t a number 1 type of guy, but he has so much to offer in a good system. He will be only 25 years old, which means he has many years left. I would give him a long, 5-year contract with a value of $50M ($30M guaranteed) with a cap number of $8M in 2021.
Matt Feiler, RT: Feiler played as RT and LG, just as Onwenu, but Feiler’s best season came as a right tackle. His addition would allow the club to move Onwenu back to his original spot and he can replace the likely departing Joe Thuney. We give him a 2-year contract with a $12M value ($6M guaranteed) with a cap number of $5M in 2021.
Avery Williamson, LB: As I mentioned earlier, the team needs a veteran ILB who can solidify the group. I took Williamson because he is good against the run, but he is also able to play against the pass too. In 2019 he tore his ACL, but in 2020 he came back with a 100+ tackle season. Williamson is 6’1, 245lbs which is good for ILBs. In 2018 and 2019 he was part of the Jets, so Belichick could get an extended look on him. He will be 29 this year, and I would give him a 3 year $23M ($12M guaranteed) contract, which will count $7M against the cap in 2021.
DaQuan Jones, NT: We need someone who can fix the middle of the Dline and Jones can be that player. During the last 5 years he missed games only in 2017, every other year he had no major injuries, which makes this pick even better. Rushing the passer is not his best ability, he had 3 sacks in the last 3 years, but he is good against the run, he can eat up space and that is what we need right now. I would give him a 3 year $23M contract too, but with $15M guaranteed. For the 2021 season, that would put us with a $7M cap number.
Hopefully, after all these signings we still have some money for the season. The cap number of these 6 contracts in 2021 will be $43M, which will give us almost $3M cap space remaining. That is an ok amount, since we will have more money after the final roster cuts, so we can concentrate on the Draft.
We still need a QB, a TE wouldn’t be bad either and an Edge/DE position is one to watch. Please don’t forget, if the team will make any trade with the picks, it will change the rookie pool and therefore our cap space too.
The draft is always full of question marks, you really don’t know if your pick will live up to your expectations. Good, the first few picks are usually really solid, but we saw some 1/1 busts. And you can find real gems later (199th for example), but you need to evaluate the players and you hope those evaluations are correct. You buy the past success on free agency and you “buy” the future success on draft. Neither is a sure thing.
1/15, Mac Jones, QB, Alabama:I know it is quite unusual that the Patriots are not trading down or up in the first round, but I will stay put and will take Jones. Why him? The best 3 will be long gone and personally, I am not so high on Trey Lance. Yes, he is very athletic and he didn’t throw an INT in 2019, but he has only one season of experience on the FCS level, so I am not sold on him. His predecessor, Carson Wentz could be a good example for us, because he was picked high, but something is broken with him now. The level of competition and that one season didn’t convince me. Jones, on the other hand, is absolutely my type of player. First and foremost he stayed at Alabama and waited until his time was coming. He didn’t transfer to another college to get more reps, he waited and learned and when he got his chance after Tua’s injury in 2019, he grabbed his chance and never let it go. That is an A+++ thing for me, that shows me his mental thoughness and willingness. Besides, he was extremely efficient with his throws, with an over 70% completion rate and he has skills that could be really good in the Pats system. Is he only a product of the system in Alabama? Man, come on. Tua had an even better supporting cast, but Jones beat him in almost every statistical number. Were you high last year on Burrow? Jones matched him in almost every category. If Tua was a 1/1 candidate before his injury, then I can’t understand why Jones would be overdrafted at 15? Especially after the last few days at the Senior Bowl, where Jones was one of the best players on the field and therefore his status is even stronger than before. I think taking our future franchise player at 15 is not a bad thing.
2/14, Pat Freiermuth, TE, Penn State: As I wrote earlier, I am absolutely ok taking Freiermuth here. Asiasi and Keene showed us very little, even if the TE position is very hard to learn, but we need someone who could give us a boost. We have a move TE in Asiasi, so we need a good big, bodied TE. Freiermuth is a Massachusetts guy, who wore #87, he is 6´5 and 258lbs. He won’t outrun every linebacker, but has the potential to be a Gronk-light. I’ve read some early mock draft and there were 1 or 2 where he was drafted in the late first round. I think because of his shoulder injury and surgery he will be available in the middle of the second round (or at least I hope) and I believe the Patriots will jump on him.
3/33:I wouldn´‘t do any trades, just pick where the team has selections. Additionally, at this early stage, I will pick only for positions from now on. I guess BB will do some magic here to move up on the draft board because there is a huge gap between 2/14 and 3/33. My target would be a defense line or edge player here.
4/15: Edge, Dline or Oline
1st 4th comp pick: one of the above-mentioned positions or linebacker
2nd 4th comp pick: safety (no draft without a safety) or cornerback
Wow, we did it. Applause for every one of us. As you can see I tried to fix the Oline, brought two veteran WR on the board, and got another young TE. This whole package should help Jones to arrive into the NFL. This offense is now better than one year ago. On defense, I took only two players from FA, but these two will bring us a lot of experience and I am sure with them in the team we could see some development on this side of the LOS too. For me, this scenario would be a good path back to the playoffs. Let´s see how Belichick and the Patriots front office is thinking.
Merrimack Valley native and lifelong fan of the New England Patriots. My earliest memories of the Patriots were attending as a child with my dad, the off-season practice at Phillips Academy. I was at the Patriots game at Harvard Stadium in 1970 where Bob “Harpo” Gladieux was called out of the stands by the stadium announcer over the PA to play in the game. Analyzing the draft since ESPN first started to televise it in 1980 and former writer for the Lowell Sun Newspaper.