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Five Things to Know: Patriots and NFL Thoughts for 2/23

Ian Logue
Ian Logue on Twitter
3 months ago at 8:31 am ET
Posted Under: Patriots News

Five Things to Know: Patriots and NFL Thoughts for 2/23James Lang - USA TODAY Sports

Some news and notes as we hit the halfway point for the week:

1) Following Phil Perry of NBC Sports Boston’s report on Tuesday night on J.C. Jackson, one of the smaller tidbits that stood out was the fact the Patriots apparently tried to get something done during the 2021 season to prevent him from hitting free agency.

Jackson told Perry that the club approached him about an extension during the year but the two sides weren’t able to come to an agreement.  He didn’t elaborate on when exactly that happened, but he did say that despite failing to get it done, there were no hard feelings.

“It was all positive things,” said Jackson, who played the 2021 season on a second-round tender worth $3.8 million. “I wanted to focus on ball at the time. I wanted to finish the season the right way. I didn’t really come back to them on it.”

Now the obvious question is going to be what’s next for the former undrafted defensive back.  The window on the franchise tag opened on Tuesday, with the estimated salary falling in the range of $17 million for cornerbacks.  That would certainly be quite a raise for Jackson, who has been a player with outstanding instincts and alertness with a knack for picking off passes during his short career.  He’s amassed 25 interceptions during his four seasons in the league, which tied an NFL record for the most in a player’s first four seasons.

How they truly value him is something we don’t know and even Jackson isn’t 100% sure.  According to the former standout from Maryland, he hasn’t heard anything and in his mind, he doesn’t seem to think they want to keep him.

“I guess they feel like they don’t need me,” Jackson told Perry. “I guess I can’t be that important to them. I know I am, but they’re not showing me.”

He later added that showing him is going to require love in the form of dollar bills, with Jackson adding, “It’s time to get Mr. INT paid.”

As a result, it will be an interesting couple of weeks as we wait to see how one of the first dominoes of the offseason falls.  Expect them to be patient in doing so, as Patriots salary cap expert, Miguel Benzan, pointed out on Tuesday night that the Patriots have used the franchise tag 10 times during the Bill Belichick era, but have only tagged two players (Matt Cassel and Logan Mankins) during the first week of the tag period.

2) One of the areas to keep an eye on this offseason is whether or not the Patriots opt to add talent to their receiving corps, as it certainly feels like they were one player short at times throughout the 2021 season.

The most glaring issue revolves around N’Keal Harry, who despite having an extra game last season to potentially figure things out with a quarterback who could both get him the football and tried his best to do so, Harry still couldn’t turn the corner.  He finished the year with a paltry 12 receptions on 22 targets (10-of-19 from Mac Jones – a 52.6% completion rate) for 184-yards and no touchdowns.

His biggest contributions came in the ground game, with Harry establishing himself as a physical player who did a good job blocking opposing defensive backs and even some bigger players at times throughout the season.

However, his inability to become an asset in the offense left them short-handed all year, which hampered the production of the guys around him.  After seemingly blaming former Patriots QB Cam Newton for his shortcomings last offseason, Harry instead saw a season with Jones who was a better passer and did a great job of getting everyone the football.  Unfortunately, Harry still never figured it out and by season’s end, which included an embarrassing playoff exit, Bill Belichick has what should be a not-so-difficult decision to make.

His potential departure should open things up for another player, albeit we don’t know what they’ll do.  Should they choose to add another piece through free agency, it likely won’t include a big-name player given their other needs on the other side of the football.

That being said, what they really need is another threat who can win one-on-one match-ups.  After all, they already have a pretty good group in place.  Last offseason’s acquisitions Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne had some great moments, with Jakobi Meyers also putting together another solid year.  If they can find a speedy player who can open things up for those guys, all of a sudden, things could look quite different.

One name that would be interesting would potentially be Pittsburgh’s JuJu Smith-Schuster, who will be a free agent.  He’s coming off a tough season after a shoulder injury saw him appear in just five games, with the 25-year old catching just 15 passes for 129-yards.  That could put him potentially in New England’s price range, with Pro Football Focus even predicting him landing in Foxboro on a 1-year deal.

Ideally, a longer-term deal would be better, but the idea of pairing him with Meyers and Bourne while potentially making things a little easier on Agholor is intriguing.  Not to mention that locking him up for a few seasons in his prime with this current group would give Jones some unbelievable firepower to work with.

Whether or not that happens is another story, and it still requires moving on from Harry.  One would think he’s out of chances at this point but for yet another offseason, we’ll have to wait to see if the end will finally come for Harry’s time in New England.


Ochocinco’s time here in New England was disappointing (USA TODAY IMAGES).


3) Speaking of Harry, I was watching Brian Flores’ interview last night on “I AM ATHLETE” and one thought I had was thinking about comparing two disappointing seasons and trying to figure out who was more frustrating to watch, Harry or Chad Ochocinco’s 2011 campaign with the team?

At first glance, their numbers were similar.  Ochocinco finished that season with 15 catches for 276-yards and one touchdown, while Harry caught 12 passes for 184-yards.  Harry holds an edge as a blocker because he’s physically more imposing than Ochocinco, but Ochocinco was a considerably better route-runner yet for whatever reason, he struggled catching the football as well as getting a grasp of the offense.

The latter problem has also plagued Harry, who was often late getting off the ball as he constantly looked uncomfortable and was even spotted at one point during the season being told where to line up by a rookie quarterback.

Ochocinco caught a similar ire from former Patriots QB Tom Brady, who was here during the receiver’s lone season with the team.

As we know, Ochocinco is without a doubt the overall better player but when it comes to a one-season view, he ended up just being a bad fit after the Patriots happened to get him for what would be his final NFL season.  Harry is in his prime, which is what makes the entire situation that much more frustrating.

Ochocinco has said before that in Cincinnati, things were simple and he could just play.  Here, there was a lot more that went along with it and maybe the grass will be greener for Harry elsewhere.  Either way, the fact he’s even in a “who was the worse player” conversation isn’t a positive, but I thought the parallel is interesting because Ochocinco’s inability to be an impact receiver that year definitely hurt them and potentially held back what could have been a better finish to that season.

With Ochocinco, it was a bad fit at the wrong time.  After one more year full of similar results, that’s how it feels with Harry now as well.

4) Getting back to the topic of Flores, his interview that aired on Tuesday was interesting.  He spoke about a variety of situations during what was a one-hour sit-down with Dolphins beat writer Omar Kelly, Chad Johnson and Brandon Marshall.

Flores didn’t hold much back, talking about topics that included the fact he was never willing to bend when it came to losing games intentionally, as well as an interesting revelation that surprisingly didn’t immediately get a lot of attention in that he refused to sign his separation agreement, which cost him the remainder of his guaranteed contract but gave him the freedom to speak his mind as well as file his lawsuit.

He was fairly candid in the interview, and he explained the situation with what happened with Belichick, along with his relationship with his former mentor and what he took with him to Miami.

“Bill Belichick’s the obvious [choice], obviously I learned a great deal of football from him,” said Flores.  “I think the one thing people don’t know about Bill is he listens,” said Bill.  “If you have, and again, you have to earn the right for him to listen, but if you have an idea, if you have a thought, if there’s a match-up that you think that we can win, a part in a game…he’ll listen.  He may add something to it, he may throw it out, but he listens.  And I think that’s one of his greatest strengths and something I tried to take from him when I was in Miami.”

When it comes to the infamous text exchange that played a large role in the suit, Flores wasn’t mad but said it just essentially confirmed what he thought already.

“I’m not mad,” said Flores.  “Bill did what a lot of us … he sent a text message to the wrong person, I’m certainly guilty of that before,” said Flores.  “To me, I thought it was specific to the lawsuit in that it confirmed a lot of things I thought were going on…that I think a lot of Black minority coaches think are going on.”

“It kind of confirmed it for me as far as having a fair and equal opportunity to go and interview, and show your acumen, show your intelligence, show your ability to lead, show your willingness and your leadership.  Oftentimes, it’s not a fair and equal playing field.”

One thing that was interesting was Flores’ suggestion about what the league should do moving forward, which he believes should involve a little more oversight in the hiring/firing process.

“I think there’s got to be an oversight committee for hiring and firing throughout the National Football League and just kind of a standardized review process at every position,” said Flores.  “Someone who is, maybe it’s a federal monitor, maybe it’s a collection of individuals who aren’t affiliated with the team that are overseeing the entire process and saying ‘Hey, that guy’s very qualified’ and ‘That guy had an impressive interview’ – it’s an oversight committee.  And I think that will create a more equal and fair environment.”

It’s an interesting notion, and as the league continues to try and acknowledge and work through the issue, some of Flores’ ideas do have merit and it sounds like discussions have already been had.  This lawsuit continues to have a lot of layers to it and there’s no question that changes will be coming as he continues pushing for change in that process.

5) We’ll close this out with the story going on with Patriots fan Kara Doolittle, who has been in a battle with breast cancer but at least got a boost after the club reached out to her on social media.

Doolittle recently underwent a double mastectomy and as someone who spends time chatting with fellow Patriots fans on Twitter, she posted a thought during her ordeal where she mentioned Brandon Bolden’s own previous bout with cancer, which saw a multitude of responses that really ended up helping lift her spirits.

The post that contained the mention was just Doolittle trying to post something uplifting given what she was dealing with, saying, “If @BB_HulkSmash can fight and beat cance, so can I.”

She ended up getting a response that caught her by surprise.

Bolden reached out to her and said, “Yes you can [sic] tough times don’t last tough people do”.

The team channel also responded to her saying, “We’re rooting for you, Kara!”

She also got a Tweet from quarterback Tom Brady after Doolittle tweeted about Brady’s mother’s own bout with breast cancer, with Brady Tweeting her, “You got this Kara!! Sending Love”.

Current QB Mac Jones was another who reached out to her, telling her he was inspired and had something he wanted to send her.

It was a nice turn of events and just a really great thing to see.  However, the even better news seems to be that the prognosis appears to be promising after she later posted that the cancer hadn’t spread, which was definitely fantastic to hear.

In the meantime, the team has since invited her to the stadium and she’s definitely excited.  Hopefully, her road to recovery goes well and it’s just another incredible story of strength and perseverance by an amazing person, as well as a touching and great gesture by a team that clearly appreciates its fans.

Best wishes to her as she continues her recovery and if you’d like to donate to help her with the cost of her medical bills, she currently has a GoFundMe page set up via this link.

We also know that she’s not the only one battling cancer, and wish each and every one of you who might be potentially dealing with either your own or your loved one’s battle the very best as well.


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