Some thoughts on this Monday:
1) Fullback Jakob Johnson’s revelation last week that the Patriots are shifting away from that position was interesting as it leaves us wondering whether or not a shift in offensive philosophy is coming in 2022.
New England has been one of the few teams in the NFL that has put a priority on that role, and for the most part, it’s been effective. However, we’ve been seeing a move toward bigger and stronger running backs here in New England in recent years, with both Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson making things difficult on defenders while banging out additional yards after contact.
It also likely signals a shift back to the tight end position, taking Johnson off the field while adding another weapon in the passing game. Jonnu Smith had a quiet first season in his first season in New England and this move could potentially mean that despite some speculation about the team possibly making a change, they’ll be looking at ways to get Smith more involved this season.
With the way the NFL is changing, it appears that Bill Belichick is evolving as well. New England’s passing offense was ranked 14th in the NFL last season but took quite a few steps forward by the end of the season. Given the evolution we’ve seen across the league, along with the departure of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who ended up signing Johnson in Las Vegas, this move could be the first clear signal that changes definitely appear to be coming.
With second-year quarterback Mac Jones looking to take a step forward, it appears a blueprint is already being put down and that should hopefully see even better results as he heads into his sophomore season.
2) To see the Browns switch gears and move away from Baker Mayfield was fairly surprising, especially considering the trajectory they appeared to be moving toward.
With Cleveland knocking out the Steelers a year ago and giving the Chiefs a run for the money in the Divisional round, they appeared to be heading in the right direction.
Unfortunately, an injury to Mayfield last season saw them come up short after the Browns lost several close games down the stretch, losing three straight to the Raiders, Green Bay and Pittsburgh. That losing streak knocked Cleveland out of playoff contention, which led Mayfield to shut things down early and opt to instead get shoulder surgery and start his recovery in preparation of 2022.
However, it seems like the Browns had some doubts about their veteran QB, with Cleveland jumping into the Watson sweepstakes. Mayfield reportedly wasn’t pleased when he heard, which led to a contentious discussion between the two sides.
But things then got worse for the Browns when negotiations apparently broke down and Watson appeared ready to walk away from Cleveland and instead go to a different franchise.
With those ramifications looming, the Browns seemed like they were forced to raise the stakes and threw everything they had at Watson, completing the deal by sending three first-round picks and other compensation to Houston to pull off the trade.
The money Watson got is obscene, with the embattled quarterback getting a 5-year, $230 million contract, all of which is guaranteed. Clearly, Cleveland panicked and realized they were in trouble and absolutely couldn’t come up empty, and it’s tough to say if this will ultimately be a gamble that will pay off or not.
Comments also came out from ESPN’s Chris Mortenson about the Browns wanting “an adult” at quarterback, which were believed to be coming from the top of the organization. That news also apparently didn’t go over well with Mayfield and as a result, this relationship was already over long before the deal got done, with the Browns creating a tough situation.
After leading them back into contention, Mayfield’s eventual departure is definitely one of the more surprising and ugly break-ups in recent memory. Indianapolis is said to be possibly looking for his services, although it remains to be seen if that’s where he’ll end up.
3) Another interesting part of this story is the fact that apparently, Atlanta was also among teams in the mix for Watson, which has set up an awkward situation for them with veteran quarterback, Matt Ryan.
Ryan is reportedly not happy with the news and may be the next quarterback requesting to be traded, with several reports indicating that something could get done today.
Should a trade not get done, ProFootballTalk.com said the Falcons could give their QB a “financial apology”, which could see him end up with a new deal worth potentially $30 million per year.
If Ryan ends up being dealt, it adds another interesting dynamic to a league that is seeing changes all over with clubs investing in new starting quarterbacks as they try and get back into contention.
Update 2pm: ESPN is reporting that the Colts are acquiring Ryan for a third-round pick, which moves Ryan out of the NFC and shuts the door on the opportunity for Mayfield to potentially go to Indianapolis.
4) One other thing that has been interesting is trying to figure out what the Patriots are going to do in order to improve things at the wide receiver position.
As it currently stands, they have Jakobi Meyers, Nelson Agholor, and Kendrick Bourne as the obvious starters heading into next season. However, from there, things start to look a little murky.
N’Keal Harry has been nothing short of a disappointment after another dismal season where he spent much of the year being praised for his work away from the football while having difficulty when one came near him. They’ve tried banging that square peg into a round hole for several seasons with nothing to show for it, and it doesn’t feel like he’s going to come around. He’s been slow getting off the line, was still lining up in the wrong spot at times last season, and even despite an 18 game season never settled in. If he survives the offseason, it definitely would not be a positive.
So far, the Patriots haven’t targeted the position in free agency, with names such as Juju Smith-Schuster and others ending up elsewhere.
One possibility is that New England may look to the draft to bolster the position, and they could take a page out of what other teams have been doing in order to do it.
According to Mark Daniels of the Providence Journal, the Patriots reportedly met with Alabama receiver Slade Bolden at the Scouting Combine, who said he modeled his game after former New England WR, Julian Edelman. Former offensive coordinator, Bill O’Brien, also apparently talked to Bolden about how the team used Wes Welker.
Bolden was a roommate of Mac Jones in college and the two have a good relationship, which obviously sets up an immediate connection. We saw the Bengals go out and draft Ja’Marr Chase, a former college teammate of quarterback Joe Burrow, and the two had an unbelievable season. Josh McDaniels also just completed a deal to bring in Devante Adams, who was also a former college teammate of Derek Carr.
Bringing in someone who already has chemistry with Jones would likely be something that might be helpful, especially in getting Bolden up to speed in what’s considered to be a fairly complex offense. Bolden’s style of play would also be a good complement to the guys they currently have, especially at the lower end of the receiving depth chart.
While Bolden is expected to be a later-round pick, he was part of the Crimson tide’s return game in 2021, returning 14 punts for 87-yards (6.2 avg), as well as returning 5 kickoffs for 67-yards (13.4 avg). With the departure of Gunner Olszewski, the Patriots could potentially opt to add depth at receiver with a player who can both be productive on offense and in the return game, with Olszewski never really settling into New England’s offense.
Whether or not Bolden will get the opportunity is tough to say but if the Patriots do eventually select him, it should be fun to see if he can have the same success with Jones at the next level.
5) The Patriots apparently are doing a little due diligence, with ESPN’s Field Yates reporting that free-agent running back Leonard Fournette was visiting the team on Monday.
Fournette’s visit is interesting because he would potentially be a player who could give them a solid presence out of the backfield and complement a group that already features Harris and Stevenson, along with James White and the recently signed Ty Montgomery.
With the club likely looking to ease White’s workload coming off of hip surgery, adding Fournette would definitely be a good player to potentially have in the mix if the money made sense.
Another interesting name visiting New England is Malcolm Butler, which would potentially be one of the most bizarre signings in team history.
Butler, as most people recall, was benched during the team’s Super Bowl match-up against the Eagles to end the 2017 season, with the decision remaining as one of the most frustrating topics of conversation given the fact New England couldn’t get the Eagles’ offense off the field while refusing to bring in Butler to try and stop the bleeding.
Bringing him back would be one of the strangest decisions in recent memory but the fact he’s even in town tells you that the possibility exists. Butler’s visit comes on the heels of J.C. Jackson’s departure this offseason along with the fact New England is still looking for depth at a position that remains a big question mark heading into 2022.
Posted Under: Patriots News