Some thoughts on this Monday morning:
1) The New England Patriots’ acquisition of DeVante Parker from the Dolphins certainly surprised everyone on Saturday, with the club giving up just a 3rd round in next year’s draft in exchange for Parker and the Dolphins 5th round selection this year.
It made the deal essentially a no-brainer, and it likely sent a shockwave elsewhere as it potentially signaled the end of the line for N’Keal Harry, who suddenly is left with a future that may see him playing in a different uniform next season.
It’s been a frustrating road for the former first-round pick out of Arizona State, who reached a point last offseason where he demanded a trade after his agent released a statement declaring their request publicly. The release of the statement likely came after those demands were probably ignored internally given that Harry had zero leverage, as well as the fact Bill Belichick isn’t exactly someone affected by threats by a player.
But for a guy who touted his skills, all 2021 ended up being was more of the same. While he’s a solid blocker, he still spent time lining up in the wrong spot as well as being one of the last players off the ball on the snap.
Here’s one example, which came in the regular-season loss at home against the Bills this past season:
You can see Harry at the top of the screen, with both Jakobi Meyers and Kendrick Bourne already off the ball, and offensive lineman Ted Karras even beating Harry off the snap as he was
well ahead of him coming across to pull on the play. Granted, Karras is closer to the football, but he’s also got a lot more weight to move than Harry does.
That was one of several examples from that game, but one of the more egregious moments came earlier in the year against Dallas. That saw Harry need a rookie to tell the 3rd-year player what to do on the below play which should have been a breaking point for Harry, yet it wasn’t.
Silver lining: N’Keal Harry really looked like he knew what he was doing out th—
Just kidding. pic.twitter.com/eU8MFCMD5p
— Henry Coffey McKenna (@McKennAnalysis) October 18, 2021
He both lined up wrong and then didn’t go in motion. Seeing that happen at this point in his career – especially given his offseason comments – was just shocking.
The performance against the Bills did lead to him being a healthy scratch the next week against Jacksonville. That opened the door for Kristian Wilkerson to be promoted off the practice squad and his addition proved to be a big one. He went out and caught 4 passes including 2 touchdowns, but the shifty receiver also opened things up for both Kendrick Bourne and most notably Jakobi Meyers, who caught 8 passes on 8 targets as well as a touchdown.
That game ended up being a snapshot of the potential that replacing Harry with someone who can make plays could make. With Parker now part of the equation, it changes the way teams can play them defensively, offering up opportunities for the offense to move guys around for more favorable match-ups. While it’s nice to have a clear number one receiver, having four solid receivers is enough to win a lot of games in this league. Wilkerson’s appearance was eye-opening, and Parker’s addition gives them a line-up that now would feature Agholor, Parker, Bourne and Meyers.
Patriots fans should absolutely be excited about that.
As a result, one would have to believe that Harry’s time in New England is hopefully nearing a finish. They’ve spent the last three seasons trying to force a square peg into a round hole and Parker’s addition should have been a signal that the former first-round selection may finally get his wish of getting out of New England.
Nelson Agholor’s contract has many wondering if he’ll possibly be the domino that might fall, which would be disappointing given the dynamic they added by bringing in Parker. There were plenty of opportunities missed on film last season that could have led to better numbers for Agholor, who fell victim to Mac Jones being limited for much of the year until he started taking some shots later in the season. Heading into year two, the future is suddenly much brighter since defenses wouldn’t be able to focus on Agholor as much but if he’s is moved, that could tell us Harry may be surviving for yet another year.
We’ve already seen how that’s worked out. Sometimes you just have to cut your losses and move on. Let’s hope that’s exactly what happens with Harry in the coming months.
2) Meanwhile, Belichick was in Alabama last week for their Pro Day and spent some time looking at prospects as well as catching up with good friend and Crimson Tide head coach, Nick Saban, along with former Patriots offensive coordinator, Bill O’Brien.
Last offseason saw the Patriots add two key names from Saban’s team in Mac Jones and Christian Barmore, who obviously came up with big performances in their first seasons. With Belichick on hand to do some more due diligence, one thing that was interesting was the fact that Belichick didn’t stick around to watch receiver Slade Bolden or running back Brian Robinson go through their passing workout, with he and the coaches leaving right before the two went through that part of the drills.
Bolden, who reportedly met with the Patriots during the combine, has already made it clear he’d love to reunite with Jones if the opportunity provided itself. The standout for Alabama has said he emulates his playing style to Julian Edelman and he was also terrific in the return game for the Crimson Tide.
Could Bolden be on New England’s radar but Belichick and his staff left early to try to throw off signals to other teams who might be concerned they’re interested? It’s tough to say, but that tidbit was interesting given that Bolden could add a nice element to a passing game that would definitely benefit from him already having chemistry with Jones.
Garoppolo’s status remains up in the air.
3) Out in San Francisco, it looks like the 49ers are finding themselves in another dilemma when it comes to Jimmy Garoppolo.
While they’re crediting Kyle Shanahan with “patience” for not making a move to deal Garoppolo away, it still sounds like San Francisco doesn’t know what the future holds for the former Patriots signal-caller.
So far, they’ve already started talking about having Garoppolo back for another season. 49ers CEO Jed York even reportedly said that if Shanahan and John Lynch decide to keep Garoppolo on the roster at his current salary, he’s fine with that. And that’s apparently even if Garoppolo isn’t the starter.
The mindset appears to be clear. If there’s no trade worthy of moving him, they’ll eat his salary and keep him.
While the fact Garoppolo can sit back and get paid is great for him financially, it’s essentially wasting a season in the prime of his career to spend yet another year in a place he clearly isn’t wanted.
It’s been said in this space before, but Garoppolo’s best-case scenario would have been to stomp his feet last offseason prior to the draft and force his way out of the Bay Area and back to New England, given that everyone who has followed this story knows Belichick’s affinity for him. The two sides reportedly had discussions, but Shanahan held firm in his demands over what he wanted to make the deal happen. Being someone who never bows to pressure, Belichick held firm with his refusal over those terms.
As a result, Shanahan ended up getting stuck with Garoppolo and his salary, while New England moved on and took Jones after the 49ers left him on the board when they took Trey Lance.
That slammed the door shut for Garoppolo, with the only possibility left for him to return being if he’s cut outright by the 49ers. But even then, he wouldn’t get anywhere close to what he’s being paid now and he wouldn’t be anything more than a backup for Jones who as long as he plays well, likely will still keep Garoppolo sidelined.
That may ultimately be what happens anyway. Unless teams step forward and pry him out of San Francisco, Garoppolo’s future may be trying to land somewhere else and try and win back a starting role.
Either way, it remains a mess and it’s amazing how badly San Francisco blew it last year and the fact Garoppolo seemingly did little to help his own situation. But the fact he’s potentially facing a repeat of what happened there last year is surprising. Worse yet, he’s recovering from offseason surgery on his throwing shoulder which is only going to further weaken the market for him.
The thought process out there right now is that they’re waiting to see what happens with Baker Mayfield in Cleveland to get a better idea of what may unfold for Garoppolo. But as each day passes, the likelihood of him being on the roster in 2022 increases, which probably doesn’t make either side all that happy.
4) J.C. Jackson already appears to be settling in with the Chargers. A story in the Athletic talked about Jackson’s first few days in California, which included a welcome dinner with his new teammates after he signed his new five-year, $82 million contract with Los Angeles.
After evaluating the top options at cornerback, Jackson’s body of work reportedly had the Chargers comfortable with making a move for the free-agent defensive back. The other part that made them feel good about the decision was the fact Jackson’s time in New England saw him as both a productive and reliable player, with Jackson having not missed a game to injury in four years.
Safety Derwin James also apparently played a role. He was a teammate of Jackson’s back during their high-school days in Florida, and he and Jackson talked about the former Patriots CB coming to the Chargers during the Pro Bowl this past February.
According to the Athletic, Jackson wanted to stay in Foxboro but there was little progress made with the negotiations. After New England declined to place the franchise tag on him, they instead told him to reach out to them if the market didn’t work out for him.
Obviously, it worked out just fine after the Chargers were reportedly one of four teams with a legitimate interest and they ended up giving him an offer he couldn’t pass up.
For now, he’ll spend the rest of the offseason preparing for what should definitely be a competitive year. After finishing 9-8 in the AFC West last season, the expectations are higher and many believe they’ll be in the mix again this season. With Jackson now in the fold, their chances should definitely be even better.
5) With Bruce Arians stepping away from coaching, one article in The Athletic by Lindsay Jones that was interesting centered on a decision by Arians in Arizona prior to going to Tampa Bay that certainly changed the coaching landscape.
For those who might not be aware, and I didn’t realize it either, Arians was the first person to hire a female coach to his staff. The move came in 2015 when Arians hired Jen Welter, who was brought in as an assistant linebackers coach.
Welter recently spoke about the experience, where she talked about the lengths Arians went to in order to bring her in.
“I remember him saying to me before I got hired, ‘I don’t know yet if I can make this happen. I have to get a lot of yeses, but I want you to know it’s in my heart to try,’” Welter told The Athletic.
Samantha Rapoport, the league’s senior director of diversity, equity and inclusion, pointed out that Arians was someone who did a great job of bringing in people of all backgrounds, opening the door for so many opportunities that were difference-makers for a league still battling with diversity in those roles.
“What he’s done, to give people opportunities in the league, that’s something will last forever because the people who he’s hired will be sending the elevator down for future generations of women and people of color and people from all backgrounds to succeed in football. That is truly meaningful to all of us,” Rapoport told the site.
Rapoport was hired by the league just a year after Welter, having initially been hired as the NFL’s director of football development. She was brought on with the focus of developing women for football jobs both on the field and in the front office. She was promoted in 2019 to her current role.
It’s a cool side of the story that hasn’t really been talked about. We’ve seen Katie Sowers make headlines during her time in San Francsico thanks to her work out there as an offensive assistant, which also saw her appear in television commercials at times. She left after that season and went to Kansas City before being hired in October by Ottawa University as their Director of Athletic Strategic Initiatives.
But credit Arians for taking the chance on Welter. She’s since moved on, having started Gridiron Girls which brings a clear message, it’s somewhere “Where girls are taught that there is no field that they do not belong in or on.”
It’s a great mantra and she’s extremely grateful to Arians for giving her that original opportunity.
“He didn’t walk away from the game, he just set someone else up for success, and will be there to help ensure that success. Don’t we all wish we could do that?” Welter said. “Don’t we all wish we could open doors, open minds, open hearts through our actions and how we create opportunities for others? That’s certainly something we see in BA.”
Posted Under: 2022 Patriots Offseason
Tags: Bill Belichick Bill O'Brien Brian Robinson Bruce Arians Buffalo Bills Christian Barmore Derwin James Devante Parker J.C. Jackson Jacksonville Jaguars Jakobi Meyers Jed York Jen Welter Jimmy Garoppolo John Lynch Kendrick Bourne Kristian Wilkerson Kyle Shanahan Los Angeles Chargers Mac Jones Miami Dolphins N'Keal Harry Nelson Agholor New England Patriots Nick Saban Samantha Rapoport San Francsico 49ers Slade Bolden University of Alabama