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Monday Afternoon Patriots Notebook 2/26: News and Notes

Eliot Wolf's Draft Picks in 2024 Will Be Critical to the Patriots' Success Given Their Offensive Woes

Ian Logue
Ian Logue on Twitter
February 26, 2024 at 2:09 pm ET

Monday Afternoon Patriots Notebook 2/26: News and Notes(PHOTO: Green Bay Press Gazette-USA TODAY Sports)

🕑 Read Time: 6 minutes

Some Patriots news and notes on this Monday:

Big Expectations For Wolf

The New England Patriots are obviously embarking on a new era following the departure this offseason of Bill Belichick, and the subsequent hiring of Jerod Mayo.  That means the old way of doing things is certainly out the window, and it’s going to be interesting to see what that means from a personnel standpoint.

Eliot Wolf will be the person leading the charge, with the hope that a lot of the past issues this team has faced won’t be a factor moving forward.

The biggest concern is going to be how this team accumulates talent on the offensive side of the football.  There’s no question that in the last 10 years, the escalation of contracts at the key skill positions has made the draft far more critical to the success of teams than ever before, and that’s been a huge deficiency here in New England.

The 2022 selection of speedy wideout Tyquan Thornton out of Baylor in the second round was thought to hopefully see the Patriots have a change of fortune there, but history has continued repeating itself so far.  Things haven’t worked out, with the former Baylor standout battling injuries while failing to establish a role in the offense.

Thornton broke his collarbone in his rookie season, with a hamstring injury the following year hampering him for most of his sophomore campaign.  But for a player who was expected to be an explosive weapon in this offense, the fact he hasn’t panned out has absolutely hurt them the past two seasons.

Whether or not Wolf can change things is the next question.  Wolf has had his moments, with Andrew Brandt, who previously worked with Wolf in Green Bay, revealing an interesting tidbit to Mike Reiss over the weekend on Wolf’s evaluation of that position.

“I’m a big fan of Eliot,” Brandt told Reiss.  “Every now and then I’d walk by his office and ask him what he was looking at, and one time [in 2006] I remember he said, ‘I want to show you someone. We’re going to take this kid in the second round tomorrow — Greg Jennings, a receiver from Western Michigan.’ And I was like, ‘Really? We’re going to take a kid from Western Michigan in the second round?’ And Eliot just kept saying he hoped he wouldn’t go before then.”

“Then he’s showing me the tape and pointing out the body control, the hands, the strength. And he felt there was no question it would transfer to the [NFL].”

Jennings went on to have a productive career in Green Bay, finishing with 76 catches for 1,265 yards and 12 touchdowns during the Packers’ Super Bowl run in 2010.

Other highly drafted receivers when Wolf was director of Pro Personnel in Green Bay included DeVante Adams (Round 2, 2014), who obviously ended up being a solid wideout for the Packers.

The key question is how much say he had in the process given that he was working under GM Ted Thompson, who got the majority of the credit for what transpired there.

For now, he’s the man with the keys looking to navigate this team out of the mess they’re in, with an offense full of question marks.  Hopefully, he’ll start providing some answers two months from now.

Dalton Keene

(PHOTO: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports)

Past Failures Set Up 2023 Disaster

For a team that had made some key mistakes drafting skill players, 2020 was probably the most glaring, as it changed everything.  One year removed from taking N’Keal Harry in round one, that 2020 draft was the year Belichick elected to try and pull off a repeat of 2010, with the club drafting both tight ends Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene in the third round.  The hope was likely to pull off the success they experienced with the selection of both Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez (his off-field transgressions notwithstanding).

Both Gronkowski and Hernandez were a force on the field, and it’s hard not to wonder how much more success they could have experienced had Hernandez not gone down the path he did.

Meanwhile, both Keene and Asiasi certainly didn’t pan out.  The club essentially wasted no time the following offseason moving in another direction, instead bringing in Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith via free agency, pushing the two down the depth chart.  Both were significantly more expensive from a salary standpoint, but given how little they were paying Cam Newton and the emergence of rookie quarterback Mac Jones, they had the luxury of being able to weather it.

Unfortunately, with Henry and Smith ahead of them, neither player ever emerged, and Asiasi and Keene were out of New England by 2022.  They ended up simply as footnotes in a draft that yielded Kyle Dugger, Josh Uche, and Anfernee Jennings on defense, along with Michael Onwenu on the offensive side of the ball as long-term contributors.

The prior year was the club targeting an impact receiver for Tom Brady, which was a massive need given the retirement of Gronkowski and the absence of a real receiving threat.

Brady, who, as he got older, wasn’t a fan of young wideouts, never got on the same page with Harry.  There was a fair amount of frustration shown at times during that 2019 season, albeit Harry ended up proving the issues extended far beyond that.

Those problems continued the following year with Newton, as well as with Jones in 2021 after he was drafted.  Between not knowing where to line up, being slow off the snap, there were multiple factors that played into him not working out here.  He was finally shipped out last offseason, with the Patriots ending up with a seventh-round pick this season following his trade to Chicago.

Harry ended up joining the long list of highly drafted wideouts who have failed in New England, which is brutal considering how many teams we’ve seen emerge among the NFL’s elite seeing success after grabbing the right players.

For three players who should have been foundational pieces, those failures forced the Patriots to try and fix their problems via free agency, and it obviously put them in a tough spot.

When you look around the league and see teams with receivers like Jamar Chase, Jaylen Waddle, Zay Flowers (his playoff antics aside), Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave, DeVonta Smith, among others, it’s a reminder of the advantage of having that type of player under a rookie contract compared to the money they command in free agency.

For the Patriots to become contenders again, drafting and developing that position is going to be key, as well as surrounding their future signal caller with significant playmakers.

The hope is that Wolf, along with Alonzo Highsmith, can finally fix a problem that has plagued them for more than a decade.  Wolf never seemed to have an opportunity to truly put his stamp on a team, but it looks like he’ll have his chance this offseason.

(PHOTO: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports)

Onwenu Fires Agent

Free agent tackle Mike Onwenu made an interesting mover over the weekend, with ProFootballTalk.com’s Mike Florio reporting that Onwenu has parted ways with his agents.

That leaves him without any representation ahead of free agency, which now puts a big question mark on what the future holds for the veteran offensive lineman.  Whether or not that changes will also be something to keep an eye on.

Bringing back Onwenu this offseason should seemingly be a priority for the Patriots, with Onwenu turning out to be a reliable player for them after his move to right tackle in 2023 solidified what had been a shaky offensive line.

The club had churned through multiple players at that position, with his emergence being critical in what had been somewhat of a notable turnaround on offense.

The latter term is mentioned loosely, considering that the Patriots were among the worst teams in the league offensively.  However, it was just a reminder of how much worse things could have actually been had Onwenu not turned out to be the team’s solution anchoring the right side of the offense.

With Onwenu now looking to be rewarded for his efforts, it will be interesting to see if the Patriots step up and try and keep him in the fold.  Given their needs on the other side of the line, having to look for multiple bookends this offseason certainly wouldn’t be ideal.

Head coach Jerod Mayo talked at the start of the offseason about trying to build bridges and improve some of their relationships.  We’ll find out what that potentially means for Onwenu in the coming weeks.

Bourne Talks Are Quiet

Reiss reported over the weekend that the contract discussions with Kendrick Bourne haven’t turned into anything productive just yet, with Reiss saying there haven’t been any “substantial extension talks” to this point.

Bourne, who is coming off of a knee injury, has repeatedly expressed interest in staying in New England, although it’s hard not to wonder if the club is looking to truly wipe the slate clean on offense as they start building towards the future, although they still have veteran wideouts DeVante Parker and JuJu Smith-Schuster under contract.

However, the Boston Herald’s Andrew Callahan also reported a few days ago that the Patriots did approach Bourne’s camp shortly after his ACL injury, but no deal ever materialized.

READ NEXT:
Big Expectations For De Facto Patriots GM Eliot Wolf

About Ian Logue

Ian Logue is a Seacoast native and owner and senior writer for PatsFans.com, an independent media site covering the New England Patriots and has been running this site in one form or another since 1997.


Tags: Aaron Hernandez Dalton Keene Devin Asiasi Eliot Wolf Kendrick Bourne Mike Onwenu N'Keal Harry Rob Gronkowski Tyquan Thornton

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