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Past Failures Set Up 2023 New England Patriots Disaster

Ian Logue
Ian Logue on Twitter
February 26, 2024 at 4:38 pm ET

Past Failures Set Up 2023 New England Patriots Disaster(PHOTO: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports)

🕑 Read Time: 3 minutes

For a team that had made some key mistakes drafting skill players, 2020 was probably the most glaring, as it changed everything for the New England Patriots.

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 Eliot 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.

(The above appeared in a recent Patriots Notebook column that appeared on February 26, 2024)

Patriots OL Onwenu Fires Agent Ahead of Free Agency

About Ian Logue

Ian Logue is a Seacoast native and owner and senior writer for, 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 N'Keal Harry Rob Gronkowski

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