Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 03-29 and AFC East notes this week.
The news has been filled with nothing but the latest of the coronavirus, but with that being said, we hope that all of you and your families are being safe. While we’re not supposed to visit and congregate in larger groups (those Sunday Italian family dinners are missed), we can still check up on one another. Give a call to a family member, especially an older one, they’ll appreciate it.
Quick Hitters For the Pats, and the NFL:
Devin McCourty: We were very pleased that the team locked up McCourty, the QB of the defense for the next couple of seasons with a two-year, $23 million dollar deal. ESPN’s excellent NFL Insider Field Yates feels the same and gave NE high marks.
“I’m always a fan of investing in your own players, particularly one who is as indispensable as any other on the defensive side of the ball,” Yates wrote. “McCourty is one of the best players in football and an indispensable cog for the Patriots’ defense.”
Tom Brady Bucs Presser: It was no doubt painful for many fans seeing the virtual press conference with Tom Brady being introduced as a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But the thing that kept coming to mind was the Seinfeld “Pirate” episode.
Bill Belichick: The coach was nominated for a Sports Emmy for his appearance on NFL Network’s “NFL 100 All-Time Team” panel. He is one of six nominated in the “Outstanding Sports Personality – Studio Analyst” category. We believe that he should be nominated every year for his press conferences …but that is just our opinion.
Shalique Calhoun/Brandon Copeland: With Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, and Elandon Roberts heading off in free agency, the Patriots linebacking corps took a big hit. It is going to look very different (and we’ll add more below) but two players who have been brought back/in could see a significant amount of snaps this year are Calhoun and Copeland.
Joe Montana: Tom Brady’s childhood idol is a bit baffled by the Patriots allowing Brady to leave for Tampa (Us too). However, Montana had this to say, “I think when you look at the whole situation, you try to figure out how you want to get away from things that are there,” Montana said. “I had a different story, where they had made a decision. I still don’t understand how New England let him get away. I don’t understand that.”
Salary Cap: The Patriots cap space is currently under $1 million dollars…yikes. The official amount according to Miguel aka @patscap is $803,834. So changes are coming and either some players are getting their deals reworked or cut outright.
Among those who are available for reworking contracts are Dont’a Hightower and Stephon Gilmore. Those who could get a deal reworked or risk being cut would include Marcus Cannon, Rex Burkhead (with redshirt RB Damien Harris waiting in the wings). Burkhead is versatile but has had durability issues and his release would save nearly $4 million in cap savings. But again, if you’re not getting your cap information from Miguel, you’re not getting the right stuff.
Phillip Dorsett: Is now a former Patriots WR, signing a one-year deal with Seattle. The former 1st round pick of the Colts has never lived up to his potential. His three years with the Patriots consisted of small hot streaks surrounded by long stretches where he was invisible/or forgotten. Maybe his third team is a charm.
4th & 2 Podcast – If you’ve haven’t checked out our PatsFans.com podcast, “Patriots 4th & 2” in a bit, check it out. This week Derek and I went over the various comings and mostly goings of free agency.
How Will the Patriots Attack the 1st Round of the Draft? Defense:
By now, most of you have seen on television or read many of the draft pundits predictions on how the team will go using the 23rd pick in the upcoming NFL Draft. Many, including ESPN’s Mel Kiper, have the Patriots using their pick on a QB. Kiper thinks they take Utah State’s Jordan Love.
While that is entirely plausible, considering who they lost in FA, I’m not so sure they pick Love, who should develop into a solid starter but doesn’t strike me as having a very high ceiling. But we’ll see. Do I believe that they’ll draft a QB in 2020? Absolutely, but I feel that will be done in the middle rounds. I definitely don’t see them double-dipping with the 1st pick at WR for the 2nd year in a row. There will be some intriguing wide receiver talent available in the middle rounds as well too.
They need an eventual replacement and backup for Devin McCourty at free safety. Both McCourty and Pat Chung return but both are getting long in the tooth. The Patriots have plenty of depth behind Chung, including the recently added Adrian Phillips. But with Duron Harmon gone, traded to the Lions during the early free agency frenzy, they lack that backup and eventual replacement to McCourty.
If they were going to draft a safety in the first round, the guy I’d really like to see is Alabama free safety Xavier McKinney. Alabama turns out great defensive players every year and McKinney is outstanding.
In my opinion, he’s the best safety in the draft and especially in man coverage. The Patriots demand that their single-high free safeties have the range to cover the deep part of the field, and McKinney is outstanding there. He can also (like McCourty) drop down and cover receivers out of the slot. McKinney, if drafted would provide an even better option than Harmon gave them in their subpackages…and that is saying something.
I wrote here a few weeks ago that I thought they’d go defense either a lineman or linebacker in the first round. They replaced the loss of Danny Shelton with the signing of former Bucs DT Beau Allen and the big man should be a force against the run. We’ve heard rumors of the Patriots signing former Broncos DL Derek Wolfe, but there are at least as many rumors of him going to Kansas City or Baltimore, so we’ll have to watch how this situation plays out.
Matt Miller, one of my favorite draft writers from Bleacher Report has the Patriots going after LSU LB Patrick Queen with the 23rd pick. I love Queen’s game, he’s very athletic, a three-down linebacker who can roam sideline to sideline. His biggest strength is in the run game, but he has a definite lack of size that the Patriots generally like with their linebackers at just 6’0, 229. However, Elandon Roberts was about the same size at 6’0, 238 so there is precedence there. Queen is at his best when the defensive line stacks things at the point of attack and it allows him to attack downhill.
The guy I like and have been beating the table for is Iowa edge player A.J. Epenesa. He’s got the size that the Patriots like in their 3-4 DE/Edge rusher at 6’5, 280. He was very productive for the Hawkeyes in 2019 with 11.5 sacks, 49 tackles, and 14 tackles for a loss. And he didn’t test exceptionally well at the NFL Combine in Indy which may push his draft stock down enough for the Patriots to find him available with the 23rd pick.
He’d be a great fit with the Patriots defensive philosophy that puts a premium on setting the edge against the run first, which is a strength of his. He shows excellent power, balance and the ability to be stout and string the play out. And for a big man, Epenesa has the speed to chase down ball carriers. And he can still bring the heat on the opposing QB too, as evidenced by his 11.5 sacks.
If the Patriots were to select McKinney, Queen, or Epenesa, it would, in my opinion, be a great start to the draft.
Patriots Offensive Line Strength or Weakness in 2020:
The Patriots have a lot of holes to fill this offseason, but the offensive line is at least on paper, looking pretty strong heading into the 2020 offseason workouts…if there are any.
With LT Isaiah Wynn, LG Joe Thuney, C David Andrews, RG Shaq Mason, and RT Marcus Cannon seemingly in place, this starting unit with a new QB under center should be a position of strength. And the team still has last season’s redshirt draft picks T Yodny Cajuste and G Hjalte Froholdt as depth. However, there still exist several unknowns this spring.
Andrews is expected to be ready for training camp after missing all of last season with blood clots in his lungs. And with Ted Karras gone in FA to Miami, it opens up big question marks if Andrews is not ready. Joe Thuney had the franchise tag placed on him, which he signed but it is still a possibility that the Patriots trade him rather than try to work out a long-term deal.
We had heard right after the playoff loss to the Titans that Cannon wasn’t returning and had moved his family back to Texas. Whether that was the Patriots choice or his wasn’t known. But perhaps he changed his mind. With a salary of $9.5 million (a prime player to rework his deal), it was a good reason to return for one more season in New England.
There were reports that the Patriots face-timed with Boise State T Ezra Cleveland. His draft projections are all over the place from 1st Rd to 3rd-4th with many draft pundits believing he projects to be a guard at the next level. Do the Patriots see him as a guard or tackle? And are they serious about bringing him in? If so, at which position? That’s what makes the offseason/draft season so intriguing.
Plus we have the 2nd year guys with Cajuste and Froholdt. How will they fare in Year 2? And with Dante Scarnecchia retiring for a second time, how will his replacement fare in trying to replace one of the very best positional coaches in the league and a legend in Gillette?
No AFC East Notes This Week –
“I have had the privilege of coaching some of the best specialists in the NFL and Stephen Gostkowski is one of them. Stephen had many highlights over his 14 years as a Patriot and one of the most impressive was the way it began when he succeeded the most accomplished kicker in NFL history. For some, this may have been too difficult a challenge. But from his rookie year, Stephen exuded a maturity and confidence that demonstrated he was up to the task. He made several crucial kicks his rookie year and established a top level of performance and consistency for years and years to come. Stephen is a great teammate who made outstanding contributions over a decade of championship football.” Bill Belichick on kicker Stephen Gostkowski after the team announced he would not be returning to New England.
“So, how was your week?”
Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]