FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Quick thoughts and notes about the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. What’s next? Coach Bill Belichick’s strategy was clear first week of free agencywith the Patriots essentially swapping Mike Gesicki for Jonnu Smith at the tight end, JuJu Smith-Schuster for Jakobi Meyers at receivers, working the mid to low end of the market to build depth in offensive tackles and hold on to as many defenders as possible.
What steps could be next? Which top areas of need remain?
Cornerback is still one of their most vulnerable spots, after the release of the starter Jalen Mills on Friday. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Patriots invested heavily Draft Pick at this point (team owns 14th pick and has 11 picks total) in a year where analysts are predicting a strong group of early-round prospects in that position.
Likewise on offensive tackles, which is where the Patriots could field today if they had to play a game but would benefit from an infusion of upside and/or youth.
These look like the sweet spots, and nothing seems to get the needle moving like finding a top receiver, the Patriots’ lead linebacker Mack Wilson Sr. to recruit on Twitter last week Denver Broncos passport catcher Jerry Jeudy And Arizona Cardinals Recipient De Andre Hopkins. The team also had a scout with them Odell Beckham Jr.‘s last workout.
What do we do @DeAndreHopkins ? 👀
— Mack Wilson Sr. (@MackWilSr) March 16, 2023
— Mack Wilson Sr. (@MackWilSr) March 16, 2023
Belichick’s former assistant, Michael Lombardi, said on his “GM shufflePodcast that he believes Hopkins’ market is “really soft” because teams are reluctant to trade for him and “repeat his contract.” The financial expectation for Beckham, who has just recovered from a cruciate ligament rupture, is reportedly similar.
That suggests there’s nothing ahead of those players, at least from the Patriots’ perspective.
2. Role of the Judge: As McCourty related the story of how he informed Belichick of his decision to be in a WEEI radio interview, he described going into Belichick’s office and meeting Joe Judge with Belichick there. That reflects what some believe the judge’s role will ultimately be on the team this year: a senior adviser to Belichick.
3. McCourty Sound Bits: Notable sound bites from McCourty’s hour-long in-studio interview:
On the quarterback MacJones: “I don’t think he should be subjected to as much disapproval and scrutiny as he gets. We sat here in his rookie year and said, ‘Hey, I’m in! I like this new era.” We’re going into the playoffs and it’s like, ‘Let’s go!’ What then happened this year from an offensive situation, as far as the coaching staff is concerned … He has to have a certain consistency [around him].”
On QBs/Offences 2022: “I think playfully there was enough confidence that we’re going to use the best man out there. But the offensive struggles, I think there were some guys in the locker room that said, ‘Let’s join in [Bailey] zap.’ Or ‘No, Mac looked good today.’ It was just a back and forth, which to me said more about what we had on offense than the quarterback. We were never consolidated as an attacking group where the guys had complete faith in everything we did. There was never true hope.”
If he would act Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson: “I don’t know if I would do that because once I gave Lamar Jackson the money, right now we don’t have enough, to me it would be like ‘This team is going to win a Super Bowl if we just put Lamar Jackson here instead of Mac.’”
Regarding Free Agent Obligations: “Too much activity as a player is scary. In ’21 when we had a lot of activity and all the fans were like, ‘Yeah! We got this guy!’ … it’s so hard to know how this is going to work out.”
4. Big Year for BB: McCourty’s summary of how players viewed offense underscores Belichick’s miscalculation with his coaching staff approach in 2022 and some of the internal damage that resulted. 2023 will be a critical year of recovery for him. Belichick, who has been 25-26 for the past three seasons, is 18 wins away from tying Don Shula for the NFL’s all-time winning streak.
5. Financial Health: As it stands, the Patriots are among the leaders in the 2024 salary cap space at around $140 million. That’s partly because Jones (until 2024 with a possible fifth-year option for 2025) doesn’t have a big one Quarterback has on the list and Bailey Zappe (until 2025) are in their rookie deals. The cap space can quickly dissipate as players are added to the roster or deals are renewed (ex. Right Guard Mike Onwenu and security Kyle Dugger are in the last year of the contract). But the franchise is in a healthy place after a two-year financial snapshot.
6. Mac back on track?: While it’s a year of great recovery for Belichick, it’s also one for Jones. Can he overcome last season’s ‘no real hope’ dynamic to get back on track? Giants quarterback Daniel Jones had similar turbulence early in his career and bounced back in 2022 with more stability around him. What develops with Mac Jones will provide the organization with vital information to make their decision on his fifth-year option, which must be made by spring next year.
7. Little left from 2019: Reserve offensive tackle Jodni Cajuste is the last of the team’s 10 draft picks from 2019 still on the roster, and he may not be around by the end of training camp. With Meyers, the top 19 undrafted free agent signing with the Raiders in free agency, the Patriots are now almost devoid of the class that would ideally have grown in their system and into their prime/fifth season in the NFL would occur. Fortunately, the designs from 2020 to 2022 appear at least a little more promising.
8. Buy cheap at Gesicki: Newly signed Patriots tight end Gesicki was fifth in receptions (73) among players at his position two seasons ago and targeted 22% of his streaks with the Dolphins. But his target rate dropped to 16% last season and he had just 32 catches (among the tight ends tied for 28th) after the Dolphins came on Tyreek Hill and relied more on their receivers in Coach Mike McDaniel’s system. So the Patriots bought their one-year deal low with Gesicki, who is banking on the Patriots’ system to increase its value to the market next year.
9. Robinson Information: Sometimes Belichick will target a free agent who injured the Patriots, but that’s not the case with running backs James Robinson. In fact, it was Robinson’s unexplosive performance against New England last season (7 carries, 10 yards) that ultimately caused the Jets coaching staff to lose faith in him and fall out of favor in New York. Robinson, who struggled with an ongoing knee injury in 2022 and came back from Achilles surgery in late 2021, should come to New England with plenty of motivation to prove the Jets wrong — which immediately aligns him with Belichick.
10. Did you know? Newly signed Patriots wide receiver Smith-Schuster, who in 2017 at 20 became the youngest player to score a touchdown in the NFL since Chicago’s Andy Livingston in 1964, attended the same high school as the Patriots Hall of Famer Willie McGinest –Long Beach Polytechnic.