Patriots

Help isn't on the way, so here's how Patriots will address areas of need

patriots_bill_belichick_010316.jpg

Help isn't on the way, so here's how Patriots will address areas of need

Other than Brian Hoyer, there's no help on the way for Bill Belichick's club. 

The trade deadline passed on Tuesday with the Patriots standing pat after dealing Jimmy Garoppolo to San Francisco in exchange for a second-round pick. Malcolm Butler stuck. All four of their running backs stuck. All of the 2018 draft picks that they came into the week with stuck as well. 

MORE PATRIOTS

It could be argued that top-end draft picks to infuse some youth into the club was an area of need, which the Patriots addressed with the Garoppolo deal. But in terms of immediate help? They steered clear, whether it was by choice or because they couldn't find a team willing to trade.

The Patriots roster, as Belichick would say, is what it is. So what does his team do about some of its apparent areas of need? Let's roll through those needs and lay out some options . . . 

PASS RUSH: This seemed to be a spot where the Patriots could use a boost, particularly when Dont'a Hightower went out. Trey Flowers is playing a ton -- he has seen the second-most snaps of any edge defender, according to Pro Football Focus. Behind him on the depth chart are Deatrich Wise, who produced well at the end of Sunday's win over the Chargers, and Cassius Marsh. Adam Butler has been used as a sub rusher from the interior, but edge depth could be an issue if another player went down. What was interesting about Sunday's game was that Kyle Van Noy played more on the end of the line, leaving Elandon Roberts and David Harris more playing time in the middle of the field. The Patriots avoided using Harris early in the season, but they may need to rely on the veteran more moving forward if they try to make up for their pass-rush deficiencies by moving Van Noy down onto the line of scrimmage more often. Another name to keep an eye on as a potential pass-rush boost: Shea McClellin. He has experience both off the line and on the edge, and he's eligible to return off of injured reserve after the bye week. Between McClellin, Van Noy, Roberts and Harris, my opinion is that the team's off-the-line linebacker spot is actually pretty well-stocked in terms of numbers. But finding consistent edge help behind Flowers and Wise will require someone to step up. 

TIGHT END: The Dwayne Allen Experience has not gone as planned to this point. He has seen more time over the last two weeks as the Patriots have used multiple tight end sets in order to establish their running game, and he was able to sustain some effective blocks against the Chargers. But over the course of the season, he's been inconsistent as a blocker and invisible in the passing game. He has not been targeted since Week 4 and he does not have a catch this season. It was interesting to see Jacob Hollister get the No. 2 tight end reps during the two-minute drill at the end of the first half against the Chargers. Though Allen is probably viewed as the better blocker, Hollister seems to be the more viable target at the moment in passing situations. Practice squad tight end Will Tye is in the building and has more experience than most p-squadders. Would the team ever turn to him if it felt like it wasn't getting what it wanted from Rob Gronkowski's backups? Helping Hollister (40 snaps this season, three catches) and Allen (195 snaps) is the fact that both contribute on special teams. 

RECEIVER: Chris Hogan has been banged up with a rib injury since Week 6 and now a shoulder injury that could jeopardize his availability following the bye week. Danny Amendola played against the Chargers and returned punts, but he's dealing with a knee issue suffered in Week 7. Phillip Dorsett has managed a knee issue for much of the season. Brandin Cooks is healthy, but he may be the only one. If the Patriots need help here, odds are the team would turn to its depth at running back to fill in the gaps. But if they're looking for a receiver to chip in, they have Cody Hollister, Jake Kumerow and Riley McCarron on the practice squad. And don't forget: Malcolm Mitchell is eligible to return off of IR if he's able. Each team can bring back two players from IR, and McClellin looks like he'll be the first. The Patriots could also choose to bring back defensive tackle Vincent Valentine, but the decision between Valentine and Mitchell will come down to multiple factors, including how the rehab process is going for each, and what the depth chart looks like at their positions.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Would WWE outbid Patriots for Gronkowski?

Would WWE outbid Patriots for Gronkowski?

If Rob Gronkowski is serious about leaving football to become a wrestler, it probably won't be for the kind of money the Patriots are paying him, Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer tells WEEI.

“I think that is more of a Gronkowski is going to make the call himself and I don’t think it is WWE is trying to — they are not going to outbid him," Meltzer told WEEI "Dale and Holley with Keefe" show on Thursday. "They are not going to spend $10 million a year on him. But, if he’s done with football, are they interested in him? Yeah, it is pretty clear they are."

Meltzer reported last week that World Wrestling Entertainment was interested in signing Gronk to a "similar style" deal to that of Ronda Rousey, who left UFC to join WWE for a reported $5 million a year. Gronkowski is scheduled to make $8.6 million from the Patriots in 2018. 

Meltzer cited NFL-turned-wrestling examples of James Laurinaitis, Kevin Greene and Brock Lesnar as the footsteps Gronk could follow. 

"Now, can you do it on a Brock Lesnar schedule of 10 matches a year? Yeah, probably. Lesnar was a unique type of character. He made probably $5 million-plus a year in wrestling the last couple of years.

Gronkowski is also said to be contemplating a career as an action movie star. 

Here's more on Gronk from NBC Sports Boston Patriots Insider Tom E. Curran. 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Not many needs for young interior offensive line of Patriots

Not many needs for young interior offensive line of Patriots

Before free agency kicks off, and before we dissect the top college prospects entering this year's draft, we're taking a look at the Patriots on a position-by-position basis to provide you with an offseason primer of sorts. We'll be analyzing how the Patriots performed in 2017 at the position in question, who's under contract, how badly the team needs to add talent to that area, and how exactly Bill Belichick might go about adding that talent. Today we're looking at a spot where the Patriots are completely set . . . we think: interior offensive line. 

OTHER ENTRIES IN THE SERIES

HOW THEY PERFORMED: It wasn't always pretty, particularly at the outset of the season when Tom Brady was being hit at a rate that rivaled years when he was most battered. And the way the season ended for this group -- with Shaq Mason allowing a sack to Philly's Brandon Graham that helped end the Super Bowl -- was obviously less than ideal. But that shouldn't overshadow how this group performed, particularly in the second half. Mason was a borderline Pro Bowl talent (Pro Football Focus' fourth-best grade at right tackle for 2017), pairing his devastating run-blocking with a vastly-improved ability to protect. David Andrews continued to play solidly and effectively make calls from his place as the line's pivot, getting through the season as PFF's No. 4-graded center. And while Joe Thuney had occasional issues with power rushers, he graded out as PFF's seventh-best left guard. Three top-10 players at their respective spots? And a reliable all-around backup in Ted Karras (three total pressures and one bad snap in two starts at center)? Plenty of teams around the league would love to be as solid up front. 

 

WHO IS UNDER CONTRACT FOR 2018: Thuney, Mason, Andrews, Karras, James Ferentz, Jason King

HOW DIRE IS THE NEED: Not dire. At all, really. It's a 1 out of 10. They have three young, relatively healthy, improving players who will come back in 2018 and should slot in as immediate starters. The No. 1 backup at all three interior spots, Karras, is back as well. Ferentz is veteran depth piece who spent last season on the team's practice squad and was given a future contract by the team soon after the Super Bowl. Jason King (and Cole Croston who can play both guard and tackle) will also be back with the team when offseason training begins. 

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN FREE AGENCY: The best guard on the market was one of the best guards in the league in 2017: Carolina's Andrew Norwell. Other veterans who will garner interest on the market? Colts 2014 second-round pick Jack Mewhort and former Patriots starter Josh Kline. Jonathan Cooper, briefly a Patriot, will also be back on the market this offseason. Will the Patriots be interested in any of them? My guess is no, unless the team is put in an impossible situation at left tackle and they want to try Thuney on the outside, freeing up their left guard spot . . . but that's a pretty far-fetched scenario at this point. Even though Thuney played tackle in college, the Patriots drafted him to play on the inside. 

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN THE DRAFT: Notre Dame's Quenton Nelson will be fascinating to track on draft day. The 330-pound guard is considered by some to be one of the two or three best football players in the draft. He's touted by experts as a surefire longtime starter with All-Pro potential. But he's a guard. Are teams going to be willing to spend a top-10 or top-15 pick on a position that is ably filled by late-round picks and undrafted players all over the league? Nelson's an interesting case study in that regard. It's a pretty strong draft class at the top, it seems. Georgia's Isaiah Wynn and Texas-El Paso's Will Hernandez have received first-round buzz, as have a few centers: Iowa's James Daniels, Arkansas' Frank Ragnow and Ohio State's Billy Price. Then there are the tackles-who-may-be-guards-at-the-next-level. Texas' Connor Williams, who we mentioned in our tackle assessment, is the biggest name who could end up getting kicked inside. 

HOW THE PATRIOTS CAN ADDRESS IT: There really isn't much to address, in my opinion. However, there's a little wrinkle here that's worth keeping in mind. The Patriots were reportedly interested in drafting Indiana's center/guard prospect Dan Feeney in the third round last year. They had the 72nd pick. He ended up going to the Chargers at No. 71. The Patriots traded down for a pair of picks when Feeney was gone. One was used to get defensive end Derek Rivers. The other helped them snag tackle Tony Garcia. Why the interest in Feeney? His size (6-foot-4, 305 pounds) and athletic profile (7.52-second three-cone, 101-inch broad jump) actually compared somewhat favorably to those of Logan Mankins (6-4, 307, 7.52-second three-cone, 95-inch broad jump). The idea of having him at center, between Thuney and Mason, could've been enticing. So will the Patriots jump at the chance to add a similarly-gifted player to play in the middle if the opportunity presents itself? Never say never, but I don't think so. Andrews received an extension after the draft, keeping him in New England through 2020, and he was named a captain before the 2017 season.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE