Is it time for Patriots to find The Next Guy?

Is it time for Patriots to find The Next Guy?

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 at that spot, and how exactly Bill Belichick might go about adding that talent. Today we're tackling the position that just might make this the most important draft season in Patriots history: Quarterback.



Tom Brady was the NFL MVP for the third time and his play at 40 years old might just give the Patriots the leeway to wait another year to draft The Next Guy. The argument could be made - and should be made, in my opinion - that the Patriots need to draft a quarterback this spring. But given the way Brady looked, if the right player isn't there this time around, the Patriots could wait until next year and they'd still probably be OK at the most important position at the roster. Despite taking a beating early in the season, and despite battling through a variety of injuries throughout the season, Brady led the league in passing yardage and was third when it came to QB rating. He was fifth in completion percentage and fifth in yards per attempt. He's said before he'll retire when he sucks. He's a long way off. 


Brady, Brian Hoyer




The severity of the need all depends on the window of time you're looking at. Do they need a quarterback tomorrow? Of course not. But don't kid yourself. They need one. And soon. If the Patriots can figure out a way to get Nate Solder back in the fold, adding a promising young player at this spot should shoot to the top of the offseason's to do list. Even without Solder, because of the importance of the QB position, the Patriots may believe finding Brady's eventual successor is the key to the offseason. Drafting a quarterback in the first round this season would give the Patriots a passer under contract through 2022. Brady will turn 45 years old that summer.




Man, is it going to be fun to talk about this position this offseason. Things got weird when Washington traded for Alex Smith and handed him a long-term extension with the former Niners and Chiefs QB. That means Kirk Cousins would certainly be on his way to a new city in a matter of months. And things should only get weirder from there. All three Vikings quarterbacks -- Case Keenum, Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater -- are scheduled to hit free agency. Nick Foles is under contract in Philly but could be made available in a trade. Drew Brees, meanwhile, is scheduled to become a free agent as well. What's it all mean for the Patriots? They probably won't be interested in veteran passers, but where the above names land will alter the league-wide landscape when it comes to draft weekend. And because this is expected to be one of the deepest quarterback drafts in years, the Patriots could benefit if, after all the movement, a talented rookie signal-caller ends up falling into their laps. 




Where to start? Want the most statistically accomplished quarterback in the history of college football? Someone with big-time leadership skills and an outsized (at times abrasive) personality to match? That's Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield. USC's Sam Darnold may have the highest ceiling of any passer in this class. UCLA's Josh Rosen throws a pretty ball but there are questions as to how he'll move at the next level. Wyoming's Josh Allen looks like he was built in a quarterback lab, but his accuracy is all over the map. Louisville's Lamar Jackson is the most talented runner at the position since Michael Vick, but his mechanics could use some cleaning up, and he'll need the right scheme in order to succeed. All of those players could be gone in the first round. And four of those six could be gone in the top six picks. If you're the Patriots, that might be OK. Oklahoma State's Mason Rudolph, Washington State's Luke Falk, Western Kentucky's Mike White and Richmond's Kyle Lauletta could be available on Day 2 and may represent good value in the eyes of Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio. 




This just might be the most important draft in Patriots history. It’s bigger than 1993, I think, back when the choice was Drew Bledsoe or Rick Mirer. The Patriots couldn't screw that one up. But that was about becoming competitive. Every decision the Patriots make now is about trying to extend their unparalleled run. Without the No. 1 overall pick, the current challenge is greater. It's certainly greater than it was back in 2014, when they drafted Jimmy Garoppolo in the second round. Back then, they knew they had some breathing room to develop Brady's successor. Now, even though Brady just won the MVP, that window has been minimized. The team can’t bank on Brady making it to 45. The choice has to be to make a contingency plan, and to make it quickly, with a young player who the team believes has the intelligence, the arm and the leadership to be The Next Guy. He'll also need the requisite poise not to be shaken when he’s dubbed The Next Guy. Lump all of those things together, and that player will be hard to find - even in a loaded quarterback class - so how do the Patriots make sure they get him? Use a first-round pick, if they have to. Trade up, if they have to. The Patriots may be certain their man will slip to the second. Maybe they’ll be confident they can actually draft the next Garoppolo with the pick they received in exchange for Garoppolo months ago. But because the future of the most important position on their roster is so tightly bound to the health of a 40-year-old, it feels like they really can't afford to wait around.


Curran: Ranking the Patriots free-agent imports so far

Curran: Ranking the Patriots free-agent imports so far

Did you know today (Tuesday) is the International Day of Happiness?

Cheese, willow trees, pool basketball in the pool, a newly-mowed-lawn and briefly turning off my headlights while driving down a dark, narrow street to scare my passengers. Those are things that make me happy.

It’s good timing.

The first few days of NFL free agency (and the legalized flirting that preceded it) created a level of unhappiness in New England because of all the exports.

All made stupid money that the Patriots really couldn’t ante up, but the contributions of Nate Solder, Dion Lewis, Danny Amendola and Malcolm Butler were such that a shrug and “What are ya gonna do...?” would have been an insufficient response.

So there was flipping out.

But in honor of IDOH, let’s look at imports and rank them in order of projected usefulness. It’s a happy exercise because there’s upside to each of the six signings.


A league source told me this is a Patriots 1.0 type of signing – one of those high-character players who has a well-defined strength as an edge-setter/pass-rusher. When the Patriots brought in James Harrison at the end of the 2017 season, that was their acknowledgment they didn’t have a complementary edge player opposite Trey Flowers. Clayborn’s a decade younger than Harrison, has been durable and – at 6-3, 280 – has plenty of size to bow up when attacked on the ground. The team never sufficiently replaced Rob Ninkovich and Chris Long last year (their planned move of Dont'a Hightower to the edge went kaput when he had to move back to linebacker and then got hurt). Clayborn should help do that.


McCourty was having one of the best seasons of a good career in Cleveland before an ankle injury in practice knocked him out of action last October. So, it stands to reason that there’s plenty left in the tank for Devin McCourty’s twin brother as he joins the Patriots on a very manageable deal ($3 million). He’s a free agent at the end of the year. The Super Bowl was an embarrassment for the Patriots defense. For reasons still unexplained, the team couldn’t risk putting a former Pro Bowl corner who’d played 98 percent of his team’s snaps all year on the field. And the resulting Malcolm Butler Shuffle which put Patrick Chung out of position and Jordan Richards and Jonathan Bademosi on the field cost the team a title. It boils down to Bill Belichick not believing he could count on Butler. Whatever. Jason McCourty’s an Eagle Scout, he’s never played in a playoff game and he’s happy to be in New England. He could be equal to or better than Eric Rowe and his presence – along with Jonathan Jones and Cyrus Jones – gives the team nice corner depth.  


This is like the McCourty deal in a way. Just as the Patriots' patience ran out with Butler, so too did it run out with Alan Branch. And vice versa, it seemed to me. The offbeat Branch was an incredibly impactful and valuable defensive tackle for the Patriots. Belichick gushed about how Branch was far-and-away their most impactful defensive lineman in 2016. And by 2017 he was a healthy scratch several times and was in street clothes for the Super Bowl while LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi ran wild. Shelton is a decade younger and while he’s smaller than the 6-6, 350-pound Branch (Shelton’s “just” 6-2, 335), he also isn’t world/NFL-weary in the same way Branch seemed to be. As the 12th overall pick in 2015, Shelton didn’t make the impact expected there. We’ve heard scheme and the Browns’ general suckitude as being the reason, but some of it has to come back to Shelton too who – Cleveland writers told me – has a tendency to lose technique in games and wear down. Huge upside potential at a position of need.


Kick returners have diminishing importance in the NFL thanks to the rule changes of the past few years but they aren’t extinct yet. And Patterson is among the most explosive in the league. Dion Lewis had a 103-yard kickoff return last year. He averaged 21.1 on his other 22 returns. Patterson averaged 26.3. He can also cover punts which the Patriots will need if they intend to let Matt Slater go. His presence on offense will command attention as a gadget guy (jet sweeps, jailbreak screens) and downfield decoy. He also has had some ballhandling issues so that’s worth watching as well. Here's Phil Perry on what the Patriots are getting in Patterson. 


Tobin was a walk-on at the University of Iowa. He was an undrafted free agent that made the Eagles in 2013. I mention this as proof the guy – who has now spent five seasons in the NFL – has a penchant for doing more than anticipated. The 6-foot-6 Tobin isn’t going to replace Nate Solder. I don’t think the Patriots are pretending that he can. But with Solder gone and Cam Fleming/La’Adrian Waddle both still free agents, the Patriots need reinforcements not just at starter but as depth. Tobin will serve as that. Greg Bedard at the Boston Sports Journal (subscription required) went deep on Tobin. In short, Matt Tobin draws a shrug from me.


Poor Jeremy Hill. The fumble Pittsburgh’s Ryan Shazier forced Hill to commit in the 2016 AFC Divisional Playoffs led to impossibly anguished wailing from Hill and a satisfyingly painful loss for Hill’s detestable Bengals. It also allowed the Patriots to defeat the just-as-loathsome Steelers in the AFC Championship a week later. None of that has anything to do with what Hill may bring to the Patriots. But the fumble perhaps led to the drafting of Joe Mixon last April which led to Hill realizing his Cincy days were numbered and may have led to his deciding to have ankle surgery which Marvin Lewis strongly disagreed with Hill having. Hill, 25, comes to the Patriots as a goal-line, short-yardage threat who scored 29 touchdowns in 46 games for Cincy before last year’s abbreviated, low-impact season. He’ll either be better than Mike Gillislee or worse and the guy who loses that showdown probably gets released. 



Eric Ebron signs two-year deal with Colts

USA TODAY Sports Photo

Eric Ebron signs two-year deal with Colts

Former Lions tight end Eric Ebron is signing a two-year deal worth $15 million with the Colts, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Ebron was rumored to be a potential target for the Patriots, especially after new Pats running back Jeremy Hill tried recruiting him to the team.

The 24-year-old had 53 receptions for 574 yards and four touchdowns a season ago with Detroit.