Patriots

What’s Patriots’ most glaring need? How do they address it?

What’s Patriots’ most glaring need? How do they address it?

Every Friday, Tom E. Curran, Phil Perry and Mike Giardi answer your Patriots questions in a joint mailbag, or FridayBag as they call it. After a Super Bowl loss, there’s plenty on the readers’ minds. Curran sits this one out but Perry and Giardi are here with the answers.

Got a question for the trio? Tweet them using the hashtag #FridayBag. Now, on to the Super postmortems:

From Twitter user @MikeParentLEAPWhat is the Pats most pressing needs and how will they be addressed? BBs bargain basement routine has left glaring holes in this team.

PP: The Patriots have plenty of needs, but I think their most pressing needs are offensive tackle, linebacker and...quarterback. Best way to address the tackle spot is to re-sign Solder. Linebacker could potentially be addressed in free agency. Would the Patriots be interested in Philly's Nigel Bradham, who can cover? Quarterback isn't a need for 2018, obviously, but it's probably time for the Patriots to start searching for the next guy. In what's expected to be one of the best quarterback classes in years, now may be the time to draft one. 

From Twitter user @RBeaginWho, in your eyes, is the most interesting free agent available for Pats and who is the most likely Pats target?

PP: I'd say before we start digging into this year's available free-agent crop, we all should be looking at New England's free-agents-to-be. The Patriots have a few potential holes that I'm not sure can be filled immediately by free-agent help. For instance, their best shot at having a good left tackle next year is, in my opinion, re-signing Nate Solder. With Malcolm Mitchell coming off of a knee injury that sapped his entire 2017 season, Danny Amendola still makes all kinds of sense as the team's No. 4 receiver. Those kinds of moves might be the most important ones they make. As far as free agents from around the league? Niners defensive end Aaron Lynch has great size and length and could fit as an end to mix into the rotation with Trey Flowers and Deatrich Wise. Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry gets praised up and down by Bill Belichick twice a year every year, and he could be the team's slot of the future, but he'll be looking to break the bank. 

From Twitter user @TheHucklebuckDo you know anything about Sr. Kyle Lauletta, QB Richmond? Dad is former QB at Navy?

PP: Haven't had a chance yet to really watch a whole lot of any of the quarterback prospects just yet, but I know Lauletta impressed at the Senior Bowl. That'll help give his draft stock an early boost. The common knock on him right now is that he doesn't have much in the way of arm strength. That may not be a game-changer for the Patriots if they feel like he'll be helped by having some time to develop as a pro. But typically, in New England, where the most important games of the year are played in the cold, snow and wind, you want someone whose passes can cut through the conditions. On the plus side, he's thought to be a good decision-maker and accurate. He was 8-for-12 for 198 yards and three scores in the Senior Bowl.

From Twitter user @JoeNestor56Which current or former Patriot is most likely to join the XFL?

PP: Has to be Tim Tebow, right? He told SI.com that "2020 is a long way from now" and that he's focused on spring training with the Mets . . . But I'm pretty sure Vince McMahon would make it worth Tebow's while even if he doesn't throw a single football in the next two years. Dark horse: Jon Halapio. He was a sixth-round pick of the Patriots in 2014, and he's had two separate stints in the now-defunct Fall Experimental Football League, also known as the FXFL. And you know what? it worked out for him. He has a roster spot with the Giants. I think the XFL might actually be a spot where fringe guys like Halapio can keep their names circulating in the hopes of earning a shot in the league. 

From Twitter user @Badseedz187Will pats focus on size speed strength in drafting defensive guys this year or rely more on versatility?

PP: They'll continue to focus on both. The fact of the matter is, some of the biggest, strongest and most athletic guys are the most versatile. The Patriots have parameters that they look for when they're drafting so they won't stray from those. The character aspect is something that Bill Belichick has maybe emphasized a little more in recent years -- Urban Meyer's "I want to coach guys I like" quote from last spring is an indication of that -- and I don't see that stopping just because his defense let him down in the Super Bowl. The Patriots need NFL-caliber athletes but don't expect Belichick to suddenly devalue character or versatility as he approaches free agency and the draft. 

MG: Excellent question Andrew, and only Josh knows the answer. My thing here with Josh is there is no way he should have verbally agreed to be the Colts coach and get assistants in place and whatnot if he had even a shred of doubt. That concerns me. Can’t have a boss be that wishy-washy. Maybe he’s best served as a coordinator and nothing more. Certainly, that side of it is a huge benefit for the Pats. Not only Josh not leaving, but then Joe Judge and Jerry Schuplinski sticking around instead of going to Indy with McD. 

As for looking back on that loss as a good thing…man, they gotta find the next quarterback because even though TB12 is playing like he’s still in his prime, eventually Father Time wins. He always does. Get that guy and success will follow.

MG: Stephen, Bill loves all aspects of the job but I think when he’s done coaching, he’s done period. I think internally, the Pats would love to keep Nick Caserio and Josh McD together for the long term. They know each well, and no one knows more about the Pats operations than Nick. 

MG: You know and I know and everybody knows that he’s the greatest QB of all-time. Therefore Deflategate or no Deflategate, he’d be rolling in dough and headed for the Hall of Fame. Come on, Goose. You’re better than that.

MG: I’m not sure I’d be keen on trading for Sherman considering he blew out his Achilles. For a corner, that seems like a really crappy injury to suffer, especially now that he’s 30 or so. Plus, the idea of paying 10 million or more for Sherman and 15 or so for Gilmore seems like something the Pats wouldn’t do. A lot of people I talked to though Talib’s play slipped last year. What’s the cost in picks? Could you re-work his deal? 

MG: Hard to say because obviously salary demands and potential cap casualties/extensions haven’t become known yet but as I peruse the preliminary list, there are a few names that jump out. DE/OLB Trent Murphy of the Redskins could be a target and be budget friendly as he missed all of 2017 with a torn ACL. He’s on pace to be ready for camp and had 9 sacks in 2016. KC’s Dee Ford is also in that mold. He struggled with a back injury a year after recording double-digit sacks. A one-year prove your healthy deal? 

How about Eagles OLB Nigel Bradham? He’s a three-down backer who isn’t a liability in coverage. He might cost though.

Arizona’s Kareem Martin is another one of those edge guys (DE/OLB). Not spectacular. But considered a sound player in NFL scouting circles. 

There’s also the potential need for a corner because Butler is going, going, gone and Jon Jones and the injury he suffered at the end of the season. Jonathan Joseph is 34 but he can still play. One-year deal potential.

MG: Mike! It’s Solder to me because there is no succession plan in place. They drafted Tony Garcia but he was on the non-football injury list all year and by all accounts lost a considerable amount of weight during the course of the season (260 was a number I heard thrown away more than once). You don’t want to flip Marcus Cannon, in my opinion, and I’m not sure you can view LaAdrian Waddle as the next guy. When you draft late in the first round, that also doesn’t seem like the ideal spot to find a left tackle for now. 

As you well know, I might be the President of the Dion Lewis fan club. He is a game-changer. A stud. But I’m still not sure I’d ever give a running back a ton of guaranteed money. I might just be content to try and bring Burkhead back on short money, go with Gillislee for the final year of his deal and, of course, Jimmy White. 

I don’t foresee Alan Branch surviving after being a healthy scratch for the playoffs. Would think Dwayne Allen is a goner too.

MG: For starters, are we sure Jamarcus isn’t 350 pounds? And if he is, why not pair him with the Pillsbury Throwboy, Jared Lorenzen? Think of the buffet line. RG3 was walking around radio row at the Super Bowl politicking for a job. I believed in Manziel the player coming out of college (I didn’t know he had substance issues). I’d love to see him circle back.

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Patriots get Edelman back, but what about Amendola?

Patriots get Edelman back, but what about Amendola?

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 looking at a position where the Patriots have numbers but could see two key veterans depart via free agency: Receiver. 

OTHER ENTRIES IN THE SERIES

HOW THEY PERFORMED:


Danny Amendola was a machine in the postseason. Chris Hogan was dynamite in the Super Bowl after a midseason shoulder injury that limited him to nine regular-season games. Brandin Cooks was very good throughout the majority of the regular season, putting up numbers that made him one of the league's most productive deep threats - and that's without the penalty yardage he drew. It wasn't a dominant season from this unit, but the group lost its most consistent performer when Julian Edelman tore his ACL in the preseason. Malcolm Mitchell's year-long knee injury also sapped this group of some depth. Despite some regular-season hiccups - it was a forgettable final month of the before the Wild-Card Round bye -- what Chad O'Shea's group did in the playoffs showed just how valuable it was for Tom Brady to have a handful of trustworthy receivers at his disposal. They checked in with a "B" in our final grades for 2017.

WHO IS UNDER CONTRACT FOR 2018?
Brandin Cooks, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, Kenny Britt, Malcolm Mitchell, Cody Hollister, Riley McCarron

WHO ISN'T?
Danny Amendola, Bernard Reedy, Matthew Slater

HOW DIRE IS THE NEED?


Brady should have his top three options back for 2018 so the need here can't be considered more than a 5 out of 10 on the Gary Tanguay Memorial "How Concerned Are You?!?" Meter. That said, the group needs some trustworthy depth. Especially if Amendola, 32, who has been willing to take less to remain in New England, decides he'd like to max out his value elsewhere. He's right there with Edelman, who turns 32 in May, as the most clutch postseason receiver Brady's had since Troy Brown. Dorsett and Britt are physically-gifted options who could benefit from a full offseason in the offense, but are they strong enough candidates to serve as the No. 4? And what about Mitchell? What does his future hold after missing his entire sophomore season? Moreover, and this wouldn't impact the offense so much as it would the kicking game and the level of leadership in the locker room, but Slater's loss would be monumental. If both Slater and Amendola return, the need here can't be considered close to dire. But a young option in the draft - either a burner who could provide insurance if Cooks opts for free agency next offseason, or someone who profiles as a true slot - would be a wise investment. 

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN FREE AGENCY?


There's a potpourri of pass-catching talent available on the market this offseason. The biggest names available are receivers the Patriots know well from their time in the AFC East: Jarvis Landry and Sammy Watkins. One's a slot. The other's a jack-of-all-trades but master of none, who struggled to put up numbers in a highly-productive Rams offense in 2017. Then there's Jacksonville's physical outside-the-numbers option Allen Robinson (coming off an ACL tear) and Arizona speedster John Brown. Other field-stretchers who could be had include Seattle's Paul Richardson, Atlanta's Taylor Gabriel and Arizona's Jaron Brown. Buffalo's Jordan Matthews (25 years old) is a bigger slot, sort of a younger version of Eric Decker (31), who also happens to be a free agent this offseason. Keep an eye on Denver's Emmanuel Sanders, who could become available as a cap casualty. The Patriots tried to bring him aboard as a restricted free agent years ago and it would make sense if they were still interested. He caught six passes for 137 yards in a Week 10 loss to New England last season. 

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN THE DRAFT?


After Alabama's Calvin Ridley, there seems to be some confusion as to which draft-eligible receivers deserve to take their place at the top of the class. Clemson's Deon Cain (6-foot-1, 210 pounds) has the size and speed to be a starter at the next level, but he was plagued by lapses in concentration that led to drops and false-start penalties. Courtland Sutton of SMU has an NFL-ready frame (6-4, 218), but probably doesn't have the athleticism to threaten defenses deep down the field as a pro. For teams interested in slot options, Texas A&M's Christian Kirk and Maryland's DJ Moore look like two of the best available. 

HOW CAN THE PATRIOTS ADDRESS IT?


There may be little to address here if Amendola is back in the fold. If the Patriots are looking for young depth, though, there are plenty of options. Miami's Braxton Berrios could probably be had on Day 3, and he's already drawing comparisons to Amendola for his work in the slot, his toughness, and his ability to contribute as a returner. The Patriots could also dip into the Texas Tech pool after missing on both Amendola and Wes Welker in the draft in years past by taking Keke Coutee. He's slight (5-11, 180) but can play inside and out, has speed to burn, and could return kicks. If Belichick and Nick Caserio want to go with a bigger slot who will be a good character guy, Penn State's four-year starter Daesean Hamilton (6-1, 205) would make sense in the middle rounds. 

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The Gronk dilemma is a sticky one for Patriots

The Gronk dilemma is a sticky one for Patriots

The quote’s been credited to a whole lot of coaches. It doesn’t matter who actually said it. What matters is how much truth there is in the saying, “Once an NFL player starts considering retirement, he’s already gone.”

There are myriad variations but they all arrive at the same spot. Once a player talks about hanging ‘em up, he’s given mental traction to feelings of football ambivalence. Employer beware.

Immediately after the Super Bowl, Gronk was asked about possible retirement.

He did nothing to spike the idea.

“I don’t know how you heard that but I’m definitely going to look at my future for sure,” he said. "I’m going to sit down the next couple weeks and see where I’m at.”

MORE GRONK:

Rob Gronkowski’s gone past idle musing about retirement. The “that” is the smoking gun there, obviously referring to something that had been ongoing.

In the two weeks since the Super Bowl, we’ve learned Gronk’s  gotten advice from Sly Stallone and The Rock about how much dough he can make in action movies  and that folks in the WWE would offer Gronk a deal similar to Ronda Rousey’s.

Is this an orchestrated attempt to create some urgency with the Patriots so they give Gronk a bump that makes it more worth his while (he’s on the books for salaries of $8 million and $9 million the next two seasons)?

Is this an effort to dip a toe in the entertainment pool while his NFL marketability remains near its apex? A Brady-esque effort to set up a post-football career while still continuing in the main vocation?

Or is it simply what it is – a 28-year-old whose body’s been through the wringer since college using common sense to realize that his position and style of play are going to exact a physical cost on him for the rest of his life?

Yes. Yes. And yes. It’s all of the above.

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And that’s why the Patriots have to take this very seriously.

Gronk and his family have had an eye on his football mortality since he was 19. Because of an insurance policy taken out by his father, Gordie, while Gronk was at Arizona, Gronk could have retired from football and received $4 million tax-free. He considered it as his recuperation from back surgery left him concerned he wouldn’t be able to walk correctly again.

He declared for the draft in 2010 to maximize his earning potential. And he bought in. Then 2012 happened. 

He broke his arm during the regular season and had a plate inserted in his forearm. When he rebroke the arm just above the plate in his first game back, it was described as a fluke. Worst-case scenario. But that was small consolation. And when an infection developed in the arm in early 2013, another surgery was necessary. And the convalescence from that ensued. Then came a back surgery in June of 2013. Then came a longer-than-expected recovery that stretched well into the 2013 regular season and a blown ACL when he did return.

The 2014 season was injury-free, but when Gronk was hit in the knee against Denver in 2015, you could sense his panic as he writhed on the field that something was terribly wrong. There wasn’t. But the team and the Gronkowski Camp released a joint statement about his timetable for return then Gronk underscored his intention of not returning until he was “100 percent.”

The 2016 season ended prematurely with another back injury suffered against the Jets and another surgery. That injury followed soon after a thunderous hit was laid on him by Seattle’s Earl Thomas. And his 2017 playoff run was marred by a concussion suffered in the AFC Championship Game.

So it’s best to remember all that context when eye-rolling about how the Patriots have had to bend over backwards to accommodate Gronk. His care and feeding are a lot different because A) he came to the NFL with injuries that gave him perspective; B) he got burned when he came back quickly from the broken arm; C) the 2013 whisper campaign painting him as a malingerer left a dent and D) his family is uniquely attuned to NFL reality that it’s a business and you best protect your only asset – your body.

The branding and the marketing has felt hamhanded at times but that’s the nature of the business these days and - in hindsight – it’s been a boon for a player who signed a “safe” six-year, $54M contract in 2011 that’s now severely outdated.

So what are the Patriots to do with a 28-year-old who’s suffered multiple knee, head and back injuries and is openly talking about wrapping it up?

They can’t just sit with their hands folded in their laps and wait until Gronk gets around to deciding. They need to know is he in or is he out? Or if he’s completely ambivalent, at which point, would trading him be a horrific idea?

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The irony is, Gronk told me in December that he’s never felt better. “I’m having fun playing football again,” he told me. His body held him hostage until he changed the way he trained and now the results from increased flexibility are obvious in his statistics, his quickness and the types of catches he was able to make last year.

He’s a Hall of Famer if he never plays another down. It’s not hard to make a persuasive argument that he’s the best tight end to ever play.

But how do the Patriots proceed with a legend that – for all the right reasons – isn’t sure he wants to keep playing? It’s a lot to wrestle with.