The last time the Patriots were in a spot tenuous as this? Probably the first couple of weeks of 1993. Coming off a 2-14 season that ended with the firing of Dick MacPherson, they had no head coach and no quarterback (sorry Zo).
By the end of January, Bill Parcells was in charge. By the end of April, they’d used the No. 1 overall pick on Drew Bledsoe. Even though there have been ebbs in the past 29 years -- 1995, 1999, 2000 and 2009 -- they always had their quarterback in place.
And for all but the three Pete Carroll years, they’ve had a respected football poobah running everything.
But the current poobah -- Bill Belichick -- is on a cold streak and the quarterback is nowhere to be found. Even if they’d had a quarterback, the replacement-level wideouts and inept tight ends still would have hamstrung the operation. And the defense, which is traditionally Belichick’s pride and joy? It’s in flux.
A whole mess of questions face Bill Belichick after this 7-9 season. And he’s not about to spend another season fielding them from insolent hack reporters. Bill will be bold in 2021.
So we’ll go bold predicting what he’ll do.
PATRIOTS ACQUIRE A TOP-TIER OFFENSIVE THREAT
The Patriots don’t have enough good players to run their offense through. The three best players this year -- Damien Harris, James White and Jakobi Meyers -- handled the ball 285 times. Throw in Cam Newton’s 137 carries and you’re at 422 touches. So 422 of the team’s 785 touches -- 56.27 percent -- went to a second-year undrafted wideout, an aging third-down back, a quarterback whose main strength was running like a fullback and a promising young running back.
In 2017, White, Brandin Cooks, Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola combined for 294 touches. Dion Lewis ran it 180 times. That’s 474 of the 837 touches, which was 56.3 percent. That’s an in-his-prime third down back, a top-tier wideout, a Hall-of-Fame tight end and a very valuable 2/3 wideout. Plus an electric running back. Each of them possessed a tool that made them matchup headaches.
What’s the point? Too many “meh” players handling the ball on too many plays. We can talk quarterback plan until the cows come home, but the Patriots are setting him up to fail if they don’t get an elite offensive talent for him to use.
Whether they do it through the draft, free agency or trade, the Patriots will make a significant move. The best free agents coming up are Allen Robinson, A.J. Green, T.Y. Hilton, Marvin Jones and Breshad Perriman. The draft has players like Ja’Marr Chase at LSU, Jaylen Waddle from Alabama and a handful that would be the Patriots most explosive offensive threat right now. At tight end, Hunter Henry is a pending free agent.
They have the running backs. Between re-signings and developing players, they have the offensive line. The glaring speed/talent deficiencies are an anchor that won’t go away no matter who the quarterback is.
SAY SO LONG TO STID
Jarrett Stidham has two years left on his rookie contract. But after an annoyingly ineffective second season in which the football was never safe in his hands, there’s no cause to pour more reps down that particular drain. He’s got a great arm. But between his final season at Auburn where it was Gus Malzahn’s fault, to playing behind Brady as a rookie, to having no offseason this year, to groin tenderness to the coaches not believing in him, it’s never on Stidham.
The opportunities he’s had haven’t been golden ones. But there have been enough of them by now where one of them should have been seamless and fully impressive. None have. Give me a garden variety Colt McCoy. Hell, give me Jakobi Meyers taking reps at quarterback. It’s just not happening here. He’ll stick through August then be gone on the wire.
STEPH GOES DURING THE DRAFT
Financially, there are just too many things arguing against Stephon Gilmore’s return. He’s carrying a $17M cap hit and is due a $7M salary that -- even though he’s got a quad injury -- just will not do. He’s going to want more money. And that means extending and dropping the cap hit and moving forward with a 31-year-old corner who is going to start swallowing up too much of that valuable cap space the team squirreled away.
J.C. Jackson finished with nine picks this year. Pay him well, replace Gilmore with a mid-tier free agent or just keep on keeping on with Jason McCourty, Jonathan Jones and Joejuan Williams. You have plenty of options. As for trade options? Well, whoever’s picking up Gilmore understands it’s not just the $7M salary but a redone contract. So the Patriots may not get back what most would feel a former DPOY should gain. A third-rounder? Don’t be stunned.
JOE THUNEY RETURNS
With the money saved on Gilmore, the money conceivably saved if Dont'a Hightower retires ($9.945M) and Gilmore is traded ($7.5M) that’s more than $17M in 2021 savings in addition to the more than $60M they already have. Why would you move on from Thuney who is 28 years old and one of the best in the league at his position? Keep your strong spot strong on the offensive line, especially with Isaiah Wynn now clearly an injury-prone gentleman (18 of a possible 48 games played so far).
THE PATRIOTS WILL HAVE A FIRST-ROUND QUARTERBACK IN THE FOLD
It won’t be Cam Newton. And there’s no way in hell they’re trading for the contract of Carson Wentz, Matt Stafford or Matt Ryan. But the Josh Rosen, Marcus Mariota, Mitch Trubisky crew? One-hundred percent. You can’t be out there spending $20-plus million on a quarterback who has nobody to throw to. But the Patriots will absolutely see their way clear to a reclamation/journeyman proposal and there’s enough scrap-heaped talent out there right now for them to go and do it.