Patriots

Friday Patriots Mailbag: Expectations for Josh Gordon, Demaryius Thomas

Friday Patriots Mailbag: Expectations for Josh Gordon, Demaryius Thomas

The Friday Bag is back, friends. Every week I'll be answering your questions be they Patriots-related, NFL-related or otherwise. This week, the focus for many of you was -- no surprise -- the Patriots receiver group. We'll start there.

Actually hear from him, Michael? Friday could be the day. We should hear from him Sunday night as well. He took the podium for brief back-and-forths with reporters last year following games. If you meant "hear from him" production-wise, I think that's coming soon as well. Even with limited practice time with Tom Brady this summer, his physical skill set is such that he should be a factor immediately on slants, back-shoulder throws and quick-hitters that allow him to make the most of his run-after-catch ability. When you factor in that there aren't many explosive and trustworthy pass-catching threats on the roster, that leads me to believe Brady will give him plenty of chances to contribute Sunday. Julian Edelman can't catch every pass. Demaryius Thomas might've been Gordon's biggest challenger for targets against the Steelers, but he's on the injury report with a hamstring issue.

Still trying to do some digging on this one, Robert. Watched him closely in the brief media availability portion of Thursday's practice. It's hard to tell what's what during those few minutes because not every player treats every warm-up period similarly. Players skip stretches. Some walk when others jog. What I can say is it wasn't a particularly rigorous warmup for Thomas, but he's a veteran. It's a bit of a concern that a 31-year-old coming off an Achilles tear in December, who's working in a new offense with a new quarterback is suddenly dealing with a hamstring issue. My guess is that even if he does play, he won't be heavily involved. I haven't budged off my realistic expectations for Thomas just yet, if you're interested in those.

Nick, I'd say Gordon has a much better opportunity to make a significant impact in the offense this season. He averaged 18.0 yards per catch in New England last year. The question with Gordon is for how long will he be able to provide them with that level of still other-worldly talent? He played 12 games (11 for the Patriots) last year. He played five games in 2014 and five in 2017, sandwiching two seasons out of football. Since predicting the number of games for Gordon is difficult, I'd be comfortable saying he could give them about what he gave them last year on a per-game basis last season: 65.5 yards on 3.6 catches.

Damian, my man, figured this was coming this week. The Raiders would have to recoup the more than $30 in guarantees Brown was given in his latest deal to even start the conversation. He has base salaries for 2019 and 2020 that each exceed $14 million and are guaranteed. To get that money back (and take it off the table for a team like the Patriots or any other interested club) the Raiders would have to prove Brown has behaved in a way that would be deemed "conduct detrimental" to the team. Shouldn't be too hard. If the Raiders can pull that off and release him, you could make the argument that he'd be worth signing in New England. In a vacuum.

The Patriots could use receiver help. They currently have two undrafted rookies and two veterans with dependability concerns on the active roster. They'd welcome someone of Brown's ability level. But would they welcome the headache? I don't think so. Other malcontents have arrived and bought in to the Patriots culture, you say? I'd counter with: From what I've seen of Brown, he's an annoyance greater than, say, Randy Moss or Corey Dillon. He doesn't seem like a fit for a team that is trying to develop a young core. If he's willing to take a lower salary — the Patriots have about $6 million in cap space — with little guaranteed in case the Patriots wanted to cut bait, then sure. Why not? Otherwise the juice, as they say, probably isn't worth the squeeze here.

It's back and it's glorious.

What's up, Swirley? I have the Patriots and the Saints in Super Bowl LIV with the Patriots winning. Count me among those who believe in this defense to the point that, if healthy, I think it could carry them through February. For the Saints, were it not for two ridiculously flukey end-of-game situations that led to a couple postseason losses the last couple years, they might have another Lombardi Trophy. They have a well-built roster, and Drew Brees is still plenty good enough to get them to Miami. 

Oh boy, Mike. Unfortunately for him and those of us who've appreciated covering him this summer, there's a chance Gunner Olszewski is Patriot No. 53 after what happened to him over the weekend when he was told he was being released and then kept at the last minute. Still, it's important the Patriots have depth at receiver given the question marks there. And Olszewski has return ability, which gives him value. Any chance it's Deatrich Wise who isn't long for the roster? Not that he'd be released, but he could be a trade candidate. I'm fascinated to see how much he plays Sunday because I think there's a scheme change happening in New England, and I'm not sure of what his role will be in this new-look defense.

Thanks for chipping in, Tom. Unless the personnel changes . . . unless Gordon remains a viable option deep into the season . . . unless injuries change what the offense is capable of . . . I believe their identity will be what it was at the end of 2018. Running the football — with Tom Brady coming up with key throws when necessary — makes too much sense. That approach keeps Brady upright. It makes the most of their costly running back room. It makes the most of their fullback (a rarity in today's NFL). It'll give their offensive line — 40 percent of which is new to the starting lineup — a respite from having to protect Brady for extended periods of time. Teams may react to New England's ability to run and load up the box with bigger defenders, but if they do, then McDaniels can counter with James White, Rex Burkhead and a quick-hitting passing game. They'll always be malleable. But they've found something in their diverse running attack that I don't think they'll have to give up on any time soon.

Hey, Dave. My initial reaction is to say it's going to be hard for Harry to contribute meaningful snaps after missing the first eight weeks of practice. However, the receiver group is so loaded with uncertainty this season that there's a good chance the Patriots need him badly by the time Week 9 rolls around. He's a bit like Gordon in that I think he's physically talented enough to trot out, run little more than slants, screens and back-shoulder fades, and still make an impact. How much success he sees in the second half of the year will depend on how well Gordon, Thomas and Jakobi Meyers are fitting into the offense. If that trio isn't producing, Harry could put up some nice numbers by simply bullying smaller corners. If that trio is helping the passing offense hum along, Harry could be looking at 2020 as his first opportunity to contribute. I'd think the former scenario is more likely.

Good question, Brycen. Trying to figure out Patriots running back splits is probably a futile exercise, especially when they're all healthy as they are at the moment. But I'd expect Sony Michel to be the lead back and goal-line option. I'd expect James White to be the second-best pass-catcher on the team behind Julian Edelman. I'd expect Rex Burkhead to get time in hurry-up scenarios and as a receiver extended away from the formation to try to make up for what the Patriots lack at wideout and tight end. I'd expect Damien Harris to fill in capably if injury strikes or if Michel needs to be managed.

I also wouldn't expect to see a huge shift in run/pass splits for these players. White will likely remain the passing-down back. Michel will be the early-down back. Burkhead should be able to do a little bit of both. One thing I can say with some confidence is I believe we'll see Michel utilized more often on passing downs. The Patriots ran 76 percent of the time when he was on the field as a rookie, making him arguably the most predictable skill-position player in the league. He has to get more involved through the air — or at least in pass protection. There's only one direction for him to go.

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Good news, Jason McCourty: Proposed NFL onside kick alternative voted down

Good news, Jason McCourty: Proposed NFL onside kick alternative voted down

The NFL's message to teams that struggle to recover onside kicks: tough luck.

NFL owners passed three rule changes for 2020 during a virtual meeting Thursday, and a proposal for an alternative to the current onside kick format wasn't among them.

The proposal -- which would give teams the option after a score to attempt a fourth-and-15 play from their own 25-yard line to maintain possession instead of onside kicking -- came to a vote but ultimately was shot down, per Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer.

Jason McCourty should be pleased with that result; the New England Patriots cornerback said Wednesday he wasn't a fan of the fourth-and-15 option, arguing the rule would "basically (reward) you for being behind."

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The proposal indeed was divisive: Some players and fans agreed with McCourty that the rule made it too easy for an opponent to wipe out a hard-earned lead, while others thought the change could spice up a predictable play: Only eight of 63 (12.7 percent) onside kicks were recovered last season.

As Breer points out, this proposal could resurface in the future. But in 2020, at least, defensive backs like McCourty won't have to worry about making a stop on a gimmick play to protect their team's lead.

Can Patriots QB Jarrett Stidham handle the spotlight? Ex-coach has encouraging take

Can Patriots QB Jarrett Stidham handle the spotlight? Ex-coach has encouraging take

It's always tough being the guy who follows the guy, and that's the challenge Jarrett Stidham likely will face during the 2020 NFL season.

Tom Brady left the Patriots as a free agent in March after winning six Super Bowl titles and setting plenty of records in his 20 years with the franchise. Next up at quarterback figures to be Stidham, who's the favorite to win the starting job over veteran Brian Hoyer.

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Being the one to replace Brady is going to put tons of pressure on Stidham. Fans, fairly or not, will expect great performances from him right away. And, as anyone who lives in this region understands, these fans aren't afraid to call out players who don't play at a high level.

Should we be confident Stidham can handle the spotlight? Troy head coach Chip Lindsey, who was the offensive coordinator at Auburn during Stidham's time with the Tigers, seems to think so.

“I know he’s extremely excited about this opportunity,” Lindsey told NESN.com's Doug Kyed. “I think he’s a guy that’s kind of -- when you come play at Auburn in the SEC. I don’t know how much you’re familiar with this league or not, but you’re under the microscope every week. You’re playing the biggest game of the week every week it seems like.

"He’s had his fair share of being in the limelight, good and bad, and I think he understands very well that, as a quarterback, by nature of the position, you get more credit than you deserve and more blame than you deserve. I think he’s totally comfortable with that and very comfortable with himself, which I think will serve him well.”

Lindsey is right about the SEC. No other conference in college football puts players under more pressure. It's the best conference in the nation, and 11 of the 19 FBS champions this century call it home. It's not the same as the NFL, obviously, but playing in that kind of environment where just about every opponent has NFL-caliber players on defense certainly benefited Stidham.

The only way to find out if Stidham can be a quality starting quarterback at the pro level is to give him a chance, and based on everything we've seen from the Patriots this offseason, it looks like his opportunity will come sooner rather than later.