As the Patriots try to rebound from their first non-winning season in 20 years, should they look to Kansas City or Buffalo for the right way to get back on top? That's among the topics we're tackling in this week's Patriots Mailbag, which also covers Stephon Gilmore's future, Jarrett Stidham's status, and New England's biggest draft need.
@McquadeGlenn: What are your thoughts on a trade for Minshew? I think he could be a decent fit here and a younger version of Ryan Fitz. Let him compete for a starting role while trying to figure or develop next guy.
Wouldn't hate it as a way to bridge to whatever's next. My thinking on "bridge quarterbacks" has been pretty consistent. Because young passers are so ready to enter the pro game -- really, the pro game and its schemes are just more accepting of young passers these days -- you don't really need a top-tier bridge guy if you're investing valuable draft capital in a young quarterback.
For instance, Minshew and a top-half-of-the-first-round pick at quarterback wouldn't be a terrible combination. Minshew might not even be expected to be a starter for a full season. Maybe you'd just want him to get you through the early portion of the year, or maybe you'd just want a capable backup, understanding that your rookie might be able to play relatively quickly.
Acquiring someone like Jimmy Garoppolo -- who'd be more expensive if acquired via trade and unwilling to take a pay cut -- feels like a longer-term bridge to me. Matthew Stafford would fall under the same category. Maybe lump Marcus Mariota in that group as well, since he might cost more than others depending on how his last couple games of this season go.
This topic raises a bigger-picture question: Do you want to build like Kansas City or do you want to build like Buffalo?
Kansas City got a capable veteran in Alex Smith and paid him. They built up the offense around him. They tried to compete. They won plenty of games with Smith. He made the Pro Bowl with the Chiefs and was there for several years. That's a long bridge. Then they found a rookie quarterback they loved, plopped him into a great situation, and they were off and running. The Bills got the young quarterback first, paired him with a few cheap retreads at the position (Matt Barkley, Derek Anderson, Nathan Peterman) knowing Allen was going to play, and built up around the kid.
Both approaches have worked. One approach is longer than the other. I'd think you'd want to expedite this thing as much as you can if you're the Patriots, so I'd lean toward the Buffalo model. Will be interesting to see how they want to play it, especially if Garoppolo is out there to be had. Snagging him would, in my opinion, put them on the Kansas City path of trying to build around a capable-but-not-outstanding veteran while keeping your eye on the horizon for the perfect young arm.
@adamhart: You good with Dugger or are you like “Oh man, would’ve been nice to have Jalen Hurts?” That’s my question for the mailbag.
I think Kyle Dugger is bound to be a very good player. I believe that wholeheartedly. I've written a lot about just how athletic he is and the likelihood of his success based on his physical traits alone. But he's an intelligent player. He's aggressive. He appears to have very good instincts. The fact he's played as much as he has this season, coming from Division II, in the middle of a pandemic, off a shortened offseason, would surprise even those who worked closely with him at Lenoir-Rhyne.
That said, the quarterback position is the quarterback position. The safety position is the safety position. One is absolutely critical to competing for a Super Bowl. One is critical to a defense and important to have, but not in the top two or three on the list in the most-important-to-a-championship-roster discussion.
@boom80517: Hi Phil, this season has obviously been so different for all of us fans and media alike. In an odd way, have the Patriots' struggles and future uncertainty reinvigorated you by chance? How has it been different for you as a beat reporter? Thanks!
Appreciate that question, Boom. Wouldn't say this season has been any more or less energizing than any other. It's been a tougher year because of the lack of access that we're all dealing with, but it's opened up time for other things (more podcasts, TV, digital projects), and I think it's forced us all to be more creative as reporters. Try to be invigorated regardless of what the storylines happen to be surrounding this team.
Whether we're following a championship-caliber group, something less than that, reading legal documents, tracking the draft... I understand how ridiculously lucky I am to be doing what I'm doing and try to bring the same energy to everything we do, all the time.
What's been particularly compelling about the last couple of years, really, is that we've known this is a time of transition. In that sense, having so much uncertainty at an absolutely vital part of the team at quarterback, brings a different type of fascination to the job. What do the Patriots want? How much are they willing to spend? Will they draft one? Sign one? Trade for one? We're in uncharted territory for this team and this coach. That's endlessly interesting to me.
But this has been the most interesting team in sports over the course of the last 10 years or so since I started covering the NFL. Hard to say it's any more or less exciting than any other time. Again, ridiculously lucky.
@JohnALimberakis: Given that Front 7 and OT talent drops off early do you expect BB to go OT, IDL, Front 7 early? Our Scho show hypothesis is that scarcity and roster construction justifies going trenches and front 7 early. Receiver is deep again. Also - Michael Carter yes or hell yes?
John, it wouldn't surprise me for Bill Belichick to go with a tackle. The Isaiah Wynn situation is one worth keeping an eye on. He's a starting-caliber tackle. He's been hurt, though, and the Patriots have to figure out in relatively short order whether or not they want to pick up his fifth-year option for 2022. They already need to be looking at the right tackle spot.
But to me, it's all about quarterback and receiver right now. The Patriots understand who they're competing with and how the best teams in the league are built. They've gotta find ways to score. Would it shock you to find out the Patriots are a top-10 scoring defense this year? They're seventh. They aren't perfect on that side of the ball. Clearly. They need help. They need to stop the run better than they have these last couple weeks.
But I'd be pouring resources into the offense and attacking the defense with some middle-tier vets in free agency, who should be available because of the cratering cap.
@THEREAL_DaveSul: Do you think having an extra month to scout talent from college teams will help improve the quality of draft picks this upcoming year?
Will the Patriots missing the playoffs help them evaluate college talent? Maybe. Maybe it's added time for Bill Belichick to tap into his sources across the country for diamonds in the rough. But Belichick trusts his personnel group, led by Nick Caserio. And even when the Patriots make long runs through the postseason, he's pretty hands-on in terms of going to pro days, conducting interviews and working out players. A few extra weeks might help them uncover more information about players, and every little bit counts.
But are we going to see a lights-out, no-miss draft because their season lasts just 17 weeks? I'm not sure I'd go there, either.
@bostonsocks: On Christmas morning, if Bill Belichick could find only two gifts under his tree to fix the Patriots, which two current NFL players age 25 or under who are *not* QBs would he wish for (one from each Conference)?
Deshaun Watson is 25. He's one of the best in the game, and he just shredded the Patriots defense. Think he'd have to be on the list. From the NFC, give him Deebo Samuel. He had a chance to draft Samuel a couple of drafts ago, but I think he'd be happy to take him now. With two valuable positions filled on the offensive side, now Belichick has a chance to go crazy on the defensive side and build that thing up however he chooses with a bunch of cap space and high-end draft picks.
@TuckerRossCon: What is Myles Bryant's ceiling?
The way they've used him has been a little reminiscent of another undersized, undrafted corner: Jonathan Jones. Bryant doesn't have Jones' speed, but he's smart and versatile. Could see him being a hybrid slot-slash-safety down the line.
@Pullosfan: Why did the Patriots stay with a 3-4 defense after losing 3 starting linebackers?
Great question, Laurence. I think it's just because that's how they've built up their team in recent years. Even after losing linebackers last offseason, they still have players like Josh Uche and Chase Winovich who they want to use who are 3-4 outside linebackers, not 4-3 ends. The only real 4-3 defensive end on the roster right now is Deatrich Wise, and he's spent the last couple years building up his body to be more of a 3-4 end.
But the way they've been beaten on the edges of their defense this year, I wonder if the team wouldn't consider shifting back to a 4-3 and playing guys like Winovich and Uche off the line. It's a nice idea in theory, but it takes time to staff your roster properly and bouncing back and forth between schemes might not make a lot of sense. Picking a style and committing to it is probably the more prudent way to go.
@TheRyanEffect58: Who do we go after next season, let’s rank in priority of need: WR, TE, DL, LB???
My rankings: QB* (goes without saying), WR, LB (outside and inside), DL, TE. I'm willing to give the two rookies they drafted at tight end more time. I liked those guys coming out, and that's a hard position to play Year 1. Add in a pandemic, and I'm willing to be patient with them.
@therealnedbrady: Phil, love your work. Where do you think the Pats envision Onwenu settling in long term on the line? Seems like he might have higher upside at guard but good tackle play is much more valuable.
Hey, Ned. They saw him as a guard-only type coming out of the draft. It wasn't until he got some reps at tackle in training camp that they considered him there. I think he has enough versatility that they could play him wherever they need. If Marcus Cannon isn't back, and they can't find a capable right tackle, he could stay. I think if all things were equal and they just wanted to play him at his best spot, it would be guard.
@JBoss_: Does Gilmore’s injury make it a.) more likely b.) less likely or c.) no change on him being traded this offseason?
No change. I think he's bound to be elsewhere.
@GrumCentral: Does the Jets losing out on Trevor Lawrence mean they might be convinced to stick with Darnold another year, causing a chain reaction where QB’s slide, and making it easier for the Pats to trade up?
It could. Though if I'm the Jets, I'd be willing to roll the dice on Fields or Wilson and deal Darnold. They haven't done much to help him out, but Darnold has put a lot of bad play on tape, and I think those younger players carry more upside at this point.
@iamdavidbeckett: Would you play Jarrett Stidham in the last two games, giving him an opportunity to be QB1 and see if he's worth keeping?
I would, David. I'm a fan of information. Good or bad. I think you have a chance to find out if Stidham is worth being part of the mix in the quarterback room next year or not.
Is he closer to Jimmy Garoppolo (possible starter), a young Brian Hoyer (long-term backup) or Ryan Mallett (no long-term value to the roster)? You may not find out everything you need to know in two weeks, but you'll be closer to finding out by playing him.
@johndunphy68: Despite the fact that the Pats will have a ton of cap space this offseason, is that really the most effective way to reset this roster? I see Belichick being conservative with spending money to maintain cap flexibility.
It helps if you spend it in the right places. Look at the Dolphins. Their entire turnaround has been sparked by free-agent additions to the defensive side of the ball. If you can get a long-term piece or two, it's worth it. The Patriots have built via free agency plenty in the past. Mike Vrabel, Rodney Harrison and Stephon Gilmore are just a few examples of long-term pieces acquired with some cash.
@cigardegenerate: I’ve never experienced a non-playoff podcast season. Are you guys going to end or early, or, keep hitting us with the hottest pod content in the game?
Hot content. All the time. Find us. Subscribe. We'll continue to hammer you with that goodness. No shortage of things to discuss...