The New England Patriots are taking care of business on the coaching front. Bill O'Brien has been hired as offensive coordinator, and Adrian Klemm potentially could join the staff as well as offensive line coach.
There's still plenty of work to be done, though -- particularly on the personnel side, where the Patriots have several needs to address. You had questions about coaches and players alike in this week's mailbag, so let's get to it.
Let's start at the top of your list. I can't see Hunter Renfrow coming to New England. That's such an important position in Josh McDaniels' offense. There's little chance, barring some ridiculous trade offer, that McDaniels and Dave Ziegler are going to be looking into giving him to Bill Belichick.
Jerry Jeudy would be interesting since there's the obvious connection with Mac Jones and their time together at Alabama. Jeudy was gone before Jones took over as the Crimson Tide's starter, but the two knew each other well and were roommates, as Jeudy described on this episode of Next Pats. The Broncos could pick up Jeudy's fifth-year option in the spring, meaning he'd be under contract through 2024.
I like the fit. Particularly if Jakobi Meyers leaves via free agency. Jeudy could take over that "Z" receiver role, in my opinion, and excel. Of all the options you mention, I feel like this one is the most realistic. Partly because he hasn't been quite as productive -- and therefore shouldn't be quite as expensive -- as the next guy ...
Which wide receivers should Patriots target via trade in 2023?
... I think Tee Higgins would be the best fit for the Patriots. Like Jeudy, he was a 2020 draft pick. Unlike Jeudy, he was taken in the second round so there's no fifth-round option for the Bengals to pick up on him. If Cincinnati feels it can't pay him and Ja'Marr Chase and Joe Burrow... maybe they'd be looking to deal.
The cost would be exorbitant. First-round pick and a new contract, as was the case with AJ Brown when the Eagles acquired him from Tennessee. Doesn't feel like that's a price the Patriots will be willing to pay, based on their history at the position. But his skill set as a true outside-the-numbers and down-the-field threat sure is enticing.
DeAndre Hopkins to New England is an idea we've kicked around before. Now that Bill O'Brien's back in town, though, you wonder if that's a relationship that can be rekindled. Bill Belichick clearly loves Hopkins, based on their pregame interaction last month. But if O'Brien ain't interested, that could be what squashes a reunion.
Good problem to have, no? Then it'd be on Bill Belichick to have a capable succession plan in place. Is that Nick Caley? Caley has been the tight ends coach since 2017. He interviewed for the offensive coordinator gig, and his hat is in the ring for the same title with the Jets.
I've been told that if Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon ends up as a head coach somewhere this offseason, Caley could follow to be Gannon's offensive coordinator.
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But what if Caley doesn't land a promotion elsewhere? Would make sense to me to keep Caley around, if he's interested, and make him the next in line. Caley's contract is up this offseason, but that doesn't necessarily preclude him from remaining with the Patriots.
Things don't always move at a high rate of speed in Foxboro, Rich. Will be interested in what, if any, title change comes with Jerod Mayo's new deal. We've reported that a new title isn't Mayo's primary focus. But it would serve to inform the rest of the league that his role has increased. It'd also potentially be something ownership would view as beneficial.
I'm not sure it would be defensive coordinator since Steve Belichick is also a significant piece to the operation on that side of the ball. But assistant head coach? We detailed what that title has meant in New England in the past earlier this week.
Good one. If Devin McCourty retires -- and he told us this week on Patriots Talk that it could be a while before he decides -- he would be really difficult to replace. He's the quarterback of the defense. And he was a just-about-every-snap kind of player. Even deep into his 30s. I don't think deploying Kyle Dugger back there would be the best utilization of resources; he's too valuable near the line of scrimmage. Ditto for Adrian Phillips.
The player I'd like to see back there? Marcus Jones. He has more than enough speed to handle the gig. Like McCourty, he looks like a willing tackler. He has the ball skills to create turnovers and potentially turn them into big plays. His size makes him a difficult fit on the outside at corner. And with a number of bigger slot receivers and tight ends now populating the interior of offensive formations, his frame may be a limiting factor there, too.
Plus, if they can re-sign Jonathan Jones, that's his spot. Jones could be a factor as a post safety. Asking him to learn that spot like McCourty did, as a pro, would be asking a lot. But his teammates praise his ability to absorb new information. To me, he'd be a fit back there.
That's a good name to bring up in this conversation since Jalen Mills' strength with the Eagles was his versatility. But that free safety job is so critical to the overall functionality of the defense, durability there is massive.
McCourty has been an iron man over the course of his career. Mills... not so much. He finished the season unavailable due to a lingering groin injury, and he had back-to-back seasons in Philly where he played in eight (2018) and nine (2019) regular-season games.
Additionally, the Patriots are so (ahem) short on corners with the size to play the boundary that they kind of need him out there.
Seems that way. The way to get under-contract-elsewhere coaches into the building -- and prevent them from being blocked -- is by offering them a promotion. And I can tell you, based on the candidates who were interviewed, folks around the league saw this as setting up all along for Bill O'Brien to get the job. Other interviewees weren't viewed as true threats.
So, yes, right or wrong, that's the perception: Belichick spoke to coaches like Shawn Jefferson, Adrian Klemm and Keenan McCardell to gauge their fit in different roles. Now, it's important to point out, if McCardell and Jefferson -- not Klemm, since he's from the college ranks -- are still under contract, they could be blocked from making a lateral move to New England.
Will be interesting to see if any end up sticking with Belichick after chatting with him this month.
Appreciate that, Ace. It would make sense for Bill Belichick to give Bill O'Brien some leeway in selecting an offensive line coach since the melding of the running game (often hugely impacted by the offensive line coach) and passing game is so critical to the overall efficiency of an offensive attack. Doug Marrone would be an intriguing fit in that regard, since he and O'Brien are close and one would assume they'd have a strong working relationship with an open line of communication.
I'm not sure O'Brien will be given his choice, though. At this point, the Patriots haven't added anyone to the staff for the offensive line beyond Billy Yates, who was the assistant o-line coach last year and became the de facto leader of that position group once it became clear Matt Patricia needed to focus his energy on coordinating the offense and calling plays.
I'm not sure the lateral play will impact Belichick's decision to bring Meyers back, but you're right about the other point: The receiver class is really lacking this offseason.
JuJu Smith-Schuster looks like the other player there who could challenge as receiving the best deal of the bunch. They're the same age (26) and over the last three years their numbers are comparable. Meyers had 209 grabs for 2,399 yards, while Smith-Schuster had 190 catches 1,893 yards in eight fewer games.
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I've been told that Meyers' speed may prevent him from getting huge money in free agency, and I'd expect the Patriots front office to make a push to retain him given how the team values route-running and separation at the tops of routes. Meyers isn't flashy, but he's shown over the last few years that he has a knack for getting open.
Let's hit a few more quickly...
The first round could be where they make a run at a tackle. That position tends to cost a lot in free agency. For instance, I'd be surprised if they made a run at Orlando Brown. Mike McGlinchey -- who could be in a different tier in terms of contract demands -- might be more their speed.
But if they land a tackle, then I could see them making a push for a wideout early. It's a need. They know it. The only problem? I'm hearing evaluators aren't exactly salivating over wideouts in this draft class the way they have been over others.
If the Patriots see it the same way, maybe they'd pursue another position (corner?) early and see if they can get a pass-catcher on Day 2. Let's see how free agency goes.
Can't see it. Jimmy Garoppolo isn't durable. He's proven it.
Let's see how Year 3 goes. Then we'll find out if the Patriots will pick up Mac Jones' his fifth-year option, and then his second deal will take shape from there. Unfortunately for the team that didn't opt to give Tom Brady a two-year deal worth $50 million a few years ago, that's a relatively low-level deal for a veteran starter at the position these days.
In terms of average per year, it's Brady, believe it or not, who represented that low-level veteran starter deal in 2022. His contract was for $25 million for one year. The next-highest veteran quarterback deal? One that paid Jameis Winston $14 million per year over two years. That's a massive drop-off in APY, and though Winston has started in his last 10 games over two years, he's far from a surefire starter at this point in his career.
If Mac Jones has a good Year 3 and he's viewed as "The Guy" moving forward, the Patriots will have to be prepared to pay him something along the lines they weren't willing to give Brady. The market has shifted. Unless you want to go back into the pool of draftable players or add a Winston type (...or a Teddy Bridgewater type... or a Baker Mayfield type... you get it) as a possible starter, you've gotta pay.
Mel Kiper has Zay Flowers as a first-round pick. Dane Brugler suggested Flowers might be worthy of the first Patriots pick when we spoke to him late in the season. He's a talented player. The league likes him. We'll see where he ends up. Not guaranteeing he'll be a first-rounder, but he's in the conversation.
He's one of the most underrated receivers of his era. He's not a Hall of Famer, but man, he's productive. He's been in the league nine years. He's had 1,000 yards receiving in six of them, including two of the last three years.
I think the Patriots should be open to anything and everything that might give their passing game a spark. Will it be Cooks? I doubt it. He's guaranteed a whopping $18 million next year.
O'Brien hasn't been a big fullback guy. Jay Prosch played in Houston under O'Brien from 2014-2017, and he hovered around 200 snaps per season. Not nothing. But not incredibly significant, either. But just to compare, Patriots fullback Jakob Johnson saw 323 snaps in 2021 under Josh McDaniels, and fullback James Develin played almost 500 snaps in 2018.
Would expect tight ends in Foxboro to get plenty of usage (if Jonnu Smith earns a spot as a regular in future game plans). Plus, because O'Brien hasn't been afraid of spreading things out wherever he's been, 11 personnel (with three receivers, one back and one tight end) should get lots of run as well.
We've hit on Nos. 1 and 2... The answer is no to No. 3... No. 4? We've got time for that! Will be bombarding you with draft coverage soon enough.
I mean, they did score 40 points per game. And Bryce Young won the Heisman in their first year together, which just so happened to be Young's first year as a starter. Not to go full Belichick here, but I'm not sure it was all that concerning.
I was on the sidelines for the AFC Championship Game in Kansas City four years ago. The Patriots were real underdogs, they used that as motivation, and the release at the end of that game -- with a walk-off touchdown in overtime -- was something I'd never seen before.
Good idea. We did it midseason. Worth revisiting. Keep an eye out.
No question they have to add a tackle. And a receiver -- especially if Jakobi Meyers bails in free agency -- would improve their chances of being able to compete with the other elite offenses in the conference. What Cincinnati, Kansas City and Buffalo can do offensively should be a motivating factor for them this offseason if they want to be in the conversation with those teams.
You'd assume that seeing what those teams did for their quarterbacks in terms of adding weapons around them would lay out a blueprint for any team hoping to put its young quarterback in the best possible position to succeed.
He's under contract for 2023. He's guaranteed over $1 million. Should anticipate he wants to play until you hear otherwise.
Thanks for all your submissions, friends. Will continue to chip away at these in Bags (both written and on Next Pats) in the weeks to come. Too many gems in here to hit them all in one sitting. But we see you. We hear you. You are appreciated.