Who's playing quarterback for the Patriots in 2021? No, really... WHO? This question has dominated our weekly installment of the Patriots mailbag this season, but on Thursday night, an interesting wrinkle to the discussion surfaced.
@MacDuffDanielj: Is Mariota available?
Man. I don't think you're the only Patriots fan who was wondering the same thing watching the Raiders and Chargers on Thursday night, Daniel.
Mariota looked like a smaller-but-fully-charged version of the guy many hoped Cam Newton would be. He was dynamic. He bought himself time behind the line and made strong throws. He rolled out and picked up yardage with his legs. He was accurate for the most part, though the interception at the end of regulation was a bad throw and a killer.
Obviously, it's a small sample. And even if he continues to play the way he did Thursday for the next two weeks, that doesn't necessarily mean he's a franchise guy. He's had an injury history that's concerning. But couldn't he be a bridge guy?
To your question about his availability: He's under contract with Vegas for 2021 with a $10 million base salary -- of which none is guaranteed. Even if Mariota plays well to finish this season with Carr out, paying Mariota that much after Carr posted arguably the best season of his career -- he's ninth in both rating and yards per attempt this year -- might be a bit much for Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden.
I think he'll be available. Could you land him on a contract similar to the one he signed with the Raiders -- essentially $7.5 million for one year -- and give him an opportunity to earn more in 2022 by giving him more playing time? Pair him with an early draft pick and suddenly the picture at quarterback in New England would be significantly more intriguing. Plus, if the pick doesn't work out, Mariota might buy you more time as your "bridge" than, say, Ryan Fitzpatrick. At 27, Mariota is only a year-and-a-half older than Baker Mayfield. He's five years younger than Ryan Tannehill.
Here's part of what we wrote about Mariota in the offseason as we anticipated where the Patriots might go at quarterback for 2020: His last full season wasn't pretty, but it wasn't as bad as you think. He graded as a top-20 passer in several key categories in 2018, including his Pro Football Focus grade from a clean pocket (18th), grade under pressure (17th), turnover-worthy play percentage (18th), adjusted completion percentage (9th), PFF rating (13th) and third-down grade (13th) . . . He studied under one of Bill Belichick's pals, Chip Kelly, at Oregon. He'd bring a mobility element to the quarterback position in the Patriots offense. And he's performed well in the past against Belichick defenses, which might help sway the coach's opinion on him this offseason. Mariota, in two full games, recorded a 7.9 yards-per-attempt figure, four touchdowns, no picks and a 108.7 rating. He's played in three offenses over the last three years and could be helped in a system that'll tailor itself to his skills.
Again, would you build your team around him? I don't think so. But could he give you competent quarterback play while you work to find the guy around whom you'd like to build? Sounds reasonable to me.
@jasonmroll14: Will Andrews stay? Thuney may be good but Andrews is more important to the o-line. Why is Andrews not mentioned in reporting? He'd be a HUGE loss.
Both guys have been hugely important to what happens up front. But you're right, Jason. Andrews has been particularly valuable based on the athleticism he brings to the position -- something they missed last year -- and all the calls he makes at the line of scrimmage pre-snap. The Patriots understand how much Andrews impacts the overall play on the line.
The question, of course, will come down to what Andrews is looking for in terms of value. Andrews is finishing off a contract under which he was paid $3 million per year. He's due a significant raise. Ryan Kelly of the Colts, the highest-paid center in the NFL, makes over $12 million per year.
The wrench in all of this is that it looks like the cap is coming way down this offseason. The stars of the game likely won't be impacted all that much. They'll still get what they're worth. Lower-level veteran starters could feel the squeeze, though, as teams try to fill those jobs with players on rookie contracts to save dough. Andrews probably falls somewhere in the middle. He's a very interesting case in this unprecedented offseason the Patriots and the rest of the NFL will face in a few months.
@JBoss_: Pats have a LOT of free agents this offseason - which ones do they need to re-sign vs. which ones can they afford to/should let walk?
See above on Andrews. Lawrence Guy makes a lot of sense to keep around, as well. James White would be another worth keeping because he's so useful as a sub back. All three are captains. All three would be culture-maintenance moves. And none of the positions filled by those players is among the NFL's most highly-valued so they should be reasonable re-signs.
Joe Thuney and Adam Butler, meanwhile, are younger players looking for their first bite at the free-agency apple. If they find greener pastures elsewhere, hard to blame the Patriots for letting them chase those opportunities. As critical as Thuney has been to the overall operation, as successful as he's been as a homegrown talent, hitting on Mike Onwenu in the sixth round of this year's draft could make a Thuney departure a little easier to swallow.
@jmcderm009: Do you think BB will sign a WR in free agency and pay him 12m+ per season? I would love to bring in ARob or JuJu at a 15-17m per year price. Do you see any chance we sign Hunter Henry for 10-12m per year? We need weapons and then Byrd and Meyers can be slotted into better roles.
I have a hard time believing the Patriots are going to buy, buy, buy at tight end after trading up for two players in the third round at that position. Especially given the trials every rookie has faced in 2020. It's been a weird year. The Patriots know it. I think they'll give Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene a little more rope to be contributors in 2021. Doesn't mean they'll ignore the position in the offseason. But signing someone like Hunter Henry feels overindulgent.
The receiver spot is the spot -- outside of quarterback -- where the Patriots can make the most immediate impact on their passing game and overall offensive efficiency. To do that, you might have to be ready to spend more than $12 million per year. I'd think JuJu Smith-Schuster, Allen Robinson and Kenny Golladay will all be looking at what Robert Woods got from the Rams ($16.25 million per year) and want at least that much. Will Fuller will be a fascinating case given he's coming off of a PED suspension, but he'll likely want to be in a similar range.
If you want a real game-changing piece at that position, the going rate is the going rate. If the Patriots want to go a tier below that because it's cheaper, Marvin Jones, T.Y. Hilton and Nelson Agholor are all available.
@DanWoods19: Rambo or Asiasi next year. Or neither.
Could use contributions from both. I've always said I liked Devin Asiasi's physical skill set as one of the best from this year's draft class. For instance, he's physically more impressive than fellow rookie Harrison Bryant in Cleveland. Bryant is obsessed with football, an offensive lineman in his younger days, and has made a quick impact with the Browns.
Asiasi should be able to make that kind of contribution in Year 2. He needs to stay healthy, but opportunities will be there for him.
@luckybetz: I know what the general public & Vegas odds say, but do you really think the Pats are done for the year? I personally cannot help but always keep the faith - somehow, someway, they will find a route into the Playoffs by winning out & getting some help from other matchups
Hard to blame you, RJ. You're already on the right track with the four-leaf clover in your handle. They're going to need some luck. But until they're out . . . they're not.
@mintberycrunch5: Are Uche and Jennings the Pats LBs of the future or do they need to bring in a free agent there?
I think both guys can play. Jennings has had a tougher time adjusting, in my opinion, but they've also moved him around quite a bit as an off-the-ball guy and an end-of-the-line guy. Uche's role has been a little bit more defined as a sub 'backer who can rush off the edge and spy athletic quarterbacks. Because he's a pretty rare height-weight-speed athlete, I think Uche has a good chance to be a long-term piece. We'll have to wait and see how quickly the game slows down for Jennings through the early portion of his career. Been a bumpy rookie season for him.
@robemjoshreese: Seems like Josh once again will have a chance to leave. Who replaces him and takes on the incredibly tall task of rebuilding a very bad offense if he does indeed leave?
Great question, Rick. We discussed this for a new episode of the Patriots Talk Podcast.
The most obvious choice would be Jedd Fisch because he's in the building already and serving as quarterbacks coach. He's an interesting candidate because of the coaching tree from which he hails. An assistant under Mike Shanahan more than a decade ago, he has a background in the quarterback-friendly scheme that has taken over the league in recent seasons. The Rams (where Fisch was an assistant in 2018 and 2019), Niners, Browns, Vikings, Packers and Titans all run some variation of the Shanahan wide-zone, play-action bootleg offense.
If you can run the football -- which the Patriots should be able to do -- it's incredibly quarterback-friendly. It takes pressure off the offensive line with bootleg reps that can give quarterbacks four or more seconds to survey their options. (From a front-office perspective, it's also pretty friendly since it sometimes leans heavily on lesser-paid positions like fullback and tight end.) Fisch, with that kind of system, makes sense for the Patriots if they're eventually going to bring in a young quarterback for whom they'd like to simplify reads.
Fisch also has plenty of experience in the college game, most recently with UCLA and Michigan, so he'd be able to implement some of the popular passing-game concepts from that level that could make the transition for a young quarterback entering the NFL a little easier.
@PatriotOpinions: Carl Davis designated to return off IR, he has played well in his limited action this season. Do you think he should be re-signed this offseason?
Think he could be in the mix. They could use at least one player to play the role Beau Allen was expected to play. Allen is under contract for 2021, but we'll see what his availability is. It's possible the Patriots need multiple big bodies up front. Adam Butler and Lawrence Guy -- different types of players compared to Davis and Allen -- are both scheduled to be free agents. Could see Davis getting a chance to help fill in the gaps in training camp next summer. His body type alone, at 6-foot-5, 320 pounds, makes him a relative rarity.
@Vinny210: Please list your by position greatest needs for the Patriots?
Quarterback. Receiver. After that, you can go to town just about anywhere.
I'd value the most highly-valued positions first. That'd mean corner would be high on the list, especially considering Stephon Gilmore could be moving on. I'd have outside linebacker high on the list. I'd have offensive tackle high on the list since there could be an immediate need at right tackle and a potential sooner-than-you-think need at left tackle. (Isaiah Wynn has one year left on his deal. The Patriots have to figure out if it's worth it to them to pick up his fifth-year option for 2022.)
I'd have tight end somewhere on the list, but as I mentioned above, I think it's worth giving the two rookies this season a little more in the way of opportunity before pulling the ripcord on either.