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Perry's Mailbag: Intel on Nick Caley's potential role in Pats offense

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Plenty to discuss in this week's mailbag, from what we're hearing about the New England Patriots' coaching staff to J.C. Jackson's contract situation to more potential fits in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Let's dive right in.

It's a good point you raise, Tom. Nick Caley has been a bit of a forgotten man on the Patriots coaching staff with reports circulating that Joe Judge and Matt Patricia will be chipping in on the offensive side of the ball.

Here's what I can tell you about Caley: Outside of Ivan Fears, who is expected to retire this offseason, he's the longest-tenured member of the offensive coaching staff. He's headed into his eighth year in New England. Before that, he spent 10 years coaching at the college level, primarily on the defensive side of the ball.

He just turned 39 years old. He's widely respected around the league as an up-and-coming football mind with good communication skills. He was mentioned by NFL Media's Tom Pelissero, along with Patriots inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo, as a name to keep an eye on as a future head coaching candidate.

Dante Scarnecchia told me this week that Caley would likely be a significant factor into the direction of the offense in 2022.

"Nick Caley has been there a long time, and he coaches the tight ends, which is really good within this context: He coaches a position that transcends the whole offense," Scarnecchia said. "He's been in all the meetings. Running game, passing game. I'm sure he would give a lot of help to whoever is calling the game."

 

My understanding is that roles on the Patriots staff are very gray at the moment as that group continues to sort through and clean up what they can from 2021. In the coming weeks, maybe as early as next week, those roles could come into clearer focus.

Patriots Talk: Patriots' coaching staff attrition continues. What's the plan? | Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube

But it would be logical for Caley to see a bump in responsibility because he was a key cog in the offensive game-planning process last year as the scheme was adapted to fit rookie quarterback Mac Jones.

That experience should give him a jump on someone like Judge, who is coming back to New England after a few years away and hasn't been around for the initial stages of Jones' development as a pro.

Indications I've been given are that, though the clock is ticking, it's not too late for the Patriots to continue to add to their staff. Folks I've spoken to believe they have to add to the staff.

There's still an expectation among some that the Patriots will land a veteran offensive coach to help fill the void left by Josh McDaniels. The role that continuously comes up in conversations is a quarterbacks coach and/or play-caller. 

Phil Perry

There's still an expectation among some that the Patriots will land a veteran offensive coach to help fill the void left by Josh McDaniels. The role that continuously comes up in conversations is a quarterbacks coach and/or play-caller. 

Julian Edelman openly questioned the idea of Judge calling plays -- something Judge hasn't done at the pro level -- on a recent Patriots Talk Podcast. Other coaches I've spoken to have expressed confusion when it comes to Judge's qualifications for the job, particularly since the next Patriots quarterbacks coach will oversee the trajectory of a second-year player who is inarguably most important to the team's future success.

If the Patriots could still pull it off, bringing aboard Alabama offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien would be a coup that would allow others on the sidelines to slot into roles that might better fit their skill sets and experience levels.

I asked Scarnecchia if he could ever envision Belichick calling plays on the offensive side in the event there is no easy answer for that gig. 

"I think he's got a lot of things going on," Scarnecchia said. "I'm sure he helps the defense. He may occasionally say something like, 'Hey, we want to be run-heavy in this situation.' But calling plays, not much. I'm sure he could."

 

Agreed. For more from Scarnecchia, tune into Early Edition on Wednesday at 6 p.m. ET.

If the Patriots were able to find a taker for J.C. Jackson in a tag-and-trade scenario, the return would almost certainly be better than the third-round compensatory pick he should fetch them in 2023. (If the Patriots are active in free agency this offseason and sign a similarly-valued player, that might offset losing Jackson in the comp-pick formula and thereby leave the Patriots with no compensation at all.)

Yannick Ngakoue yielded the Jags a second-rounder and a fifth in a tag-and-trade. Jadeveon Clowney got the Texans two players and a third-rounder. The Seahawks landed a first, a second and a swap of thirds for Frank Clark. Dee Ford brought the Chiefs a second in a deal with the Niners.

What Pats' franchise tag history can tell us about J.C. Jackson's future

Tagging and trading doesn't come without risk, though. The Patriots would have to be prepared to keep Jackson on the tag and pay him the more than $17 million he'd be owed for 2022 if they can't find a trade partner. We've seen the Patriots let other highly-valued free agents walk -- Trey Flowers and Malcolm Butler are two recent examples -- with no compensation coming back their way outside of the comp-pick value.

Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner is one of the top cornerbacks in this class and looks perfectly suited to play in the kind of press-man secondary that the Patriots have featured for years.

At 6-foot-3, 200 pounds and with long arms, he has the ability to get physical at the line of scrimmage and shadow receivers along the boundary better than just about anyone else in this year's draft.

He probably won't make it to No. 21 overall, but if the Patriots had more draft capital to play with and wanted to move up, he'd be a logical target. Especially if New England determines it won't pay Jackson what it would take to keep him. 

Let's tackle the offensive line portion of this question. If the Super Bowl taught us anything this year, it's that you don't want to leave a quarterback -- particularly one without next-level wheels -- behind a porous offensive line. You're talking about trading away two starters. Two more (Trent Brown and Ted Karras) are free agents. That would leave the Patriots with potentially just one starting offensive lineman back from 2021. Not ideal. 

I understand the frustration with Wynn. He hasn't been available nearly enough over the course of the first four years of his career. He did play 16 games last year, and he did grade in the middle of the pack of NFL starters (33rd), according to Pro Football Focus, despite nine penalties.

 

If the Patriots can find a trade partner to pick up Wynn's one-year deal for $10 million fully guaranteed, go for it. At that point the Patriots may need to re-sign Brown to play left tackle, which he showed he could do back in 2018, but he's missed 19 games the last two seasons.

Veterans Duane Brown, Morgan Moses and Riley Reiff all should be available in free agency and would represent potential short-term fixes at a cornerstone position. My guess is Wynn's trade value, and his potential as a plus athlete at the position, might mean it makes more sense to keep him rather than move on from him.

Shaq Mason among five Pats on PFF's Top 101 players list

As far as Mason goes, he might be the team's best player. While releasing him may save about $7 million in cap space, and while the Patriots have a suitable succession plan available to them in Mike Onwenu (should they re-sign Karras to play left guard), parting ways with someone who provides high-level protection along the interior feels shortsighted.

Since Jones is a pocket passer, having the interior solidified may be even more important than having tackle solved. If the interior is stout, it would allow Jones to step up and away from edge pressure. If the interior is punctured on a regular basis, that'd be a recipe for ruining Year 2 for Jones.

I would say the more important factor in determining how the Patriots make their picks is the state of the roster.

Typically the most valuable positions are the most important ones to have solidified (and to have succession plans for). But when those positions are already solid, they go elsewhere.

They drafted a running back -- one of the least-valuable positions in the league -- in the first round just a few years ago. But they needed a running back (Sony Michel). They drafted a tackle when they needed a tackle (Isaiah Wynn. before they traded for Trent Brown). They drafted a receiver (N'Keal Harry) when they needed a receiver and a strong safety (Kyle Dugger) when their veteran strong safety was coming up on retirement. 

It's about filling out the roster and matching up value and role with draft position. The price of a veteran contract at that same position likely comes into play in that anything that's still a need by draft weekend was a need the team didn't address with a veteran in free agency... likely, in part, because of price.

Good question, Matt. If White isn't back after suffering a season-ending hip injury last fall, the Patriots could turn to J.J. Taylor -- whom Fears has compared to Dion Lewis on more than one occasion -- or they could go much bigger at that spot. Rhamondre Stevenson has shown real fluidity as a receiver out of the backfield and could serve the dual function of sub back as well as between-the-tackles option when Damien Harris needs a blow. 

 

The draft is also an option. Isaiah Spiller from Texas A&M had 25 receptions last year but also has good size (6-foot-1, 215) and the ability to run on early downs. Rachaad White from Arizona State caught 43 balls last season, had 1,456 total yards and only fumbled once.

Notre Dame's Kyren Williams might end up being the best fit because of his apparent enthusiasm for pass protection duties. That's a requirement in Foxboro, and Williams has it. Combine that with strong hands (42 grabs, one drop last season) and he would make sense in the Patriots backfield.

I want to see the receivers. I want to see them run and jump. I want to see them go through drills.

Call me basic. But when the Patriots have a long history of drafting elite athletes at that position, the combine gives us a little glimpse into which wideouts stand out in that regard.

Getting stouter up front would help. Would Belichick draft Georgia's behemoth defensive tackle Jordan Davis? I think he would, if Davis is available.

Getting speed at the second level would help as well, but it can't come at the expense of size -- unless Belichick is willing to morph his scheme. The way things are set up at the moment -- and have been for years -- is for linebackers to be able to come downhill and hold their own against guards one-on-one. It's why they want their 'backers big. 

Perry's latest NFL Mock Draft: It's clear the Pats need an offensive weapon

There is a way to maintain that size and still improve their speed, though. Players like Leo Chenal out of Wisconsin (6-foot-2, 261 pounds) and Darrian Beavers from Cincinnati (6-foot-4, 252) both would provide some brawn as well as some second-level juice.

Georgia's Nakobe Dean is a player consistently mocked to the Patriots early this offseason, and he's a tremendous talent. They may end up taking him, but he'd be an outlier for Belichick because of his size (6-feet, 225 pounds).

When the Patriots have gone smaller at that position -- Elandon Roberts (6-feet, 223), Cameron McGrone (6-foot-1, 234) -- it's been on Day 3 of the draft, and Dean won't be available on Day 3. 

I'd be somewhat surprised if Jakobi Meyers wasn't back on a second-round tender. He's been too productive and too willing a blocker for the Patriots to give him the "original-round tender" and potentially let him leave for nothing in return.

(He was an undrafted free agent, so there would be no pick headed back to New England if Meyers, a restricted free agent, signed an offer sheet to play elsewhere.)

Arkansas' Treylon Burks and Ohio State's Chris Olave should run very well at the combine. Burks is a YAC machine and Olave is a polished route-runner, and both should help their draft stock by showing off real wheels in Indy.

 

I'd expect South Alabama's Jalen Tolbert to roll in the 40 as well. Southern Methodist's Danny Gray was the fastest player at the Senior Bowl this year, touching 22.01 mph. Tennessee's Velus Jones Jr. was second, hitting 21.75 mph in practice

I thought UCLA's Kyle Philips put on a show at the Shrine Bowl. If it's a Day 3 slot option you're looking for, could be the guy who led Chip Kelly's team in receiving the last three years.

If you don't think he's making his way into a seven-round Patriots mock draft in the near future, you're kidding yourself.

Any punter with a seven-minute highlight video is worth keeping an eye on. Especially when he's left-footed, hits like a truck, and has racked up the mind-boggling numbers he has.

To me, Burks, the Arkansas receiver, would be a lot of fun. I lay out my reasoning here.

Thanks to all who chipped in here. Looking forward to being in Indy next week. Will tear through a combine bag in the near future.