We're off to Arizona for Super Bowl LVII between the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles. But first, it's time to answer some mailbag questions about your New England Patriots.
Let's jump in...
No doubt. It's critical that the Patriots field an improved line in 2023. Going into the season with a coaching plan settled would help. The Patriots still haven't hired a line coach to replace Matt Patricia to this point, though they've shown interest in multiple individuals to fill the opening.
Still, the line wasn't their biggest problem last season. While they have a clear need at tackle, four of their five starters were available for the vast majority of the 2022 season. Outside of a big swing at that position -- first-round pick? free-agent signing? -- this group doesn't necessarily need a complete overhaul.
Come away with a Mike McGlinchey in free agency or a Peter Skowronski in the draft, combined with some coaching changes, and they should be a much-improved group in 2023.
(Also, don't be surprised if the Patriots try to prioritize interior offensive line depth this offseason. Mike Onwenu is headed into the final year of his rookie deal. David Andrews has two years left. Expect the Patriots front office to want to be prepared for the short-term -- in case of injury -- and the long-term at guard and center.)
There are a few available. McGlinchey, Orlando Brown and Jawaan Taylor all land in the top-15 of Brad Spielberger's top-100 available free agents. Gets dicey after that.
But then in the draft, Skowronski, Ohio State's Paris Johnson, Georgia's Broderick Jones, Tennessee's Darnell Wright and North Dakota State's Cody Mauch (maybe more) could all go in the first two rounds. If the Patriots end up with one of these guys, they'll be better up front.
Jerry Jeudy would be one of the top players the Patriots could acquire via trade, in my opinion. If the top option on that front is Cincinnati's Tee Higgins, Jeudy would be second. He hasn't had Higgins' production... but he was really good last season in a completely dysfunctional offense. He put up 972 yards and six touchdowns on 67 grabs. The Broncos do need picks. Jeudy would fill the "Z" role in the Patriots offense with aplomb if Jakobi Meyers can't be re-signed. He has a relationship with Mac Jones. Lots of reasons to pursue him.
Cost? It might not cost a first-round pick. That was the price for AJ Brown last offseason, and Jeudy isn't quite on Brown's level. But Jeudy also could have his fifth-year option picked up soon, giving him more term on his deal with Denver than Brown had with the Titans at this time last year. That's a value-enhancer.
The price might be steep. But in a league where the top teams either have elite receiving talent or Patrick Mahomes... Jeudy would be worth a high-level investment.
After talking to a few folks around the league, here's my guess: More than Cedric Wilson but less than Curtis Samuel. I know. I know. Fairly wide range there. You're talking around $7 million per year versus around $11 million per year. I think he'll end up closer to the high end there, around $10 million per year or so.
His market will be fascinating to watch develop. His production has been there. But he doesn't have the kind of speed (and therefore potential) that evaluators salivate over. He may end up being the next in a long line of players who is more valuable to the Patriots than he is to other clubs.
Appreciate that, Kyle. Harris is a free agent this offseason, and I'd be surprised if the team offered him a big-money deal. He's been banged up each of the last couple seasons. While his toughness between the tackles has been highly valued, investing significant dollars in that position -- particularly for a player who's not an every-down player -- often isn't the best allocation of resources in today's NFL.
Good question, Sully. The Patriots are often looking to fill needs -- sometimes earlier than expected -- in the first round. (See: Michel, Sony and Strange, Cole.) But there are a couple of positions that don't qualify as "needs" that might be spots Belichick would address.
Could he resist if a high-end edge talent like Tyree Wilson from Texas Tech or Myles Murphy from Clemson end up falling to No. 14? Alabama's Brian Branch is a safety, and if the Patriots end up with either a) Devin McCourty back for another year or b) Jon Jones re-signing and shifting to safety on a regular basis, that's probably not a need. Still, he's a Prototypical Patriot and could be the type of player Belichick would add even if he's not desperate for that skill set.
We know Cam Achord is going to be around. We know Joe Judge is going to be around. We know assistant Joe Houston remains with the team. How are things configured thereafter? Hard to say at this point, but it would come as little surprise if Judge ended up back in the special teams department after one year as quarterbacks coach.
The last time Achord assisted Judge in the kicking game was back in 2018. In 2019, Achord was technically the assistant special teams coach, but that was the year Judge coached the receivers as well, meaning the kicking-game duties were largely left to Achord.
Below are Patriots special teams rankings, per longtime NFL writer Rick Gosselin, since Achord had a lead role in the kicking game. (Bill Belichick has long referenced Gosselin's rankings for the job they do in assessing all kicking-game units.)
The season finale in Buffalo imploded for the Patriots thanks to two special-teams lapses. And there were devastating punt-team miscues in 2021. But considering the breadth of work Achord has compiled since joining the Patriots, perhaps folks shouldn't be surprised that Belichick is planning on keeping him around.
Not sure you'd get any excuse-making from anyone on the Patriots associated with the special-teams group. But there were a handful of issues this team dealt with that may have made it an outlier year.
First, it's easy to point at injuries that hurt those units. Losing Cody Davis -- who players will tell you is one of the best special-teams specialists in the league -- and Ty Montgomery early in the season didn't help. Losing rookie standout Brenden Schooler for the finale also negatively impacted Belichick's "teams" units that day.
Second, they did play a number of rookies in the kicking game, including Pierre Strong and Raleigh Webb -- both of whom factored into the game-opening kick return for a touchdown in Buffalo. DeMarcus Mitchell and Marcus Jones were also key to the kicking game. When Jones was forced to play more defensively late in the year, his participation in coverage units waned in the interest of keeping him fresh.
Lastly, Jake Bailey's tailspin end to his time in New England -- it'd be a surprise if he's back after finishing the year suspended by the Patriots -- took a major toll not only on the punt team but on the kickoff team as well.
I'll give you a couple names. Think Hendon Hooker will be gone before it gets too late on Day 3, but I'd take a flier on him. Two, perhaps more likely, passers? Purdue's Aidan O'Connell and Houston's Clayton Tune. Both have good size. Both have a lot of experience. Both look like potential NFL backups, which has real value. But with Bailey Zappe already on the roster, not sure the Patriots will be dipping into that pool again this year.
Preaching to the choir there, CGWLB.
I think he's going to be happy to come back and be celebrated. Parade? Statue unveiling? Patriots Hall of Fame? Yes. Yes. Yes.
Contract...? Maybe not. It means very little in actuality, but he may feel like it's odd symbolism -- or an attempt to re-write history -- when he was hoping to sign a deal with the Patriots in his final years with the team and was rebuffed.
Now that Aaron Rodgers has made it very clear he won't be joining an excellent roster in the Bay Area, it looks like the options are essentially down to injured Brock Purdy and injured Trey Lance.
Interesting thought, Dave. Never say never. But it would surprise me if they were to deal one of their recent hits in the draft. Those have been few and far between recently, relatively speaking, and Uche is one of their better draft-and-develop stories right now. I don't see it. But Belichick has surprised us in the past.
Tackle. It's an offensive league. Those guys are hard to find. And the Patriots have done a good enough job in the later rounds and undrafted free agency finding corners that they should be trusted to wait a bit at that spot. At tackle... the good ones are rare physical specimens, and they go off the board early.
Looks that way. Boon for the Patriots. Wolf has taken general manager interviews in recent years, and the Patriots rely heavily on their director of scouting. The team will go into the offseason with some consistency in the front office with Wolf, director of player personnel Matt Groh, director of pro scouting Steve Cargile and director of college scouting Cam Williams all back for another year.
If they have a defensive coordinator, I don't think it'll be Jerod Mayo. A new title isn't his chief concern. A new salary isn't his chief concern. He wants opportunities to grow professionally. That he's turned down opportunities elsewhere would tell you that the Kraft family has made it clear to him that he'll have real developmental opportunities in New England -- maybe even a shot at Mayo's dream job of being head coach of the Patriots, whenever that job opens up -- in the foreseeable future.
Perry: Jonathan Jones maintains 'love' for Patriots entering free agency
I don't think the defensive coordinator title would be on the table because then that may lead to some kind of perceived slight toward Steve Belichick. Even Mayo and Belichick being named co-DCs is hard to envision. If there's a title change coming for Mayo, my guess is it would be something along the lines of assistant head coach. That way ownership makes it clear they have a succession plan in place, Mayo benefits from an officially-elevated position, and Steve Belichick isn't negatively impacted in any way or bumped off of any of his existing duties defensively. Maybe if Mayo gets that assistant head coach title, that opens up a promotion for Steve Belichick.
Both. Smith's contract is such that he's very difficult to move.
You might be right. Takes two to tango in a trade. And the receiver draft class isn't as loaded as it has been in other years. May depend on how aggressive the Patriots are willing to be in pursuit of an upgrade.
He's guaranteed over $1 million for 2023. That's usually a pretty good sign he'll stick. His relationship with O'Brien -- as well as Mac Jones -- would suggest Hoyer will be back in Foxboro for another go-round.