Patriots

Patriots Mailbag: If Patriots stand pat at deadline, that a sign they believe in N'Keal Harry?

Patriots Mailbag: If Patriots stand pat at deadline, that a sign they believe in N'Keal Harry?

A Friday mailbag for a Sunday without Patriots foot. Every week I'll be answering your questions be they Patriots-related, NFL-related or otherwise. This week, the focus for many of you was -- no surprise -- the injury situation. We'll start there...

I'd imagine the Patriots would act quickly to add a capable tight end, Harry. Ben Watson is still available. Bill Belichick didn't rule out the possibility that Watson would be back, and maybe the latest injury to Matt LaCosse will push them to act. Whether it's Watson or someone else. Ryan Izzo had his best game of the season in a reduced role, blocking on the move, being used as a safety-valve receiver. If they can get him back into that niche, that might be the best thing for them. 

N'Keal Harry has been working behind the scenes with fellow rookie wideouts Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski as though he's returning, Karen. I'd think he's a safe choice to be back given the overall health of the receiving group. Isaiah Wynn also is a logical returnee. Both, if healthy enough to contribute, would carry greater value than bringing back either fullback. Harry can begin practicing this week. The Patriots will have a chance to evaluate him in practice first before having to activate him to the 53-man roster. The earliest he could play is Week 9. 

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Pixie, I think the positive sign is the fact that Olszewski and Meyers played as much as they did without any obvious mental errors or negative plays. They caught almost everything thrown their way (six of seven combined targets were reeled in), and they weren't flagged for anything. It looked as though they aligned out of the huddle without issue. And both were in good enough shape -- even without getting many practice snaps -- to handle every play in the second half. Their preparation should be lauded. More performances like that one should allow Brady to trust them a little more, particularly Meyers, who showed promise in training camp but has seen his practice reps diminished with Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon -- both of whom missed most of the summer -- back in the mix.

As far as a tight end who'd make sense in New England via trade? What's difficult for the Patriots is that teams around the league are embracing 12-personnel packages more and more, it seems, and so they want two starting-caliber players at that position in order to take advantage of the mismatches inherent to those formations. But someone like Austin Hooper, of the fading Falcons, would make plenty of sense. He'd be more of a pass-catching option as opposed to a Dwayne Allen type. Dwayne Allen himself -- who was released by the Dolphins this summer with an injury settlement -- would make some sense if Bill Belichick wanted someone who's going to make an impact in the running game. 

It could be, T. They'll have two weeks to work with Harry out on the practice fields before the Oct. 29 trade deadline. If they love what they see, they might be less willing to part with a high-end draft choice in a trade. But I think there's a chance that even if Harry looks great, they'd be in on a pass-catcher -- whether it's a wideout or tight end. Between backs, tight ends and receivers, the Patriots would ideally have five guys they can count on as receiving options in crunch time. Right now they have one healthy crunch-time passing back (James White) and no one at tight end. They have a banged-up Julian Edelman, a banged-up Josh Gordon and a banged-up Phillip Dorsett. Even if Harry works his way into that top-five, you could make the argument that they still have room for one more given all the injuries.

Good question, Steve. Teams are required to notify the league office that a player they're planning to have at practice has been "Designated for Return." They're allowed to do that with two players on IR (or on NFI, like Yodny Cajuste). Once a player begins to practice, that starts a 21-day clock for the returning player's team to either activate him or shut him down for the season.

Of course. It'd take two to tango, obviously. The Patriots would deal him if they felt it made the team better. Given his dwindling snap counts, it'd come as little surprise if they decided to trade him -- even if it was primarily to free-up cap space. Bennett is a bit of an odd scheme fit with the Patriots using more of a 3-4 scheme this year. He's really a 4-3 end who can pass-rush from the interior. But as an interior pass-rusher, he's more of a penetrator, and with the Patriots seeing mobile quarterbacks almost every week, penetrating -- slicing through the line -- isn't always as highly valued as someone who can push the pocket and maintain his rush-lane integrity. Bennett still has a load of pass-rush talent, though, and his playing time rollercoaster could end up resembling the path taken by players like Jabaal Sheard, Alan Branch and even Danny Shelton. All were healthy scratches at some point despite being among the most talented defensive linemen on Bill Belichick's roster over the years. After being scratched for non-injury related reasons, they all came back to play important roles thereafter, assumedly after they made changes asked of them by the coaching staff.

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The Patriots knew all along that Bailey would have the ability to kick if needed. That upped his value in their eyes. I think the punting alone -- his ability to flip the field has been on display multiple times already this season -- would've been enough to win him the punter's job though. He simply has a bigger leg than Allen, which has paid early dividends for the Patriots.

https://twitter.com/strangebrew17/status/1182624309212303362?s=20 

He's been around, Matthew. And he's been meeting with the team. In my story from Thursday night on the "virtual room" being used by young Pats wideouts, I pointed out that Harry has been in there working with his fellow rookie receivers.

https://twitter.com/Phil_Me_Up_/status/1182626079267344390?s=20 

Think you can chalk that up to the matchups, Phil. The Patriots did just play on Thursday night, though. They had the late Steelers game for the opener. They play Monday night in Jersey in a week. Then you've got an 8:20 p.m. game in Baltimore Week 9 and another Week 13 in Houston. Also in the mix are a whole mess of 4:25 p.m. games: Week 8, Week 11, Week 12 and Week 14. 

I think Jamie Collins would make a mean tight end. Maybe JC Jackson, if they need a wideout? Devin McCourty told me last year that Jackson is the best tracker of the football they've had in the secondary since McCourty's been here.

https://twitter.com/PeterBruschi357/status/1182667402359783424?s=20 

Get Isaiah Wynn back in a few weeks. His cap is still on the books while he's on IR. That's the easiest solution, and it'd represent a significant upgrade. 

Changing offensive line. Inconsistent performance at tight end relative to the last few years. Running back quickness. I think they're all part of the issue. Hard to blame Sony Michel for not getting much when there isn't much space for him to work with. The flip-side to that argument is this: If Michel can't get yards without help from his blockers, doesn't that make him like just about any replacement-level back in the league? It's kind of the how-much-do-running-backs-really-matter argument in a nutshell. The special talents at that position are the ones who can create yards on their own anywhere on the field and contribute in the passing game. Everyone else? Their success at that position is largely dependent on the situation around them.

You can understand why the Patriots like Rex Burkhead as much as they do. Though he's dealt with injury throughout the course of his Patriots tenure, he's quick enough to make defenders miss when the offensive line doesn't give him a lane, and he's a more-than-capable receiver. Through four games before Burkhead's injury, he was averaging 4.7 yards per carry behind the same offensive line that blocked for Michel, who was averaging 2.8 yards per carry through that same span.

Indications are that Develin's injury will keep him out for the season, Kyle.

Joel, if they find one they think will be able to learn the offense, I think they'd be happy to have that element as part of their attack. If they don't, I think you could see the Patriots use a tight end in the fullback's place. We saw it a bit on Thursday. Ryan Allen motioned from his spot at tight end and into the backfield on multiple occasions to lead the way for a runner. 

The Patriots brought in Austin Collie as veteran receiver help in October of 2013. They claimed Michael Floyd in December of 2016. They obviously brought Deion Branch back for a second go-round in October of 2010. It's been done before. The Collie and Floyd signings clearly weren't game-changers, but there are some bigger names who could be had this year -- Emmanuel Sanders is the one that makes the most sense to me -- who I'd think would make a quick impact. 

Meyers has impressed since the day he arrived, but I think they understand that they'd be putting themselves in a better spot if they have someone with a little more experience to complement what they already have on the roster. Meyers could be on a path to have a Malcolm Mitchell-type role by the end of the season -- that wouldn't shock me in the least. But, remember, Mitchell was behind Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, James White, Martellus Bennett and Chris Hogan as pass-catchers on the roster that year. You might even be able to include Dion Lewis on that list. They didn't ask the rookie to be a No. 3 or 4 option. I think they'd like to not have to do the same with Meyers. 

I'm thinking 2003? Led by the defense. Questions offensively. Can't go with 2001 because they had a rookie quarterback and this version of that guy is still one of the best in the league. And I can't go with 2004, even that's the team everyone is comparing this current group to because of the great defenses. In 2004, they had Corey Dillon and a dominant run game. Not the case this year. Great question, though, Damian. Curious as to what you all think about that one. 

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NFL Rumors: Patriots hiring ex-Rams assistant offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch

NFL Rumors: Patriots hiring ex-Rams assistant offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch

The New England Patriots reportedly have made an addition to their coaching staff.

According to Jim McBride of The Boston Globe, they've hired ex-Los Angeles Rams assistant offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch.

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Fisch's official role with the Patriots offense is to be determined. But now that there's an opening at wide receivers coach with Joe Judge joining the New York Giants, Fisch could be a candidate for the job.

He brings plenty of experience to the table having coached Denver Broncos wide receivers in 2008 and Michigan receivers from 2015-16. Fisch also coached Seattle Seahawks quarterbacks in 2010 and was the Jacksonville Jaguars' offensive coordinator from 2013-14.

What Jim Gray has learned from his weekly Tom Brady interviews

What Jim Gray has learned from his weekly Tom Brady interviews

For the last 10 years, Jim Gray has conducted weekly interviews with Tom Brady throughout the NFL season. Over that period of time, Gray has learned plenty about the longtime New England Patriots quarterback.

In a recent interview with the New York Post, Gray opened up about the admirable way Brady has approached each of his interviews on Westwood One Radio. It all started with a promise made by Brady 10 years ago that he's kept to this day.

"Meticulous, prepared, very responsive, on time, humble, he’s unbelievable really," Gray said. "He never says, “Don’t ask me anything.” If he doesn’t want to answer the question then that’s how he will respond to it, but there are no preconditions.

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"He wrote me a handwritten note 10 years ago now before we started this. It said, “I look forward to doing the show. You’ll get the same effort out of me on Monday nights that I give my teammates on Sunday afternoons.” And that has been the case, he’s never missed a show."

Although the Patriots' season ended weeks ago, Brady remains the center of attention in the NFL world. The 42-year-old is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent for the first time of his career on March 18.

Despite maintaining a close relationship with Brady over the years, Gray knows as much about the six-time Super Bowl champion's future as the rest of us. When Brady himself doesn't appear to know how his offseason will unfold, Gray says there's no reason to ask him about it.

"He doesn’t know," Gray said. "When he doesn’t know I am not sure how any of us can know. How many times can you ask the same question? As it evolves he will let us know. It’s not like he’s hiding something. I’ve asked him and he’s committed several times on the air to us that he’s playing next season. There’s not much he can be involved with outside the Patriots till March 18."

All signs point toward Brady returning for his 21st NFL season, so the weekly Westwood One interviews should continue. As for whether Brady will be a Patriot for his 11th year of interviews with Gray, that'll likely remain a mystery for the next couple of months.

Gray and Brady's final interview of the 2019-20 season will take place before Super Bowl 54 on Feb. 2.

Perry: How will Pats approach WR position this offseason?