PATS REPORTER

Perry's Patriots Mailbag: Rookie QB could expedite rebuild

PATS REPORTER

Thanks to everyone who chipped in questions for this week's Mailbag. It's a behemoth, including questions that we weren't able to answer during this week's Next Pats Podcast

I think that'll be the best way to handle everything you guys come up with in the next few weeks and months. Please, please, please send along your draft questions on Twitter (I'm @philaperry) or by leaving a comment for the Next Pats Pod. We'll get to as many as we can on the podcast itself on Wednesdays, and anything we missed will land here on Fridays. Deal? Deal.

Thanks again for all the feedback. You came up huge once again this week. Let's start with some team-building theory, shall we? 

There's more than one way to skin a cat, Steve. You could go the Bills route, draft the quarterback, put him in a bad offense, then quickly build up the talent around him. Or you could go the Chiefs route, create a good offense with a solid veteran quarterback and then wait, wait, wait until the right quarterback comes along. Both have merit. But I don't think you have to wait on a quarterback just because the rest of the team isn't very good. 

Having a young quarterback on a cheap rookie deal is actually a huge boost to any team in the middle of a rebuild, like the Patriots. Say Bill Belichick drafts Mac Jones at No. 15. Even if Jones is not very good right away, if Belichick thinks he can play with a good NFL cast around him, he'll be cheap enough for Belichick to surround him with talent. The result would be a more well-rounded team and a quarterback whose skills are being maximized thanks to some highly-paid offensive teammates. Look at what the Seahawks did with Russell Wilson on a rookie deal years ago, what the Rams did with Jared Goff. It can work.

 

Heck, look at this year's playoff field. Yes, some of these young quarterbacks are about to be paid massive sums of money. But focus on their cap hits for 2020. Baker Mayfield's is 22nd among quarterbacks. Josh Allen's is 30th. Patrick Mahomes' is 32nd. Lamar Jackson's is 38th. Those teams have a built-in advantage when it comes to talent acquisition because they're getting starting-caliber play -- and in most cases much more than that -- from quarterbacks on well-below-average cap hits.

Hey, Bob. I think there is a chance. He's not considered to be among the elite in this year's class of quarterbacks, but the sense I'm getting from people in the league is that they're higher on him than the section of the public that views him as a product of his environment.

Clearly his environment didn't hurt. And he doesn't have the arm or the athleticism to get people excited. But he looks like a professional quarterback who will make good decisions and throw accurately. His skill set jives with what Belichick said was most important when it came to quarterback play late this season. ("Decision-making and anticipation.") 

I think the question is this: Is he athletic enough to be a Kirk Cousins-style quarterback? Or Baker Mayfield? Those guys aren't considered great athletes, but they get on the move and some of the biggest plays they produce come on bootleg attempts outside the pocket. You can find plays on Jones' tape of him buying himself time with his legs, but things can get hairy for him when he's throwing off-platform. His personality does seem like a fit in New England. So I could see it. For more on Jones from AL.com's Mike Rodak, check out this week's Next Pats Pod.

Next Pats Podcast: Better than Tua? Why Mac Jones might make sense for Patriots | Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube

Well if Jones can't play, Kenneth, then yeah. But you do have to take shots at that position on the guys you think can. Especially if you don't plan on picking high in the draft all that frequently. (Which I don't think the Patriots want to be doing.)

If you saw what Colts GM Chris Ballard told reporters this week, I think there was a lot to drill down on there. His message was essentially this: You can't take a guy just to take a guy because your team will tank and you'll get fired. I can appreciate that sentiment. Really. You should not take an unimpressive quarterback in the first round. That's a recipe for disaster. But you also can't wait forever for the perfect player. 

 

Hindsight is 20/20, obviously, but think about this: Do the Colts beat the Bills last weekend if they take Josh Allen back in 2018 with Andrew Luck coming off a lost season due to injury? They took guard Quenton Nelson instead. Great player. But one pick later the Bills got their quarterback of the future. They're still playing. Ballard is back in Indy, almost two years removed from signing Jacoby Brissett to one of the worst contracts in football, talking about looking for a quarterback.

If the Patriots think Jones can't play -- as you do, which is fine! -- they shouldn't take him. But if they need a quarterback and pass because they think he's really good but not perfect, that's not a great reason. None of these guys are. Except maybe Trevor Lawrence. And it may be another decade before we see someone of that ilk again.

I go back and forth on whether I think Jones is athletic enough to be taken at No. 15. The one-year thing doesn't bother me, though.

Tua Tagovailoa had one full season in 2018 and Jones' 2020 was better. Joe Burrow had one good season in 2019, and Jones' 2020 was similar in a lot of ways. What both Burrow and Tagovailoa have that Jones might not is enough quickness to avoid the first rusher. Like Jones, neither has a great arm. But if Jones has a hard time avoiding pressure and a less-than-overpowering arm, that could be an issue. 

I can't imagine there is. If getting stuck on his first read is his greatest sin as a prospect, he'll still go very early. Especially with 10 or so teams between No. 1 and No. 15 potentially in the market for quarterbacks. On Friday, Urban Meyer put Fields in the conversation with Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson as the best quarterbacks in the class. My guess is he's gone in the top five picks.

Can the Patriots trade up that high? Maybe. Will they? I have my doubts.

If Deshaun Watson gets traded, it'll be to a team loaded up with draft picks. Think Miami. Or the Jets. The Patriots just don't have as much draft capital as others to offer up. So no. I think the most "surprising" moves could be as follows: A trade for a quarterback; a big-money receiver in free agency; a corner or offensive lineman in the first round.

I think they like their safeties at the moment, Chad. They just took Kyle Dugger with their first pick in last year's draft. Adrian Phillips quickly made himself one of the team's most important defensive players this year. And Jonathan Jones has played plenty of safety now over the last couple of years that he's a viable option in the deep part of the field. Plus, with Devin McCourty saying he wants to keep playing, I think they're OK there.

 

I'd focus on corner. If they lose Stephon Gilmore, they could use another starting-caliber outside-the-numbers type. Jason McCourty is a free agent and Joejuan Williams hasn't shown that he can play out there on a full-time basis. They need someone opposite J.C. Jackson. You're only as strong as your weakest link in the secondary. 

Think it's possible, Biola. If somehow Alabama corner Patrick Surtain ended up sliding because teams go heavy on offensive pieces in the first dozen or so picks, I think the Patriots would be happy to jump at the chance to take him. Interested to see how he tests. 

I could see it, but I wouldn't bet on it. It could happen with Alabama's Christian Barmore. He fits the physical profile for an interior guy, a 3-4 end, for Belichick. There's the Nick Saban connection. They need help on the edge so Greg Rousseau or Kwity Paye could be in play as well. Paye looks like a freaky athlete and would give the Patriots a little more bulk as an edge-setter outside. Of these three names, he'd be my top choice, which means absolutely nothing of course.

I think they have to address it, Jay, before they get to draft weekend. To have Jarrett Stidham as the lone option going into April would be incredibly risky. I'd be a proponent of making a low-money signing (Ryan Fitzpatrick?) in free agency or making a trade that wouldn't hamstring them (Marcus Mariota for a third?). That way when you get to the draft, if you have someone who can play, you aren't backed into forcing it at that position. 

I think $10 million, which is Mariota's base salary for 2021, is a lot for a backup quarterback when you have a quarterback who just put together a top-10 season. That's what Derek Carr did. I think they'll move on, and I think they'll want a pick for him. We touched on why it might take a mid-rounder in this week's Next Pats.

Jamie Newman, who transferred from Wake Forest to Georgia and then opted out of the 2020 season, is an interesting guy to keep an eye on. Plenty of size. Plenty of physical talent. Same goes for Kellen Mond of Texas A&M. We've seen imperfect quarterbacks with good physical traits work in other places. Would the Patriots want to go that route? They might be able to get a talented player at that position on Day 2, but the NFL track record of non-Day 1 quarterbacks -- outside of the two 40-somethings playing this weekend -- isn't great.

Perry's Mock NFL Draft: Will Pats pass on Round 1 QB?

Like your thinking, Patrick, I'm just not sure how much trading up we'll see the Patriots try to do this year. They have so many needs. There are so many positions they should address.

 

Is dealing away draft capital -- even if it's for a player they love -- worth it? A lot of that will depend on how they see this draft when they step back and take a 10,000-foot view of things. If they don't see much difference between a fourth-rounder and an undrafted free agent this year, if they have a miniscule draft board and many of their guys are taken, then maybe they'll be fine with using picks to trade up.

Maybe the lack of information this year -- fewer games for a lot of these players, a pre-draft athletic-testing process that is still up in the air -- will make it easier for the Patriots to use fewer picks, thereby making some of them expendable if a move-up opportunity presents itself.

Give me Waddle. Here's why.

I'm not sure he'd be a better player with added weight. But I think teams would feel a lot more comfortable with his fit in the league if that were the case.

I agree with you, Austin. He should be cheaper. He can do a little bit more, in my opinion, as an H-back type. I don't think you'd lose much as a blocker. I think Smith is a little more dynamic after the catch. Belichick has a lot of respect for Hunter Henry and Henry's high school coach Kevin Kelley. But I'm not sure he's going to break the bank for a tight end coming off the franchise tag. 

Really appreciate you listening, John. Means a lot. I could see a trade down, believe it or not. It gets back to the number of areas they need to address. More picks equals more darts to chuck at the board. It also gets back to how the Patriots view this draft. If they see it as a 12-player first round -- meaning only a dozen guys are really elite-level talents and the next couple dozen are about the same from an ability standpoint -- then they could deal down if their top-12 are gone.

But that's just a hypothetical. We'll try to get a better sense for just how deep the talent is in this year's class as we get closer to draft weekend.

Mock Draft roundup: Who will Patriots select in Round 1?

Kyle Trask is pretty stationary. I can tell you that the teams I've spoken to see Jones as the slightly better athlete and the significantly better player. That plan at quarterback wouldn't be a bad one if they have addressed the quarterback spot with a capable player in March. If, for instance, the Patriots came away with Marcus Mariota for a third-round pick, Jaylen Waddle at No. 15 and Jamie Newman on Day 2 . . . that to me wouldn't be a terrible way to attack it. 

This is tough. Difficult to project without knowing what the salary cap figure will be, but let's give it a shot. 

  • Most likely: David Andrews, James White, Justin Bethel
  • Least likely: Joe Thuney, Deatrich Wise, Cam Newton

Start at receiver. Allen Robinson will be the biggest name. Will Fuller is suspended Week 1. He has a lengthy injury history. If the Patriots can sign him on a bit of a discount relative to what Robinson (or Kenny Golladay or Chris Godwin) will be paid, maybe he'd make sense. He'll also have some familiarity with the Patriots offense after spending the majority of his pro career with Bill O'Brien as his head coach. 

 

The process does punish coaches on successful teams, which seems counterintuitive. But if you make teams hold off . . . then they have to wait weeks before they can get going on their offseason planning. And maybe that's the fairer arrangement! "If you didn't want to sit on your hands until the end of the season before hiring your head coach, maybe you should've made the playoffs."

But that seems unnecessarily punitive. There's no great way to do it. The windows they have for interviewing assistants during their teams' postseason runs seems like a halfway decent compromise. 

I think he'll have a hard time. He won't have nearly the power he's used to. His players will be making better money now. And I'm not sure collegiate success translates to locker room respect. He'll need players who are willing to buy in, and he'll need to show real improvement quickly, I think, to ensure that the train stays on the tracks there. Having a young quarterback and relatively low expectations will help him, though. 

None of the above? Waddle is a true vertical threat, who can run a variety of routes. If he plays in the slot, which he could, he's more of a Tyler Lockett or T.Y. Hilton type than an Edelman. I think he's the best receiver in the class. Toney and Moore might be better examples of true slots. But they have special physical qualities.

Perry: Is DeVonta Smith the best fit for Pats among Bama WRs?

Not sure the Patriots will have a shot at any of them. No. 15 seems too low for Waddle and too high for Toney or Moore, but we'll see how the pre-draft process plays out. It's another deep receiver class -- and I know Patriots fans will hate hearing this -- so they may wait on adding a younger guy at that position thinking they can get a talented player on Day 2 or 3.

  1. Belichick
  2. Flores
  3. McDermott
  4. Saleh

I credit a great deal of Buffalo's success to the work done by Allen and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. McDermott's defense has actually gotten worse this year. The Dolphins went from worst to on the cusp of a playoff berth because of their defense. They're about to be on their third offensive coordinator. If they can get some stability at quarterback and at the offensive play-caller spot, this list will make more sense. Promise.

Belichick still has to be No. 1, even after what happened in 2020. I do like the Saleh hire, though. I think the Jets needed a culture change, and he'll bring that. Polar opposite kind of personality when compared to Adam Gase.

Patriots Talk Podcast: NFL coaching landscape and the Houston Texans mess | Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube

 

I'd pick Bob Quinn from that group.

I really don't think so. Not in this offense. The Patriots want legitimate blockers there. Give Harry credit: He's willing to stick his nose in there most of the time and get physical when asked. But can he do that against defensive ends and linebackers? Consistently? Even with added weight? I'm skeptical.

Depends on the door.

I believe they will. Would be a way to bolster their draft capital in a year they could use another wave of young talent arriving at their doorstep in the spring. 

T.Y. Hilton. Nelson Agholor. Curtis Samuel. Keelan Cole. Those guys aren't going to be in the same financial tier as the top-level pass-catchers. 

This is a good question and worth looking into. Bill Belichick coached tight ends and special teams before becoming a defensive coordinator. Would he want two of his top assistants to have the same kind of varied experience? He might. But he also values consistency. Bill Belichick, Steve Belichick and Jerod Mayo have taken a three-pronged approach to coordinating the defense the last two years. They may want to stick with that for consistency's sake.

Re-signing safety Marcus Maye would help. Quenton Williams is a stud. After that, they have a lot of issues talent-wise. But they have picks and money and so they may be able to turn things over quickly. Richard Sherman probably isn't sticking in San Francisco. Does he make his way to New York to help change the culture and provide a legitimate starting corner in Saleh's Cover-3 scheme? That'd be a step in the right direction, I think. 

So hard to tell before we know what the cap will be. Check back in six weeks! The projected cap is usually shared in December, but it's a weird year, clearly, so we may not get any news on that front until early March.

Start in the kicking game. That group just came in first place in Rick Gosselin's special-teams rankings -- a system Belichick has referenced in the past as legit -- and was led by first-year special teams coordinator Cam Achord. Tight ends coach Nick Caley is another smart guy who's energetic and well-respected. 

Timing is key. I don't think the Niners are going to be willing to part with Jimmy Garoppolo early in the new league year because -- unless they aggressively make a trade -- it's possible they don't even have a chance at a better option until the draft. So there's a chance maybe Garoppolo shakes free during the draft, but by then the Patriots could have already added a veteran. (As I mentioned above, they probably should add a veteran before the draft just to cover themselves going into that weekend.)

But if Garoppolo is dealt, it shouldn't take much. Whatever team that trades for him would be on the hook for $24 million. You wouldn't give up a second-round pick to take on that contract, I don't think. He hasn't played enough to be worth all that. If he's released, then you're only talking money.

 

What he would command in that case would be fascinating. Is he a sure-thing starter deserving of (at least) Teddy Bridgewater money, which would be about $20 million per year? Or has he dealt with enough in the way of injury in his career to only be worthy of a reclamation-project style contract that'd pay closer to $7.5 million? My guess is it'd be the former. 

Albert Breer: What it would take for the 49ers to trade Jimmy Garoppolo

Because he's the better scorer.

I think you'd be better than you were last year with those pieces added to the mix. But I think you can do more. It's OK to be aggressive when there are areas that could use an aggressive fix. Especially when they have more money to play with than most.

You got the wrong guy, I think. I do give Belichick a lot of credit. Football is the ultimate team game, in my opinion, and Belichick is the one who puts the team together. But you don't win any of those six Lombardis without both.