PATS REPORTER

Perry's Mailbag: What should be New England's top offseason priorities?

PATS REPORTER

The New England Patriots' 2021 season is over, but there's no shortage of storylines as we begin what's sure to be an eventful offseason in Foxboro.

Let's jump into your mailbag questions.

Josh Allen has gone full Self-Immolation Mode the last two weeks. Last night's game left me wondering, what's the best way to try to stop him when he's on? Is it possible? 

I have a hard time saying a spy is a good idea. Never mind one fresh out of college. Allen broke a corner's ankles last week in open space, and then he ran over and injured another in Kansas City. Linebackers aren't equipped to stop him. Safeties maybe. But if you spy and play man, once Allen beats the spy, he's off to the races with all other defenders focused on their assignments. Play zone? OK. Ask the Patriots how that went in Week 16 and in the Wild Card round. Allen is now patient enough and accurate enough to take check-downs for eight yards a pop against zone looks.

If I had to choose which area to prioritize this offseason to compete with Buffalo, I'd say upgrade the offense. I know the Patriots didn't stop Allen the last two times they saw him. I know they have issues in the secondary -- especially with J.C. Jackson set to hit free agency -- and with their run defense. I also know that the only teams left are the ones with elite offenses. All but Los Angeles have closer-to-the-middle types of defenses.

 

If you can't keep pace on the scoreboard, things can get out of hand quickly. And, in my opinion, being able to keep pace on the scoreboard means adding a man-to-man beater on the outside. Someone who Mac Jones can trust to win one-on-one, someone who won't allow defenses to tee off on the Patriots running game. Could be enough to vault Bill Belichick and his team back into late-January football.

Will they be able to run up and down the field with the Bills and Chiefs? Maybe not. But the Bengals and Titans? That's well within reach. Then you're at least in the dance. Hoping a move or two in one offseason will be enough to stop what the Bills have put together, after Sunday night, seems like wishful thinking

I wonder if the team would consider a tag-and-trade scenario with him. He's going to cost around $17 million next year if he's on the tag. And I don't believe the Patriots will be able to get him to agree to a long-term deal before he gets to the market (where I believe there will be a deal out there for him in the $20 million-per-year range or slightly below). Either way, he's expensive. Are the Patriots willing to go to those lengths? They weren't with Malcolm Butler, Trey Flowers or Chandler Jones. Will Jackson be the exception? I tend to doubt it.

Tagging and trading may prove difficult depending on his market league-wide, but there have been some nice hauls for teams who've pulled it off recently. Yannick Ngakoue yielded the Jags a second-rounder and a fifth. Jadeveon Clowney got the Texans two players and a third. The Seahawks for 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.

If the Patriots can somehow end up with a first-round pick for Jackson, even in a draft that's not incredibly deep at the top -- more on that later -- that would have to be appealing.

Don't hate that idea, CC. In my opinion, the Patriots could use two receiver additions this offseason. One legitimate playmaker on the outside. One shifty slot. Berrios would of course be the latter. 

The issue there would be that teams are often able to fill that slot position with someone on a relatively inexpensive salary. The Patriots have done it with Jakobi Meyers, but he's not the get-open-immediately type. He's a bigger slot, which has advantages, like being able to block safeties for an offense that is as run-heavy as New England's. So while adding Berrios would mean adding a skill set the Patriots don't have at the moment, he'll be more expensive than someone on a rookie contract. And where the Patriots don't have oodles of money to spend this offseason on all their holes, that might make adding Berrios a little bit difficult.

 

Slade Bolden from Alabama or someone like him in the draft would make more sense to me given where their books are at the moment.

Not sure that will be the first place they're shopping, boys. If it is, it would be an indictment on their selections of Chase Winovich (third round, 2019), Josh Uche (second round, 2020) and Ronnie Perkins (third round, 2021). They need contributions from those players opposite Matt Judon. Especially if they plan on doing something with Kyle Van Noy this offseason to help their cap situation.

Covered up? Or carried? Semantics, I guess. Either way, I think the Patriots were thin in the secondary once Jonathan Jones got hurt and Stephon Gilmore got traded. Having Judon and Christian Barmore play the way they did mid-season allowed them to survive on the back end. They shifted to more zone coverages for a stretch, in part because they didn't match up well enough in man, but also because they had the ability to generate a pass rush with just four rushers. They'll need to get deeper in the secondary this offseason since, as we saw, once the Patriots pass rush got a little banged up, that left them vulnerable in the defensive backfield.

Uche played some off the ball at Michigan, and I thought they may tap into that versatility, but it seems as though he's been relegated to an edge role as a pro.

Thinking the Georgia linebacker we should be more focused on is Quay Walker. He can scoot. And he's 6-foot-4, 240 pounds. That's much closer to the range the Patriots want in terms of size at that position. Nakobe Dean is about the same size as Kyle Dugger. Walker was recently mocked as a late first-round pick by NFL Media's Daniel Jeremiah.

If Ziegler ends up in Vegas as the Raiders GM -- perhaps with Josh McDaniels or Jerod Mayo as head coach? -- then is Eliot Wolf still around? What about Matt Groh? Should Ziegler be the only one to depart, it would make sense for both of those front-office assistants to see a greater role. Same goes for director of pro scouting Steve Cargile, who was promoted to his current title last offseason.

We seem to get a lot of "Wynn for Receiver X" questions these days. Have to be realistic about Wynn's trade value. Length injury history. Only under contract for one more season. Adding a first-round receiver with years left on his deal (like Jeudy) or a wideout with more production (like Calvin Ridley) isn't likely. Plus, as much as folks appear to want to part with Wynn, the Patriots have no succession plan at left tackle at the moment. Trent Brown isn't under contract for 2022.

 

Do those picks include a first-rounder? Again... have to be realistic about the trade value of players on the Patriots roster. Agholor makes a lot of money for someone who caught 37 passes last season. Not going to be all that appealing to teams. The Patriots could free up about the same amount of cap space this offseason if they release or extend Agholor. We discussed on the latest edition of the Next Pats podcast.

I do think effort was an issue at times. Both in the Miami game and once the Wild Card game got out of hand. Plus, what plagued them in the final month of the season -- turnovers, penalties, self-inflicted errors of all types -- was a discipline issue, not a talent issue. But, to me, their issues against the Bills were more traceable to personnel deficiencies. Injuries were a factor. Depth at certain positions. Talent at certain positions.

Receiver.

He's a fit, but I would stop short of saying they should do it primarily because he has experience with Mac Jones. The reason that's working in Cincinnati is partially due to the fact that they have built-in chemistry with each other. But doesn't take much chemistry for a quarterback to hit a receiver on a slant or a screen and watch the guy run 50 yards. Chase is a stud. Trying to find a stud should be more a priority than finding a guy who has experience with Jones. If you find both? Jackpot.

They need someone who can threaten defenses deep and win one-on-one on the outside. Especially because of the way they want to play. Their running game can be stifled when teams have no fear of being beaten on the outside. To me, that's not going to be Tre Nixon. He should get a shot, but he's a camp body who needs to prove he's good enough for a game-day role before he gets a look as a starter on the boundary.

Jameson Williams isn't a familiar face for Mac Jones, unfortunately for him. They never played together at Alabama. Williams transferred last offseason from Ohio State.

Great receivers are so expensive, I'd be looking in the draft. Can't be afraid of your own shadow. The draft is loaded with receiver talent every year. They need to find one. 

I've long said I'll never say "never" with Bill Belichick. Comfortable saying "never" to that one. They were, remember, aggressive and fast in 2018. No one played more man. No one blitzed their linebackers more. They have the ability to do that. Personnel sometimes limits what they can realistically pull off. Their depth in the secondary, for instance, made that fast-and-aggressive style not a real manageable one. 

Scouts will tell you this isn't an incredibly deep draft at the top. That often means that when you get down to the bottom part of the first round, there's not much difference in talent level between someone in the 20s and someone in the 30s. Depends on the specific players, but that's how it's viewed sometimes. And that line of thinking will lead teams to trade down. So if you make me choose now, Jay, I'd say this feels like a trade-down year. But it's very early, obviously. 

 

Hard to say. They're in a spot now where they are like a lot of good-not-great teams. They're not really rebuilding in the traditional sense. Tom E. and I disagree on this constantly. They've rebuilt. They're just not an excellent team. So unless your definition of rebuilding covers any team in the league that's not good enough to win a championship yet -- which is probably, I don't know, 26 teams? -- they're not rebuilding. They're riding the wave like a lot of others and hoping some things go right for them. They may be better off in 2023 if they draft well, but by 2023 they'll also be without some core guys who play real roles. Getting back to the first answer in this week's Bag

They may take Jordan Davis over any of them. Guys like him don't grow on trees. And it just may help solve their running-game issues overnight.

I think it'd be critical to bring Devin McCourty back. He's so important to what they do in terms of communication. And he's hitting every athletic testing measure that he's hit for a while now. He's going to take some time before he makes a decision to return, but my belief is he'll want to be back, and I believe the Patriots should want him back.

If Jackson isn't back, I'd imagine this would only increase in terms of priority level. But I'm not sure he will be. Could mean an early draft selection at corner. Just interesting to me how teams this year have done more than gotten by with less star power at that position. Wouldn't blame someone for not knowing the names of any of the starting corners in the Divisional Round outside of Jalen Ramsey and Jaire Alexander. Eight teams. Two studs at that position. I don't know what it means. Or if it's sustainable. But it's noteworthy given the offseason the Patriots are about to have and the decision that's coming with Jackson.

Where those teams often are able to hide a lack of corner talent is by having stars up front, like Nick Bosa, Jeffrey Simmons, Chris Jones, etc. The Patriots have some very good players up front when healthy in Judon and Barmore. If they can't get Jackson to stick, maybe the better alternative is to add another rusher and try to get by with less at corner.

Nope.

Most likely? Someone big. From this group, maybe tackle. Think they may be best off by going with a receiver, but not sure they'll be willing to do it with three veterans making real money there.

 

Haven't spoken to players who feel that way. Been that way since 2019, and they've had good moments mixed in there with the operation functioning as it has. More on that here