Patriots

Patriots Mailbag: What can we possibly expect from N'Keal Harry upon his return?

Patriots Mailbag: What can we possibly expect from N'Keal Harry upon his return?

The Friday Bag - or in this case, Saturday Bag, is back, friends. 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 injured reserve situation. We'll start there...

Good question, Big Wally. I think Isaiah Wynn has a strong case to be one of the two returners from injured reserve. When you consider the value of the position he plays and the fact that his injury isn't thought to necessarily be a season-ender, those things alone give him a good chance. N'Keal Harry, I'd put in the same category, though I'd be interested to see if the Patriots pick up a veteran wideout -- Emmanuel Sanders? AJ Green? -- would that perhaps impact the team's thinking as it relates to Harry's return.

After hearing what we heard from Tom Brady on Friday, our expectations for Harry probably shouldn't be sky high. But he is a physically-gifted receiver, and those are players with whom Brady has clearly shown a willingness to work in the past. It wouldn't shock me if Harry could pick things up in a way similar to Josh Gordon last season when he was acquired in-season. Their skill sets are comparable, and while Harry can’t practice at least he has the benefit of being able to go to meetings for two months. I’d expect him to be able to run slants, gos, back-shoulder fades and even the occasional receiver screen without much issue, using his sturdy frame to his advantage. 

Nothing there, in my opinion. You may pay closer attention to the coin toss than I do, DDD, but my recollection is that Brady almost never comes out for the coin toss. He’s typically warming up at that point in time, getting a few throws in, or doing some sort of other prep work 

Bouncing back strong this weekend, Karen, don’t you worry. We touched on this a bit in last week’s Bag, but I think the most obvious trade-acquisition candidate is Emmanuel Sanders. Bad team. Last year of his deal. They’ve shown interest in him in the past. Cap hit would only be about $5 million and it shouldn’t cost you more than a third-round pick. Workable. But because we’re in DC, here’s one more name: Vernon Davis. Last year of his deal, cap hit would be less than $3, plays a position where the Patriots need some help. Even if Ben Watson ends up being serviceable, you could make the argument they’d still benefit by having one more capable player at tight end. If you watched Bill Belichick’s breakdown of the Skins with Scott Zolak on Patriots.com this week, you can hear the respect the coach has for the veteran. If Washington ends up with a new coach and in tank mode, maybe Davis changes teams. 

I wrote about Dante Scarnecchia quite a bit recently, Mr. Q, and in that piece, you can get a feel for just how much work he puts in with new players to get them up to speed. Newhouse is actually kind of an exception because he has so much experience that he’s gotten up to speed more quickly than most. Scarnecchia has told us just that. I think getting help at tight end will make the offensive line look much better. When the Patriots can’t run, we assume it’s all on Scarnecchia’s group but it isn’t. They’re part of it, to be sure. Outside runs behind either tackle haven’t been very productive this year. But with time, better health, and upgrades at tight end, that group up front will look like it’s made leaps and bounds. 

I’d say yes to the second piece. Brady loves veteran help that knows what it’s doing. Watson is the epitome of veteran help that knows what it’s doing. I think his role could be significant relatively quickly. Will that be this week? Hard to say. He’s been off and away from the team for a month. I think the situation at the position is such that they’d like to use him quite a bit right away, but they also won’t put him in a spot where he’s overdoing things and putting his body in harm’s way with just a couple practices under his belt before his first game. They keep a close eye on player workload and they’ll use Watson with his long-term role in mind, I’d think. 

Sanders. AJ Green. Those guys are the biggest names who seem like obvious choices to me. They shouldn’t cost you much. They should be made available by rebuilding teams. I won’t put Larry Fitzgerald in this category at the moment because he’s never shown a willingness to leave Arizona... but if you were him, wouldn’t you be willing to spend three months in New England at the end of your career to try to win a ring? Three months?

Play-action with Michel this year has led to some massive chunk plays so I’d expect to see more moving forward. That might put a little more doubt in defenders’ minds. I pointed out before the year that he was arguably the most predictable player in football last season based on his run/pass-play splits. He’s on track to be right there again this season. My thinking is the reason they don’t actually use him in the passing game is they don’t trust him yet to give them much as a receiver. He did it in camp, which is what we saw. Looked like he could do it. They’ve had four weeks of practice since then and still haven’t used him as a pass-catcher with any consistency. I think it’s fair to guess he’s not lighting it up in that regard on Wednesdays, Thursdays or Fridays. Looking at their overall tendencies, despite being a power running team late last season with Michel as a focal point, they’re much more productive this season spreading things out — whether they pass OR run. 

Jake Bailey from way downtown. 

He needs more room at the line of scrimmage to get to the second level. Part of the reason why Rex Burkhead’s averages are better (when the Patriots are under center or in the gun) is he can make the first defender — often right at the line — miss and churn forward. Michel doesn’t have that elusiveness in small spaces. He’s a run-you-over-with-a-head-of-steam guy. The offensive line sort of is what it is right now until Wynn returns. If they feel like they can keep Burkhead relatively healthy then he’d be the better hand-off option, in my opinion. The issue there is Burkhead’s health. He’s already dealing with a foot issue. Tough times for this Patriots run game. James White out of the gun (small sample) is averaging over 6.0 yards per carry so maybe — at the risk of sounding like a broken record here — spreading things out and running from traditional passing formations is the best way for them to go as currently constituted. 

Last one. Thanks for all the questions, friends. Huge participation week when I was late getting the request out. You all are fantastic. Bennett’s playing time, I think, can be explained by a few different things. First, he’s dealt with a bit of a shoulder issue that’s limited in practice of late. His snap rates have gone from 55 percent in Week 1 to 30 percent in Week 4. The shoulder could have something to do with it, though he was recently removed from the injury report. Second, he looks to me like a pass-rush specialist right now. His body type is that of a 4-3 defensive end, not a 3-4 defensive end (think 310-pound Lawrence Guy). Defending the run simply may not be part of his gig unless there are injuries that would necessitate that. Third, Adam Butler has been a monster. It’s Butler who has been the lone down lineman in many of New England’s “amoeba” looks on obvious passing downs, the role Trey Flowers often had last year. That was a spot where we thought we might see Bennett, but Butler has been tremendously productive in that role, getting to the quarterback on his own or, more often, opening things up for linebackers to dart into opposing backfields. Bennett has been solid in the playing time he’s had — eight pressures, two sacks, theee total quarterback hits in four games — but right now, in my opinion, the scheme and Butler’s emergence have kept him sidelined more often than many of us anticipated coming into the year. 

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Sources: Tom Brady and family preparing to leave New England

Sources: Tom Brady and family preparing to leave New England

Tom Brady doesn't officially become a free agent until the new league year begins on March 18, but the rumors are already flying about the New England Patriot quarterback's future.

A report surfaced earlier in the week that Brady and his family purchased a home in Greenwich, Connecticut. As NBC Sports Boston's own Tom E. Curran pointed out, that is false.

But that doesn't mean Brady isn't planning on making a move.

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Thursday night on "Arbella Early Edition," Gary Tanguay revealed that a source told him Brady and wife Gisele Bundchen are looking to leave New England.

"I was told today by a source the family is planning to leave the area," Tanguay said. "The priority this time is to let the kids finish school this year, then they're gone."

Tanguay's report doesn't mean Brady is definitely leaving New England, but talks of him and his family looking to live somewhere else continue to gain steam.

If Brady indeed is moving on from New England and looking to start a new chapter, some of that could do with his desire to finally make the money he's worth in free agency.

According to Tanguay, Brady is "embarrassed" by the number of quarterbacks in the league that make more than him and has been fed up about it dating back to the summer, before he signed his contract extension.

Thirteen quarterbacks, including Brady's former backups Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett, make more on average annually than the six-time Super Bowl champion according to overthecap.com.

The truth is, we won't know for certain what's going through Brady's mind until the ink is on paper for the 42-year-old's new contract. Until then, it's going to be a stressful offseason for Patriots fans.

Curran: Is this newfound time a silver lining for Patriots?

Patriots Talk Podcast: What exactly are the Patriots up to right now?

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NBC Sports Boston Illustration

Patriots Talk Podcast: What exactly are the Patriots up to right now?

Needless to say, it's unusual for the New England Patriots to have so much down time in January. Typically, they're playing in the AFC Divisional Round. And the AFC Championship Game. And often, the Super Bowl.

But this year, they were eliminated in the Wild Card Round for the first time since 2009. And now, they have a lot of time on their hands.

And while their early playoff exit was surely discouraging, the Patriots could stand to benefit from this extra time.

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On the latest episode of the Patriots Talk Podcast, Tom E. Curran and Phil Perry discussed how the Patriots could utilize the extra time and the positive impact it could have on the organization.

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Curran pointed out that because the team has so often been playing into February, their already thin staff has been stretched thin come draft season, which explains why the team has had some draft misses in recent seasons.

Really, it comes down to 312 days of prepreparation were sacrifice. And so for a bare bones organization in terms of both front office and coaching staff -- these guys have had shorter offseasons by a month on average than any other team in the NFL.

So on one hand, it's remarkable and it's a high-class problem. On the other hand, isn't it somewhat inevitable that you might have some draft swings and misses?

Perry agreed with Curran and brought up that the fact that the extra time off will give Belichick a real chance to thoroughly evaluate his roster.

I think for a team that is looking at a reboot, one of the sort of ironic things about that is that now you have time to really think that through in more detail and not to say that Bill Belichick isn't planning or looking at his roster, how it's constructed, how the contracts set up and trying to plan ahead. I'm sure he is doing that to a certain extent.

But you can only spend so much time on those things when you're getting ready for the divisional round, the AFC Championship Game every year, the Super Bowl every other year.

This surely makes sense and is definitely a positive for the Patriots. Perhaps with that extra time, Belichick can find a way to retain Tom Brady while significantly upgrading his supporting cast.

For more on the Patriots offseason plans, potential changes in their front office, and predictions for the AFC and NFC Championship Games, check out the latest episode of the Patriots Talk Podcast, which drops every Tuesday and Thursday as a part of the NBC Sports Boston podcast network.