Politely asking what the Patriots are doing with N'Keal Harry

Politely asking what the Patriots are doing with N'Keal Harry

Bill Belichick doesn't just know more about football than the rest of us, he thinks about it more than the rest of us.

So the smartest guy in the sport doesn't just arrive at unpopular conclusions without a reason. Deep down, somewhere there's a reason he didn't play Malcolm Butler on defense in the Super Bowl against the Eagles. On a far less dire scale, he probably has some reason as to why the Patriots weren't in a big rush to work N'Keal Harry into the Patriots' offense after he came off IR.

We can take our guesses. Maybe sitting him before the bye would have him better-conditioned for his NFL debut than he would have been last week. Maybe he's just not up to speed with the playbook despite having all season to study it. Maybe the quarterback would rather stick with a smaller number of veterans as he tries to get his own production up.

Here's the counter to all of those: If the goal is to eventually have this guy making significant contributions in the postseason, shouldn't there be a priority to have him getting game reps as soon as possible? And if the quarterback isn't psyched about Harry for some reason, don't you go Costanza and give him the "You're not in the mood? Well you get in the mood!" speech?

These will be questions worth shouting if Harry still isn't on the gameday roster against the Eagles after the bye, but they're at least worth pondering now. This has been a turbulent season for the Pats' receiver group and they've got a potential star -- that's what we all said when they drafted him, no take-backsies -- that either the quarterback, the team or both weren't in any rush to use.  

There's zigging when other teams zag, but there probably isn't a competitive advantage for the Patriots keeping a first-round receiver off the field.

My colleague Phil Perry has mentioned in recent weeks that where the Patriots pivoted in the second half of last season to more of a running offense, the change made this season might be more to a pass-heavy attack like the one they showed against the Ravens. Should that be the case -- which it definitely should, because Trent Brown, Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen aren't coming to rescue the run game -- that should mean Harry gets his snaps. Then will come the question of what Tom Brady does with him.

We've heard the quotes and they haven't been glowing. He said the following of the passing game needing this bye week during his WEEI appearance: "We'll need [more going forward] from Mo, we'll need it from Jules, we'll need it from Phillip [Dorsett], the tight ends, the backs, the line and everything."

When asked about Harry, Brady responded, "Again, coach makes those decisions, so I just go out there and try to play."

Is that Brady saying the kid stinks or that he doesn't want to work with him? Of course not, but when the QB's holding back on singing any praises of a player being kept off the field, you're left to wonder what's happening.

It was around this time of year that Malcolm Mitchell started to get more targets as a rookie back in 2016. He had his first five-target game on Nov. 20 of that season and continued to hold Brady's attention through his six-catch, 70-yard performance in the Super Bowl. So it's not like Brady flat-out refuses to throw to rookies; he just clearly has a preference for older players at the position, a bias that would be to the detriment of everybody if he isn't keen on Harry catching on.

Again, it's one game as a healthy scratch, but Antonio Brown is long gone. Demaryius Thomas is longer gone. Mohamed Sanu wasn't as much of an addition as he first appeared; he was part of a one-in, one-out that saw Josh Gordon's time in New England end. Gosh bless Phillip Dorsett, but if he's one of your primary receivers, your group ain't good. And Jakobi Meyers is either not ready or too young for Brady to take him seriously (which shouldn't be a thing).

With the offense still being a work in progress, it's comforting to imagine Brady being protected by actual NFL left tackle Isaiah Wynn and throwing to three high-end NFL receivers in Edelman, Sanu and Harry. The clock is ticking, though. The longer the Patriots take in getting their first-round pick acclimated, the less realistic than vision becomes.

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Could Patriots ranking among dead money leaders cost team in 2020?

Could Patriots ranking among dead money leaders cost team in 2020?

The New England Patriots have won six Super Bowls over the last 20 years in part by spending wisely.

Is that all about to change?

The Patriots currently have the least amount of cap space of any NFL team at $1.85 million, per Spotrac. Part of the reason for that is the amount of money they're paying to players who won't play for them in 2020 -- otherwise known as "dead money."

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In fact, New England currently owes $24 million in "dead money," which according to Spotrac puts the team in dubious company.

Let's just say the Panthers, Jaguars, Rams and Dolphins aren't expected to be Super Bowl contenders in 2020.

And if the last four seasons are any indication, the Patriots would be bucking a trend just by going 9-7 in their first season of the post-Tom Brady era.

Brady is the primary reason why New England is in this position: He accounts for $13.5 million of that $24 million number, while Antonio Brown is next-closest with $4.5 million in dead money owed.

But such was the contract that Brady signed last August that gave him a potential out in 2020 -- one he took to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers rather than take another pay cut to stay in New England.

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The Patriots, who have signed all of their 2020 draft picks, still can create extra cap space by trading or extending offensive guard Joe Thuney, who currently has a $14.7 million cap hit that's second-highest on the team.

New England also could restructure the deals of several other players -- like it did recently with Patrick Chung -- to free up more space.

That dead money isn't going away, though, so Bill Belichick and presumptive starting quarterback Jarrett Stidham have another historic precedent to overcome this season.

What's with Jarrett Stidham's surprisingly strong 2020 NFL MVP odds?

What's with Jarrett Stidham's surprisingly strong 2020 NFL MVP odds?

Christian McCaffrey led the NFL in total scrimmage yards in 2019. Jarrett Stidham attempted three passes that weren't intercepted.

Both players share the same odds to win 2020 NFL MVP.

That's right: The New England Patriots' second-year quarterback, who has yet to start an NFL game after backing up Tom Brady last season, is listed at +5000 to win the NFL MVP award at DraftKings Sportsbook.

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Stidham shares those +5000 odds with eight other players. Here's the list:

Josh Allen, QB, Bills
Saquon Barkley, RB, Giants
Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, 49ers
Derrick Henry, RB, Titans
Christian McCaffrey, RB, Panthers
Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers
Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons
Matthew Stafford, QB, Lions

To reiterate: Stidham (who might not even start in Week 1) has the same chance to be named the NFL's best player as the league's rushing title holder (Henry), a former Rookie of the Year (Barkley) and the guy who was supposed to be Brady's heir apparent in New England (Garoppolo).

How is this possible? It's all about expectations.

Many expect the Patriots to nosedive following Brady's departure to Tampa Bay. But if Stidham can guide New England to a winning record or even a playoff berth, he could gain traction as a dark-horse MVP candidate who worked wonders with an offense lacking elite weapons.

Considering Bill Belichick's Patriots went 11-5 with Matt Cassel after Brady got hurt in 2008, that scenario isn't totally far-fetched.

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Of course, there still are 11 players with better MVP odds than Stidham, including Brady, whose +1600 odds rank him behind Dak Prescott (+1400), Russell Wilson (+800), Lamar Jackson (+700) and favorite Patrick Mahomes (+400), per DraftKings Sportsbook.

But it appears there's faint optimism among oddsmakers that "The Stidham Plan" will pay off in a breakout season for the 23-year-old QB.