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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Quick thoughts and notes about the New England Patriots and the NFL:
Top needs: When the Patriots season ended with a 47-17 playoff loss to the Buffalo Bills, where they could not force a punt, the kneeling reaction was that the team’s offseason priorities should look like this: Defense. Defense. And more defense.
Now a month removed, with more time for reflection and study, it still holds up to some degree.
But as Bill Belichick and his staff begin to put pieces in place for 2022, the possibility of young defenders being elevated to larger roles plays a factor in which positions have the greatest need.
Inside linebacker Cameron McGrone (2021 fifth round), outside linebacker Ronnie Perkins (2021 third round), cornerback Shaun Wade (2021 rookie trade acquisition) and safety Joshuah Bledsoe (2021 sixth round) are among those who fall into the discussion.
Here is a view of the team’s position-based priority list:
Internal linebacker: Raekwon McMillan came on the field in training camp in 2021 before tearing his ACL, but relying on him as part of the younger and faster goal is risky, based on the injury history. Starters Dont’a Hightower and Ja’Whaun Bentley are both scheduled for free agency.
Corner back: JC Jackson’s free agent status is without a doubt the team’s most important issue. If he ends up somewhere else, it’s Jalen Mills, Jonathan Jones and then uncertainty.
wide receiver: Jakobi Meyers and Kendrick Bourne have proven worthy of being part of the long-term plan in which Nelson Agholor enters the final season of his two-year deal. Adding a high-upside pass-catcher to help quarterback Mac Jones would be ideal.
Offensive line: The Bengals’ problems in the Super Bowl LVI serve as a reminder of the importance of the line; re-signing of Ted Karras and Trent Brown would go a long way towards strengthening this group.
Defense line: Christian Barmore has high-end potential, and with Lawrence Guy, Davon Godchaux, Byron Cowart & Co. any investment would be more with 2023 onwards in mind.
Security: Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips return as part of a promising combination, and if Devin McCourty signs again, the idea would be to groom his eventual successor as quarterback in defense.
Runs back: A real third-down option (James White is a free agent) is the void and a possible upgrade on the fullback.
Quarterback: Brian Hoyer (free agent) was a solid mentor to Jones, and with the offensive coaching team in transition, his presence has increased in importance.
Kicker: Evan McPherson’s excellent rookie season in Cincinnati highlighted the value of a reliable kicker, and the Patriots have one in veteran Nick Folk as long as he signs again, giving Quinn Nordin more development time.
Close end: After spending heavily on getting Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry last season, getting more out of Smith is a priority.
Outside linebacker: Major cash / draft investments have already been made with Matthew Judon, Kyle Van Noy, Josh Uche, Chase Winovich, Anfernee Jennings and Perkins.
2. Draft plan: How hard the Patriots need a cornerback will depend on what happens to Jackson in free agency, and I noted that ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper rates it as one of the deeper places in the draft along with edge rusher. “If you say, ‘Who’s in my top 10? [at corner]? ‘ it’s hard to separate the seventh guy from the 15th, “Kiper said on the entertaining” First Draft “podcast with Todd McShay and Field Yates. that creates some opportunities [into] Day 3 too. “If you’re looking for quarterbacks and running backs, however, Kiper and McShay say this year is slimmer.
The role of the wolf: When the Patriots announced last week that college scouting director Matt Groh was promoted to director of player staff, one of the popular questions on social media was what it means for scouting consultant Eliot Wolf, who was often seen alongside former director of player staff Dave Ziegler at matches last season. At this point, the answer seems to be the status quo. Wolf, son of Pro Football Hall of Fame director Ron Wolf, is still with the Patriots and 2022 would be his third season with the team. He interviewed for GM openings in Chicago and Minnesota out of season, and should also be a candidate for other openings next year. So for now, he joins Groh, professional scouting director Steve Cargile and a soon-to-be-appointed college scout coordinator (possibly national scout Camren Williams) at the top of the Patriots’ personnel department.
Josh McDaniels 📝🗞🔎
For those who are interested in a closer look. pic.twitter.com/urmt1ZsLpo
—Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) February 16, 2022
4. McDaniels’ note: Josh McDaniels wrote a stylish, thought-provoking message of thanks to Patriots fans at Wednesday’s Boston Globe. That he chose the Globe to do so, and not social media, was not a coincidence. McDaniels may be only 45, but he is an old soul in that regard. I called the Globe Advertising Department to try to get a better idea of how much such an ad might cost, and I was told by a representative a $ 20,000 ballpark.
5. Wynn checks in: Starting left tackle Isaiah Wynn did not play in the playoff loss to the Bills due to hip and ankle injuries. Wynn was at Gillette Stadium last week training, which was a reminder that players’ recovery sometimes extends well into the offseason. His presence was likely part of standard offseason medical check-ins for players returning from injury.
6. Staff takes shape: The more time passes, the feeling from this reporter is that the Patriots’ coaching staff is less likely to have more major additions. If so, that’s how I look at the core of the staff, with some specific roles / titles / responsibilities still to be determined.
Insulted: Nick Caley, Matt Patricia, Joe Judge, Troy Brown, Vinnie Sunseri, Billy Yates, Tyler Hughes
Defense: Steve Belichick, Jerod Mayo, DeMarcus Covington, Mike Pellegrino, Brian Belichick, Ross Douglas
Special teams: Cameron Achord, Joe Houston
7. Brain drain: Bill Belichick has lost some valuable coaches in recent years, and that “brain drain” has been a popular media-based topic of discussion in New England. That may be true when games start to be played. But so far, a point that is easy to overlook is that Belichick is still turning to valuable resources like Ernie Adams and Dante Scarnecchia on a part-time basis in the low season – including prospects and scheme evaluation. They remain connected to the team, and soon-to-be-retired running back coach Ivan Fears is likely to as well.
8. Limited free agents: The Patriots will soon have to decide whether to offer their three restricted free agents – Meyers, returning Gunner Olszewski and fullback Jakob Johnson. Teams can bid on three levels – pre-emption (expected $ 2.9 million, per Over the Cap), second round (expected $ 3.9 million) and first round ($ 5.5 million).
If the Patriots select the right of first refusal and the player is signed on an offer sheet by another team, New England will receive selection compensation based on where the player entered the league. But when Meyers, Olszewski and Johnson came in as exhausted players, the Patriots would not receive any compensation in that scenario.
So it would not be surprising if the club pursues extensions in the coming weeks (Meyers and Johnson are both represented by acting agent Drew Rosenhaus). And if that doesn’t work out, Meyers is counting on a second-round bid, with Olszewski and Johnson potentially not being offered at all.
9. Hobby props: A remaining Super Bowl lump with a New England twist – Marion Hobby, who has just finished his first season as Bengal’s defensive line coach, played for the Patriots from 1990 to 1992 under head coaches Rod Rust and Dick MacPherson. It’s always interesting to note which coaches generate “hum” in the media, and Hobby – whose unity was at times dominant in shutting down the Rams’ running game – has apparently flown under the radar.
10. Did you know that? Belichick enters his 23rd season as Patriots coach in 2022, tying Chuck Noll (Steelers) and Steve Owen (Giants) to the fifteenth term with one team as head coach, only after George Halas (40, Bears), Curly Lambeau ( 29, Packers), Tom Landry (29, Cowboys) and Don Shula (26, Dolphins).