New England Patriots NFL Offseason Preview: Keeping Mac Jones on Track, Defining Defensive Tops – NFL Nation

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – A promising 2021 season that at some point in early December had the New England Patriots as the AFC’s topseed ended with a disappointing late dive. That is the reason why the team is looking forward to the 2022 season.

On the bright side, there is hope during the 2021 election of the first round, Mac Jones as quarterback.

At the same time, there are lingering questions about why the defense and special teams faded so dramatically when it spoke, and whether the Jones-led offensive can grow while the coaching staff undergoes a significant change following the departure of coordinator Josh McDaniels and several assistants. .

Coach Bill Belichick, who turns 70 in April, said in the wake of a 47-17 playoff loss to the Buffalo Bills that he did not want to diminish the importance of the game, but that he would also look closely at every other game in a 10-8 season.

He said the playoff performance was this year’s ‘least competitive’ and said: “Is that what we are? Or is it a bad night? We have to see when we start playing again next year, I think.”

Expected salary cap: $ 9.4 million

Top Free Agents: LB Ja’Whaun Bentley, OT Trent Brown, K Nick Folk, LB Dont’a Hightower, QB Brian Hoyer, CB JC Jackson, G / C Ted Karras, S Devin McCourty, ST Matthew Slater, RB James White

Potential cutback candidates: Starting right-back guard Shaq Mason has to count $ 10.1 million on the salary cap, and without guaranteed money as part of his deal, his status is being monitored. Meanwhile, the team’s top picks in the 2019 draft – receiver N’Keal Harry and cornerback Joejuan Williams – were heading in the wrong direction in terms of performance at the end of the season.

What you need to know: Things can essentially be narrowed down to three layers: 1. What can the Patriots do in terms of staff (such as another receiving threat) to better support Jones’ growth? 2. What happened to the defense at the end of the season and what is being done to ensure it does not happen again? 3. Why did the units of their former dominant special teams fall off so badly? Coach Bill Belichick often talks about playing complementary football and weaving all three phases together, and doing a better job in that area in the 2022 numbers to be a big emphasis this offseason. A specific question about the defense is the latest draft of Day 2 – 2019 third round election Chase Winovich, 2020 second round Josh Uche and 2020 third round Anfernee Jennings – as non-factors down the stretch. There seems to be a breakdown somewhere in the draft-and-development process with the young linebackers.

Best off-season scenario: Jackson signs an extension, longtime leaders McCourty and Slater (special teams) return for another season, the offensive line has solidified with the return of Karras, the stable kicker People draw again … and the draft brings a dynamic receiver and more speed , versatility and intelligence in defense.

Worst case offseason scenario: Changes in the offensive coaching team are hampering Jones’ development, and the draft looks more like 2019 than 2021 – when mistakes were made with top picks that would ideally come in their prime at this point.

Early look at the NFL draft from ESPN analyst Jordan Reid: When Jackson hit free agency, the Patriots were able to address the cornerback position early in this draft. Linebacker could also be another position the team fills. Building around Jones should continue to be a weight and it is necessary to add a starting-caliber pass-catcher as the team lacks go-to options.

Top needs: CB, WR, LB

Top picks: No.21

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