Phil Perry

With draft pick at stake, how will Patriots handle Week 18 roster?

Sunday's game is still very important to the Patriots.

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FOXBORO -- How are the Patriots going to handle the season finale at Gillette Stadium on Sunday?

Folks may be wondering since there's a chance it's Bill Belichick's last game coaching the team in Foxboro. But it's also a relevant question to ask in terms of how the Patriots roster gets deployed against the Jets.

This finale is unlike most others over the course of the last three decades in New England. The Patriots are out of playoff contention. There's little meaningful to play for from an organizational perspective. Draft position is at stake, though. With a win, Robert Kraft's team could fall to as low as No. 5 in the draft order. A loss could get the Patriots up to No. 2 overall.

In a draft with two or three potential franchise quarterbacks, the difference between picking second and fifth is sizable. The Patriots could always opt to trade up if they have the opportunity, but it takes two to tango. And the trade market is a difficult one to predict, where multiple teams could be competing for the same prize. No guarantees there.

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Therefore, it's again worth wondering, how do the Patriots handle the Jets game? Would Kraft ever ask his head coach to change his game-day lineup with the future of the team in mind?

Kraft wouldn't ask Belichick to outright lose the game, in my opinion. The coaches will coach to win. The players will play to win. But with a roster thin on talent, and with the team-building portion of the NFL calendar upcoming, wouldn't it be in Kraft's best interest to suggest some young and unproven players get an opportunity at more playing time against the Jets?

One benefit to that kind of approach would be that Sunday would serve as an information-gathering opportunity for individuals who haven't had much in-game experience. As the 2024 roster comes together, might it not be helpful to see and understand more of the capabilities of 53-man roster players like new corner Marco Wilson, rookie lineman Jake Andrews (who saw his first action last weekend) or practice-squad tackle Andrew Stueber? Even if it comes at the expense of playing time for more established players?

An additional (and obvious) side benefit to that approach: increasing the team's odds at landing a higher draft choice.

Belichick has tinkered with his roster before, typically early in seasons, with the big picture in mind. Players have come in and out of the lineup in September, for instance, with the assumption that the team will be better off for it in the long term. Should the finale of the 2023 season not be used in a similar manner, with the team being better off for it in 2024?

Asked on Wednesday if Belichick would take that kind of approach this week, he answered predictably.

"We’re going to get ready to play the guys who deserve to play against the Jets," he said Wednesday. "I think they all want to play, and we’ll play them."

Part of Kraft's reasoning for not inserting himself into game-day decisions may be in order to avoid a difficult conversation with Belichick. And that relationship, as the season winds down, should be handled with care.

But with information still to be determined on some younger players, with the 2024 team build approaching, and with the availability of a potential franchise quarterback in the draft at stake... Kraft couldn't be blamed if he were to knock on his head coach's door to make a request for Sunday.

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