Phil Perry

Patriots Mailbag: 2024 draft strategy, life after Belichick and more

The Patriots have a host of important decisions to make over the next several months.

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The 2-7 Patriots are jetting off to Germany this weekend to face the 4-5 Colts in Frankfurt. But fans seem to have more on their minds than a Week 10 matchup featuring the worst team in the AFC.

Let's tackle your pressing Patriots questions in this week's mailbag...

I'm not sure Bill Belichick would be all that geared up to start over with a rookie quarterback. Baker Mayfield is available on the open market. Same goes for Ryan Tannehill and Jacoby Brissett. Kirk Cousins should shake free.

My guess is Belichick would like the idea of a lineman early in the draft and a veteran quarterback he can trust. But it's hard to say because, generally speaking, he hasn't drafted offensive players all that highly.

Mac Jones at No. 15 is the highest he's gone. The next-earliest? You guessed it. Lineman: Nate Solder at No. 17.

Depends on how far down you want to go, Trygve. Most drafts get into the teens or thereabouts until the true "first-round talents" (or players with first-round grades for clubs) run dry.

If the Patriots get No. 5, where they're slated to pick now, they could trade down to the middle of the first round and perhaps add a mid-second. Worth it? Depends on who's available, I'd say.

My guess is this year -- where there could be two quarterbacks, a true No. 1 receiver, and two legit left tackle prospects -- they may want to hang tight at the fifth pick.

I don't think last year's record blurs their view much, to be honest, Jason. Despite their eight wins, Robert Kraft knew how bad it was. He certainly knew how important a year it was for Mac Jones. He understood how disruptive a decision it was to install two inexperienced offensive coaches to run the offense, and he made the call to bring in a new play-caller.

Belichick was given a new contract in the offseason, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have to perform in order to keep his job.

I just can't see that working, with a new general manager -- particularly if it's someone Belichick isn't familiar with -- handing the head coach players to work with. 

If the Krafts decide to move on from Belichick, it would be fascinating to see who would get "the 53," meaning final say over all roster decisions. Would it be a general manager from the outside they'd be getting to know during an interview process? A general manager who has been in the building and working under Belichick? Would it be a young coach, like Mayo, who they know but is relatively inexperienced? 

As much as it would make sense to have a true partnership between head coach and personnel chief, someone has to be the one to make the final call. In Houston, it's executive vice president and general manager Nick Caserio who makes the roster calls. In San Francisco, head coach Kyle Shanahan has final say on the 53-man roster.

Martin, first I'd say your deduction is flawed that the media likes Jerod Mayo and therefore is suggesting he function as the next head coach of the Patriots. The reality is that he turned down a head coaching interview to stay in New England, and soon thereafter Patriots owner Robert Kraft announced that Mayo had been extended. If you put two and two together... 

Second, Mayo helped run a defense that ranked sixth in DVOA in 2021 and fifth in 2022. This year's unit ranks 14th despite losing two of its best players. I think it's fair to give him credit for being a good defensive coach and someone to whom players have responded.

In terms of the volume of work he's performed prior to getting a head-coaching opportunity (five years as an NFL assistant to this point), it's not all that far off from that of Texans head coach DeMeco Ryans (six years, including one as a quality control coach) prior to getting the job and exceeding expectations in Houston. 

Of course, being the one to replace Belichick -- if that's what happens -- would be a massive undertaking. But if the Krafts feel as though Mayo can handle it based on what they know of him as a person and as a football mind, then that would (and should) be a massive check mark in his favor.

I haven't gotten any indications along those lines, Joey, and it wouldn't surprise me if the team uses the bye week to see what it has in Will Grier. With a little extra time to prepare and analyze that which they've seen from both Bailey Zappe and Grier as backups, I wouldn't completely rule out a change at the No. 2 spot.

It's a debate because Belichick's track record is better than theirs in terms of the length of time for which he had the Patriots atop the NFL mountain. But I'd say you're not wrong about the signs of dysfunction.

The on- and off-the-field issues are indicative of a team that has tuned out its coach. They still have half a season left to prove this level of ineptitude is just a passing ordeal. But it's not headed in the right direction.

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Only if Bill Belichick remains the head coach. Teams with a new face in that position are exempt from hosting the Hard Knocks crew during training camp.

I'd likely have Caleb Williams atop my list at this point. That's even with the up-and-down performance from his team this season and the sobbing in the stands recently. He's eminently talented. He's played good competition. The other questions would be things I'd be willing to have answered on the job.

Very few prospects -- even No. 1 overall picks -- are flawless. But Williams has the kind of playmaking ability that could lift all boats, so to speak. For a Patriots roster severely lacking in skill-player ability, adding someone like Williams would be one way to get the most out of what the team does have.

Bill O'Brien acknowledged that Mac Jones has been sped up at times. Jones admitted the same and said it's something he's working on. There have been turn-downs from a decision-making standpoint that have left meat on the bone for the Patriots offense. No question. 

To me, the question now is, what led to that? And is it fixable? He's throwing off his back foot somewhat consistently. His eyes are on the rush at times, instead of on his receivers. Has the situation -- changes in coaching, uncertainty along the offensive line -- damaged his ability to process confidently in the pocket? And if it has, is that damage permanent?

In my opinion, it's not. I believe in the right situation, Jones has the ability to be a good NFL quarterback. But what the Patriots have had these last couple of years is far from the right situation for a quarterback like Jones. 

I don't think it will happen any time soon. Mayo was asked about Marte Mapu's positional versatility recently and made it clear they want to see what he can do at safety before putting him at the linebacker level.

For as athletic -- and as willing to engage physically -- as Mapu is, he's still undersized by Patriots standards to play inside linebacker. Ja'Whaun Bentley and Jahlani Tavai, both of whom have about 20 pounds on Mapu, are the prototypes there. 

Speaking of a talent that can raise all boats... Marvin Harrison Jr. looks like a true game-changer offensively.

He may not be able to have the multi-faceted impact that a high-end quarterback can. But he may be able to help turn a quarterback into a high-end player with his remarkable physical skill set.

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