Phil Perry

Patriots Mailbag: Belichick's future, 2024 draft scenarios and more

The Patriots have plenty to figure out after Week 18 ends.

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The Patriots close out their 2023 season Sunday when they host the Jets at Gillette Stadium. While playoff spots aren't on the line, there's plenty at stake, from the team's position in the 2024 NFL Draft to the clock officially starting on the decision regarding Bill Belichick's future in New England.

We touched on both of those topics and much more in the final Mailbag of the regular season. Let's get right to it.

My personal opinion is that the Krafts will ultimately decide that a parting of ways is what's best for the team. From there? My belief is Bill Belichick still wants to coach.

How many teams out there are fits for him? The Chargers make the most sense to me right now since we know they'll be looking and since we know they have ready-to-win talent on the roster. If the Cowboys job opens, that would be an obvious one because the roster is set up to compete right now.

Teams like the Commanders or Panthers would make much less sense to me. Rebuilding teams, for a coach in his 70s, should be off his list.

I'm not going to put a number on it, KB. But my guess is there will be a clean break.

To assume that there's going to be significant change in the front office if Bill Belichick remains the head coach I think is a flawed line of thinking. Is he going to play players he didn't like coming out of the draft? I'm not sure that's even a fair position to put him in.

Even if the next general manager has ties to Belichick, it might be asking for speed bumps in the next phase of this rebuild if you have a setup like that one. 

Thanks, Doug. Juice exists for some, I'm sure. But I think for every player who may be drawn to New England because of Bill Belichick, there is probably one who isn't for the same reason. Not all free agents want to make their way to what Belichick himself has described as a difficult place to work. It's simply not for everyone.

Money will always be the biggest driver. Opportunity matters, too, as does location. But I'm not sure you'd see the free-agent signees dry up just because Belichick is no longer in New England. For some, it may actually open up a door they previously saw as closed.

One free agent last offseason told me that he'd been told by other veterans in the league to avoid two places because of the workplace environment: New England and Las Vegas. Right or wrong, the Raiders under Josh McDaniels had a reputation for having a Patriots feel inside the facility.

No percentage. But I'd be surprised if that's what ends up happening. 

Sure. They do need to go through a legitimate interview process, even if they want to elevate Jerod Mayo to head coach.

Jim Harbaugh is a program-builder. He's hired agent Don Yee -- Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo's agent -- who has experience negotiating with the Patriots. Wouldn't surprise me at all if he was on the Krafts' list of interviewees if and when they're looking for a head coach. 

Hey, EPF. Maybe in your view, things I've reported are reactionary. Always trying to give you the best information I can based on what I've heard from people I trust.

The feeling in Foxboro, from people I've spoken to, has been for weeks now that it's inevitable Bill Belichick and the Patriots will be parting ways. Looking forward to covering the team regardless of who's coaching.

I think Jerod Mayo will be the guy. But as is the case with Harbaugh, it'd make sense for the team to bring in Bobby Slowik for an interview as well.

An offensive mind as the head coach would make sense. Particularly if there's going to be a young quarterback on the roster. But there's a reason the Krafts made it clear they wanted to keep Mayo in town last offseason. There's a reason Robert Kraft has openly discussed Mayo as an eventual head coach. They view him as a leader and someone who can relate to players as a former player himself.

If you're OK with the idea of a former player as a true head coach (not necessarily a play-caller) like Mike Vrabel or Dan Campbell, then Mayo makes sense.

Not at all crazy. Michael Penix Jr. looks like a devastating pocket passer. The only non-injury-related issue for his fit with the Patriots might be this: Does New England have what it needs to support a player like Penix?

The level of protection and weaponry he receives in Foxboro would be much different than what he's experienced at Washington. If the Patriots invest in a quarterback, they may want someone who has more individual playmaking ability just based on how the roster has been constructed. 

Sure. Could see it. Penix's draft stock is a fascinating discussion because of his injury history. His two torn ACLs -- both of which occurred to his right leg -- could give teams significant pause, however. In a league where quarterback mobility matters, his long-term health prospects will factor into every team's evaluation.

We got into his injury history on Next Pats recently with Dr. Jess Flynn.

Nope. I'd want a quarterback if I'm drafting that highly.

That's obviously a nice blueprint to try to follow. Let's highlight Kansas City's as opposed to Philly's, since Philly's was almost a decade long to get to a quarterback they loved in Jalen Hurts.

Long story, but they drafted Lane Johnson and Jason Kelce -- the engines of their offensive success in many ways -- a long time ago. Then they plopped in a quarterback in Carson Wentz. Whiffed. Then tried again with Hurts in the second round.

The issue, if you're a Patriots fan, is assuming your team build is going to go as smoothly for five years as it did in Kansas City. The Chiefs nailed their free-agent quarterback choice in Alex Smith. They got a starting-caliber left tackle at No. 1 overall. They got a Hall of Fame tight end in the third round. They got a Hall-of-Fame talent at receiver in Tyreek Hill in the fifth round. That's two home runs and a couple key extra-base hits. They had a lot they needed to get right.

Will the Patriots be as fortunate? And even if they are, are they in position to snag the quarterback they want four years from now? To me, it's a nearly impossible blueprint to replicate. If you just find the franchise quarterback first and then build around him, it can tend to make your other roster decisions look a lot better. 

There's merit to that, Darryn. But the assumption that you'll hit with all of those other investments simply isn't realistic.

Do you have a better chance of hitting on a lineman or a defensive end than a quarterback in the top 10? Yes. But there exists a chance you whiff, and even if you do hit, there's no guarantee that a trench player gets you significantly closer to a championship.

You'll always be looking for the right quarterback -- a championship-caliber quarterback -- no matter how your roster build has gone, so if you get a chance to snag one, whether the roster is "ready" or not, you better not pass up the opportunity. 

I'm confident Jayden Daniels will be considered in that range, Trygve. Daniels, in my opinion, should be considered right there with Williams and Maye -- if not ahead of one or both -- come draft weekend.

He has a number of intriguing tools and a backlog of success in the SEC that teams should covet. And his drawbacks as a prospect are typically tied to his age (23) and his frame (just over 200 pounds), not necessarily on-the-field negatives.

Not necessarily, though Marte Mapu is considered a smart player who'll continue to develop as he makes the jump from Sacramento State to the NFL.

What works in New England's favor, though, is that Jabrill Peppers -- a similar player with tons of position flexibility -- remains under contract and is only five months older than Dugger. If Dugger signs elsewhere, Peppers is their insurance.

The team, in all likelihood, needs a real free safety in 2024 to better complement what Peppers (and Mapu, to a lesser degree) bring to the table.

It's a fair question, FGF. I asked Bill Belichick about that dynamic on Wednesday. He said, in essence, he plans to play the players who deserve to play.

I don't think he'll use this game as a way to acquire more information on young or unproven players ahead of the offseason. I also don't think he'll be looking to sit anyone because they're playing through injury. It's just how he's wired. ]

Unless Belichick's boss steps in and requires he handle it differently, it'll be handled like any other game. That seems to be Belichick's approach, at least.

Honestly, PP, I think I'd go with Bo Nix. He's improved every year. He's played a ton of football. He plays in a little bit of a wonky college offense where he does a lot of throwing into the short areas of the field. But he has real tools. He can scoot. And if he needs to uncork a pass with real velocity he can do that, too.

How he performs at the Senior Bowl -- in more of a pro-style attack -- will be fascinating. It was announced Wednesday that he'll be going to Mobile, Ala., for the country's premier all-star game.

I could see Mac Jones being dealt on draft weekend, depending on how things go, JG.

Maybe there's a team that would like to draft its next backup but it doesn't work out. Maybe there's a team that valued Jones highly in the draft back in 2021 and would be willing to give up a pick to bring him in as a No. 2. 

Agreed on both counts, Bob. If Bill Belichick returns, you'd likely be committing to him for multiple years. Not only because of the record, but because of the state of the roster.

There's about to be a lot of turnover. This offseason is likely going to shape the roster for the next five (maybe more) years. Giving Belichick license to drive those decisions and then not multiple years to see them through would be an odd approach. 

Being unhappy with a report -- as damning as it might've been -- I don't believe means anything for him in terms of his standing in the building. 

Potentially. Jerod Mayo and Steve Belichick are the guys in the defensive meetings. They get leeway in terms of how the defensive plan breaks down on a weekly basis. And they, in turn, give players some ownership of the details of the plan from there.

It is Bill Belichick's scheme, though, and so moving on from him and Mayo -- if that's what you're suggesting -- could really impact the good thing they've had going on that side of the ball. 

How much time do you have? Michael Penix is probably the pocket-passing surgeon of the group. Jayden Daniels is the fastest (and extremely accurate deep). Caleb Williams has the most arm talent (and can be used as a runner). Drake Maye is the biggest (and possesses a big arm and real athleticism).

We'll of course get into all those names and more the closer we get to the draft. Keep it locked on the Next Pats Podcast for all things draft over the next few months.

He's a captain and leader of what might be the best position group on the team.

Deatrich Wise deserves a ton of credit for how that defensive front has performed. He may not have the gaudiest numbers. He's not the lightning-quick pass-rusher of the group. He's not the massive interior space-eater others may be. But he gives them versatility, toughness and durability at a spot where those things can be hard to come by. Big year for him.

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