Phil Perry

Patriots Mailbag: How will Bill Belichick approach the trade deadline?

Would Belichick consider selling if the team's struggles continue? Phil Perry covers that and more.

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The New England Patriots will look to right the ship this Sunday when they visit old friend Josh McDaniels and the Las Vegas Raiders. First, let's get to your mailbag questions...

Fair questions, Andrew, given where this team is at the moment.

The first question I'd ask, though, is... Would Bill Belichick even be open to "selling" at the deadline? We've seen him deal away capable pieces in the past, but those were situations when he knew his team would be competitive even if he subtracted a good player or two. Just look back over the last decade or so. In 2014, Belichick "sold" on Logan Mankins before the season began. Jamie Collins was sent out the door via trade in 2016. They eventually won the Super Bowl in both of those seasons. 

But Belichick's team isn't built in such a way now that it can withstand the departure of good players and maintain its level. The natural counter to that would be this: Is the level they've exhibited this season worth maintaining? Of course it isn't. But it's hard for me to envision Belichick actively harming his team's chances of winning by moving on from good players that would net the team any kind of significant return.

That said, let's play the game. If the Patriots were looking to sell, trading players that the team did not plan on keeping beyond this year would make sense. The compensatory-pick formula would be a factor in those decisions, and the amount of money the Patriots are scheduled to have available to them next offseason -- over $106 million in cap space, second most in the NFL -- might actually encourage the team to be aggressive in selling off some of its best parts.

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Why? The way the compensatory-pick formula works is by gauging free agents out and free agents in during a given offseason for a given franchise. That means that the team could get comp picks (maxing out at third-rounders) for the departures of Kyle Dugger, Mike Onwenu, Josh Uche, Hunter Henry, Kendrick Bourne and other impending free agents. But they might not. If the Patriots -- with their abundance of cap space -- signed five free agents of similar value to new contracts, they could cancel out their free-agent losses in the comp-pick formula and get no draft capital in return for contributing players walking out the door.

One way to avoid that unsavory scenario? Trade those free-agents-to-be mid-season. Then the Patriots would guarantee that they'd get some compensation for those assets, and they could spend aggressively on free agents in the upcoming offseason without the fear of losing comp-pick value as a result.

The unfortunate reality in which the Patriots find themselves is that there aren't many players the team should feel like it has to keep. Outside of rookie Christian Gonzalez, is there anyone who deserves to be protected in that way? Other players on rookie deals, like Marcus Jones, Demario "Pop" Douglas and Keion White, probably shouldn't be moved. They're cost-effective, and they've shown flashes of true ability. But they don't have many, if any, untouchables on the roster outside of Gonzalez right now. 

As for what some tradable assets would bring back to the Patriots? Hard to say what you'd get for some of the impending free agents that contending teams might look to acquire mid-season. Because they'd be rentals, the value back would be limited. But if you're the Patriots, you'd at least ensure you'd get something back for them by dealing them mid-season, which would not be the case if you let them walk via free agency.

I think it's possible that an owner falls in love with the idea of Bill Belichick running his franchise, even if he's now 71 years old and his recent track record is as spotty as it is -- both as a coach and general manager. The three teams I came up with: the Los Angeles Chargers, Washington Commanders and Chicago Bears. The New York Giants would be an interesting reunion, but hard for me to see the Mara family cutting ties with Brian Daboll after he made the postseason in his first season with the team a year ago. 

Would Belichick want to join any of those teams if his tenure in New England ends soon? Never say never. He has said many times in the past that he continues to love his work and he pursues it with energy. But starting over -- versus the continuity he's had with his program in New England for more than two decades -- would seem daunting. 

He's getting work, Bill, but it's at receiver. Bill O'Brien told us as much this week. The work that Malik Cunningham has received at quarterback has been to prep the Patriots defense for facing mobile passers. (Last week, for example, Cunningham mimicked Taysom Hill.)

Kayshon Boutte, meanwhile, should be up and running this week with both Douglas and JuJu Smith-Schuster unlikely to play due to concussions suffered last weekend. The standard now for players across the league seems to be if they're dealing with a concussion, they're missing at least one game. 

I'm not sure we'd see Will Grier as the primary backup this week, but I think that's coming. As I discussed with Ted Johnson on the latest Next Pats, Belichick may have removed Bailey Zappe as a viable possibility at quarterback for his team when he released the second-year passer at the end of August. Belichick has also tried to upgrade the backup spot for the better part of the last month first by bringing in Matt Corral, then Ian Book, and now Grier.

If Zappe isn't the optimal choice as the No. 2, then the door is open for Grier. And if the Patriots offense will be simplified this week -- as I suspect it will be -- then perhaps that gives Grier a better shot of getting a good handle on the scheme. Not only could he be the No. 2 soon, but if Mac Jones continues to trend in the wrong direction, then perhaps the team would be open to making him the No. 1 before long. 

Let it out, TC. If the Patriots are looking at quarterbacks in next year's draft, the good news is there are a variety who look like legitimate first-round talents -- even beyond the three you mention. There will be options for them. 

Glad you asked, Dylan. I dug deep to try to find a few areas offensively where the Patriots aren't completely horrid. You may be surprised to hear this, but there are a couple. Details here.

My guess is there will be a quarterback or two worthy of investment ahead of Marvin Harrison Jr. As amazingly talented as he is. Particularly if the Patriots are truly in the market for a quarterback. Even if USC's Caleb Williams is gone, if the Patriots are drafting early on Day 1, I'd anticipate they'd take advantage of the draftable talent at the game's most important position and grab one. Is that UNC's Drake Maye? Is it Washington's Michael Penix Jr.? Oregon's Bo Nix?

If you're in that market, you can't pass on the potential that exists in this upcoming class to take a receiver. Even if he's a surefire star receiver.

They have to start investing more in their offense and hitting more frequently on their offensive evaluations. It's all about that side of the ball. That, to me, means a different general manager shopping for the groceries. But if you move on from Belichick in that capacity you're likely moving on from him altogether.

Nick Caserio has helped construct a young and exciting roster in Houston, but I wouldn't say things have crumbled in New England because of his departure. He was around for the building of some excellent rosters at One Patriot Place, and he was one of Belichick's most trusted assistants. But he was also Belichick's right-hand man during the Isaiah Wynn and Sony Michel first round in 2018. He was in the same role when the Patriots chose N'Keal Harry over A.J. Brown and Deebo Samuel in 2019. He was in the same role when the team waited, and waited, and waited to replace Tom Brady with Cam Newton in 2020.

Caserio deserves all kinds of credit for the way things look in Houston right now. And he deserves credit for some of the unbelievably successful rosters he helped compile during his time with the Patriots. But he was also in Foxboro as the team began to deteriorate, so I wouldn't necessarily link his departure with this team's downfall.

Let's go with these four: 1) Caleb Williams, USC; 2) Drake Maye, UNC; 3) Michael Penix Jr., Washington; 4) Shedeur Sanders, Colorado.

I really don't think Belichick's lack of success this season would impact Jerod Mayo. Robert Kraft has made it very clear he wants Mayo here, and he went out of his way to extend (and announce the extension) of Mayo last offseason. Mayo turned down head-coaching opportunities in order to remain in New England. All signs seem to point to Mayo being the guy if and when Belichick is done.

Even though Mayo has spent the vast majority of his professional career working under Belichick, and even though Belichick is struggling to get his team to perform this season, it appears as though Kraft has already made a decision about the future of his franchise that he would in all likelihood like to see through. 

If we were ranking those choices, Harry, I would put the offensive line in the B) position there and otherwise keep it as you have it.

Great question, John. I think they might like to have one right now since they seem like a team that is best suited to run the ball downhill. They got away from the position last year when they tried to go to a West Coast offense that focused more on the tight end position. Because tight ends and fullbacks share in some of their responsibilities -- attacking them from different angles and depths -- they've rolled with one position over the other.

Fair to wonder if that was the right choice... or if they could've figured out a way to keep their emphasis on tight ends while also employing a bruising fullback who could help their running game.

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