Phil Perry

Patriots Mailbag: How will Pats proceed with impending free agents?

Will Josh Uche, Kyle Dugger, and other impending free agents be back in 2024?

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The 2-6 New England Patriots are set to host the Washington Commanders this Sunday at 1 p.m. ET. Before we turn the page to the Week 9 matchup, we've got your mailbag questions to answer.

Let's jump in...

It's a good question, Andrew. Ty Montgomery is a core-four specialist for them. Period. He played 18 special-teams snaps last week in Miami. He's played 126 kicking-game snaps in all this season. Offensively, he's played 30 snaps. The Patriots, obviously, love their special-teamers. Even though Montgomery could be, in theory, a skill-position player offensively... that's not how they see him. 

Their lack of a true third-down back is mitigated some by the fact they have two big-bodied runners who can catch the ball in Rhamondre Stevenson and Ezekiel Elliott. But it's hard not to wonder whether Mac Jones' quarterback rating of 56.8 under pressure this season (27th out of 36 qualifiers) might not be better if he had a more traditional quick-hit security blanket out of the backfield to throw to more often. 

I think, given what was available to the Patriots, it was the right move to remain quiet at the deadline. It's a tough call. But I ever-so-slightly favor the dual benefit of keeping good players on expiring deals over trading them away for late-round picks.

What is that two-pronged benefit, exactly? No. 1, you buy more time to negotiate exclusively with a player. They should be making the most of that with guys like Trent Brown and Kyle Dugger. No. 2, even if you're not building anything now, you are trying to remain competitive. If "culture" can be quickly defined as "that which you allow to happen," you don't want to tank -- even if the tank is exclusive to the front office. There's a good chance the next head coach of the Patriots is in the building already. Many of the players who make up this year's team will make up next year's team. If there's a tolerance for losing that gets woven into the fabric of the organization -- even just for half a season -- that can be detrimental.

That's why I say give me two more months with good players rather than a fifth-round pick (if that) for any of them. The picks can have value as late-round dice rolls; just look at Demario "Pop" Douglas as the latest example of that fact. But if I'm Bill Belichick, I'd rather try to compete for the remainder of this season and in the meantime work out some extensions with guys scheduled to hit free agency.

Even if the Patriots rank near the bottom of the league in offense this year -- they're 31st in points, 26th in yards, 30th in EPA per play and 26th in offensive DVOA -- I'd be surprised if the Krafts were itching to move on from Bill O'Brien. Does that preclude a Josh McDaniels return? I don't believe so, even if Belichick isn't the head coach for 2024. My guess is there would be a job in Foxboro for McDaniels somewhere on the offensive side, whether it's as quarterbacks coach (O'Brien is currently the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach) or elsewhere.

McDaniels still maintains ties to the area, and it wouldn't surprise me if he was eager to get back. That doesn't mean he'll be eager to work, mind you. His contract with the Raiders was fully guaranteed, and he'd probably like a little time away. But eventually... if he wants back in... my feeling is ownership in Foxboro would be open to that idea.

I think there's enough uncertainty right now that it's hard to say who will be making those decisions in the coming months, Steve. 

But I can tell you there's a reason Josh Uche made the most sense as a trade chip during the deadline, even though he wasn't dealt. Re-signing him might be tough, particularly because of his skill set at a premium position, and because his role in New England isn't quite as substantial as it might be in other places where edge defenders are allowed to be a little lighter and passing-game-focused. Doesn't mean the Patriots won't try to extend him. Just means I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't.

Meanwhile, with Kyle Dugger, I'd be a bit more surprised if he wasn't back. The Patriots need leaders. Defensively they pride themselves on their versatility and toughness. He has both, and he wants to lead, as he told me earlier this week. It takes two to tango. Dugger has to be open to returning. The offer has to be right. But he has a lot of fans at One Patriot Place who'd like to see him extended.

Guys like Trent Brown, Mike Onwenu and Hunter Henry are a little tougher to peg. 

Brown has made it clear he'd like to get to free agency and he may be the best left tackle available. That means a major payday could be coming his way. Would the Patriots meet his asking price? Without him they may not have a single capable tackle on their roster for 2024.

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The Patriots just drafted three interior linemen, seemingly to prepare for Onwenu's departure via free agency. But none have performed to the point where they look like locks as starting guards to fill Onwenu's shoes.

Henry was voted a captain this year and has developed into a veteran leader on the offensive side of the ball, and if he were to sign elsewhere, tight end would be another position where the Patriots are woefully thin. (Mike Gesicki and Pharaoh Brown are also scheduled to be free agents this offseason.) Does that make him something approaching a must-sign? 

The last thing the Patriots should want -- and specifically ownership if there's some haziness surrounding who will control the roster this offseason -- is a free-agent period where the team loses a handful of key pieces and then is looking to the free-agent market to replace them. If they want to improve quickly, they likely need to hold onto their best players and supplement the roster with capable free agents. Can't simply tread water with replacements who've never seen the inside of the facility before.

They have the cap space and cash to maintain the best parts of their roster and then augment it. That's what I would anticipate happening. 

My guess is Kayshon Boutte plays some, Will. Just not sure how much. Jalen Reagor looks like the DeVante Parker replacement since they've shared snaps of late. JuJu Smith-Schuster looked like the Kendrick Bourne replacement on Sunday. Pop Douglas isn't going anywhere. Not sure how much action that means for Boutte, if he's their No. 4 or 5 with Tyquan Thornton.

Big difference between preseason, training camp, and regular-season action. Marte Mapu's start to his career is a good reminder of that. It's also a good reminder that a player coming from a lower level of college competition -- he played at Sacramento State -- can have some growing pains early on. Didn't happen that way necessarily for Kyle Dugger from Division II Lenoir-Rhyne, but I'd say he's more the exception than the rule. 

In what looks like a quarterback-heavy draft, taking one near the top of the first round would make sense. It's just not all that often that any team has the opportunity to do that. If the right quarterback is there, then, jump at the chance to take him. Get aggressive to take him, if you have to. Nabbing a great receiver or tackle has value for sure, but only if you're not sure on the quarterbacks available. 

In all likelihood, Christian, yes. Troy Brown indicated as much during a media-availability period recently. 

I present to you your new spokesperson for the Patriots fan base: TI. 

Thanks for the contributions, everyone. We'll be back with another Bag next week so fire off your questions to @philaperry on "X" whenever they pop into your brain.

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