Phil Perry

Patriots Mailbag: Should Pats pass on QB and trade down in 2024 Draft?

Phil Perry answers all of your Patriots questions in his latest mailbag.

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Should we go ahead and answer each and every one of our Mailbag questions this week in rapid-fire fashion? Why not?

The Patriots are 2-9. You know they aren't good. They know they aren't good. And yet there's still plenty to talk about. It's settled then. Everyone gets an answer. Prepare for an all-out assault on your eyeballs.

Being more focused on the public-relations game certainly wouldn't help anyone at One Patriot Place as they continue to try to win. (And, yes, they are trying to win.) But I don't think that's happening. I would simply argue that any energy spent in that manner is probably unnecessary -- even if it pales in comparison to the effort spent on preparing for that week's matchup. Simply business as business has long been done in New England.

We touched on this in the latest Next Pats, Andrew. It's a fair question. I would say, yes, drafting a quarterback still matters. Even if the situation is terrible. And it could be bad in New England in 2024. There are enough examples of quarterbacks taken at the tops of drafts, entering organizations that are hurting badly, and coming out the other side to find success -- both individually and as a team.

Trading down and flipping picks is sensible, but only if you're not sold on the quarterback and his ability to handle the inevitable adversity associated with leading a bad team. It also assumes you'll hit with those other picks.

The trade down for Cole Strange is a good example of how badly things can go on that front. Different spot in the draft than where the Patriots will be in the spring, but the idea remains the same. They traded down and landed a bunch of picks who have done very little for them. And in so doing they passed on a good corner who is contributing a great deal to one of the best defenses in football in Kansas City's Trent McDuffie.

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For me, here's the bottom line: 1) You shouldn't plan on drafting in the top-five again any time soon, and 2) the quarterback class looks strong enough that passing on a passer at the top of the draft could be a mistake the franchise would rue for years to come. 

Get the quarterback. Fill in around him. As the Dolphins did with Tua Tagovailoa. As the Bills did with Josh Allen. Is it ideal? No. A bad situation can harm a young "face of the franchise." But it has worked with the right players, who have the right makeup. The other path -- building up the roster and hoping to find a guy down the line -- can be nearly as difficult to pull off, and you still need to find a quarterback.

First, they wanted to try to make it work with Mac Jones until they couldn't any longer. Second, they believed Malik Cunningham's future was brighter as a receiver and they wanted to give him time to find his footing there. Now that they're in a position to dig deeper into their quarterback room, it looks like he'll practice more at quarterback and possibly have a package of plays ready to go for him Sunday. 

Fair question. I'd boil it down to this: missing consistently when trying to balance talent against coachability.

The Patriots tend to have a smaller draft board than most because they want players who can handle Bill Belichick's style of coaching. It has squeezed talented players out of the pool from which they've picked. As a result, for the most part, they get human beings they like, but not enough talent.

Phil, I don't know what the coaching budget is in New England. But I don't believe that whatever isn't spent from that budget ends up in Bill Belichick's pocket. That's what the "lump sum" theory would suggest.

We dug deep on this, Kevin, on the latest Patriots Talk pod. Briefly, what I would say is that I'm finding it hard to envision a scenario in which Belichick is traded.

The Krafts don't have much leverage in a potential deal if all parties involved understand that Belichick is no longer a desirable head coach in New England. If that's the case, why wouldn't Belichick ask to be fired, have his choice of new gigs, and go to his new team without that new team having to part ways with trade compensation (likely in the form of a valuable draft pick)?

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That said, I don't know the details of Belichick's contract. If there's something in the language of the deal that allows the Krafts to take head coaching duties and/or 53-man roster control away from Belichick without breaching the contract, then that would be their leverage.

In that scenario, the Krafts could hire a new head coach and general manager and keep Belichick away from another club until his contract runs out after the 2024 season. (Our Tom Curran reported earlier this month that Belichick is under contract with the Patriots through 2024.) Unless another team wanted to trade for Belichick. Then the Krafts would be in business. But I'd be surprised if Belichick's contract would allow something like that to happen.

I believe Jerod Mayo has the ability to be a really good head coach. And I understand why the Krafts wouldn't want Mayo out of the building, which they communicated to the world when they announced they were extending him last offseason. 

On Matt Groh, he's a true Belichick disciple. I wonder if that's what the Krafts would want to have leading the way in the front office moving forward.

His approach to the season is fair game, in my opinion. They're near the bottom of the league in cash spending. Did he think the Patriots would compete by operating in that manner? Was he under orders to make it work with the budget looking a certain way?

You may get an answer from Belichick that surprises you on those fronts. Just don't expect the word "tank" to cross anyone's lips. He'll never acknowledge that and, by rule, he'd be opening himself up to being punished if he ever acknowledged it. 

There may be less change than you're hoping. I see Jerod Mayo as head coach, Bill O'Brien as offensive coordinator, and a great deal of the staff on both sides may be back to work for Belichick's top lieutenants.

It wouldn't stun me if the Krafts were also interested in Eliot Wolf -- the director of scouting who has worked in a variety of locales and not just under Belichick -- as a potential next general manager. 

To me, the interior is locked in for next year. David Andrews, Cole Strange and Sidy Sow could all be back for 2024. Strange and Sow need to be better in pass protection, but perhaps a healthy offseason and training camp -- and the reps that would come with that -- would help them improve in that regard.

It's the tackle spots that would concern me if I'm ownership. Both Trent Brown and Mike Onwenu are set to be free agents, and outside of them there aren't many capable free-agent tackles available in free agency. We'll be all over draft prospects at that position this spring. 

I don't think it happens unless there's some type of explosive incident between the two sides.

Fair! Josh McDaniels ran a boatload of trick plays in 2021 when the Patriots were devoid of game-breaking offensive talent. This year's offense has really never tried.

It's no way to build a scheme, but in a situation like this one, with players and coaches who are still trying to win, then why not? It's a legitimate second-guess for Bill O'Brien, in my opinion. 

I wonder if Bill Belichick's uncertain future has stalled those negotiations in any way, shape or form. But the fact of the matter is that several of the team's highest-profile free-agents-to-be never got very far in extension talks prior to the season.

It simply hasn't been New England's modus operandi lately. They aren't aggressive in keeping their own, instead allowing players to find their value on the open market. Oftentimes, when it's clear the market will pay more than the Patriots are willing to, those players move on.

Duron Harmon (drafted in the third round in 2013) is the last top-three-round draft pick to get a second contract from the Patriots, which is mind-boggling.

The roster got worse at receiver. Injuries on the offensive line -- as well as another coaching change and constant changes to the lineup -- made their pass-protection a mess. The quarterback lost confidence. The head coach had no answers. Draft and free-agent misses came home to roost. The schedule got tougher. And there you have it. That's a pretty fair blow-by of what went wrong, I think.  

I've become a massive fan of LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels. I'd have a hard time picking between him and Marvin Harrison Jr. But maybe if the team somehow lands a free-agent quarterback they like, then drafting Harrison would make more sense.

A tackle in the second round -- and there may be one that slips in a pretty deep class -- would be smart given what's available in free agency. (As I mentioned above, it ain't much.)

Don't think so. Maybe he's the emergency third quarterback, though, just in case there's a run of injuries at the position. He's not on the injury report so would be hard to make the case for him to land on injured reserve.

There will always be room for the we'll-outwork-you culture fostered here for a long time. But I think something that allows players to breathe a little more would be a welcome change.

Relating to younger players, accommodating them from a confidence-building standpoint, will be critical. And an update to the team's style of play -- and the types of athletes they go after in the draft and free-agency -- could use an adjustment, too. 

Drake Maye.

Everything matters.

Yes, for the most part. Though I wonder how Matthew Judon's contract situation will be resolved. He'll be facing a situation similar to the one he faced last summer when he wanted an adjusted deal. He's currently on the books for a salary far lower than a premier pass-rusher would typically expect. But he'll also be coming off a season-ending injury.

Will he be back? Will he be traded to a team willing to give him a new deal? The Patriots just went through something similar with Stephon Gilmore. But if there's a new general manager in place for 2024, maybe this situation gets handled differently than that one did when Gilmore was dealt to the Colts in the middle of the 2021 season.

Christian Gonzalez. Christian Barmore. Demario Douglas. Marcus Jones. I'd want David Andrews and Jabrill Peppers as veteran leaders. That's it. If you could tell me that Mike Onwenu and Hunter Henry could be back as free agents, I'd welcome that, too.

But a number of those players aren't exactly franchise cornerstones. They're good and they're affordable. The lone "cornerstone" they have at the moment from a talent standpoint is Gonzalez. Barmore might be getting there but that's not a sure thing at this point, in my opinion.

Position coaches, I think you'll find if you go back far enough, rarely get a ton of criticism. But if you want to go there, sure, the receivers coaches -- both Troy Brown and Ross Douglas -- deserve some criticism for the lack of production they've overseen. I'd argue, though, that it's hard to make a masterpiece out of what they've had at the position. 

How they handle the quarterback position ahead of the draft will be fascinating. Because they may be faced with the opportunity to draft a guy who'll be a top-10 receiver, we think, sooner rather than later when he becomes a pro.

Would you go with Justin Fields, Jacoby Brissett and a second- or third-round draft pick at quarterback thereby giving yourself the opportunity to draft Harrison? I don't love it, especially with potential legitimate franchise quarterbacks at the top of the draft, but I could see it. 

I'd start with penalties. They've been consistently bad in that area. All season. There haven't been massive returns allowed (or gained). And they've missed their share of kicks with rookie Chad Ryland replacing veteran Nick Folk. But the penalties have been constants. 

Painful if it takes that long. Shouldn't have to, if you're asking me. The Texans have turned it around with a couple of linemen and a quarterback in the top-three. Could the Patriots experience something similar? It's rare. But not impossible. The blueprint in Houston isn't a horrible one for the Kraft family to try to recreate.

Don't think he has to worry about that this week.

This is where the promise to answer every question feels... regrettable. But whatever. Here we go. 

1. 0.09 percent because Belichick knew he couldn't trade Tom Brady coming off an MVP-caliber season and he knew Garoppolo wasn't going to re-sign to be a backup

2. 0.02 percent

3. 0.98 percent

4. 1.05 percent

5. 90.9 percent because Kraft made it clear Belichick had to hire a real offensive coordinator and O'Brien was the obvious fit.

6. 49.9 percent

7. 0.05 percent

Maybe. But he needs more consistency in the heat of the moment to be able to handle protection responsibilities to comfortably make that shift. When he's struggled, his mistakes don't look like physical mistakes. Mental mistakes at the center spot can be devastating. 

I don't. The days of the game manager at quarterback are over, I think. Even Jared Goff does more than manage the game. Same for Brock Purdy. You have to make plays. Can't just avoid making mistakes.

Depends on how his contract reads. If "sitting" is a breach of his contract, he could be gone. 

He has a concussion. His second of the year. The team should seriously consider shutting him down for the year, in my opinion.

Love a good flea flicker. 

I like Drake Maye. Right now. Ask me again in three months.

We're already onto the draft at the Next Pats Podcast. Check us out. Don't think you're going to get much in the way of sunshine and rainbows when it comes to talking about this year's team.

I think it's a fair take, Chris. I don't think Bailey Zappe should have a very long leash. He's had one. He's been given multiple opportunities this season that he likely wouldn't have been given had he been a part of a better quarterback room. If he struggles mightily out of the gate, give Cunningham a try in Week 14. 

Bailey Zappe.

I think his time in New England has run its course.

I thought they'd be much better. The offensive line's struggles were stunning to me throughout camp. They never got them fixed. Part of that is due to injury, but I think in some ways it derailed the entire season. 

Hasn't been decided yet, sure. But I'd say it's informed speculation when you're hearing it or seeing it on NBC Sports Boston.

I'm not sure that even Kendrick Bourne's athleticism at the receiver position and his unrelenting positivity would be enough to save this team, anonymous. 

Thanks for all the questions, friends. Keep 'em coming. We'll continue to make this a weekly date throughout the rest of the season.

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