Where Do The Patriots Go From Here?
This past week was a big turning point for the future of the United States sure. But it was also a huge turning point for the future of the New England Patriots.
With three minutes remaining in Orchard Park, the Patriots got the football trailing by a field goal. I texted my main group chat saying, “This drive is the Patriots season.”
Sitting at 2-4 on the season, trailing Buffalo in the division and about to hit the mid season mark the Pats were at a cross roads. A win puts them at 3-4 and pulls them closer to the Bills and gives them hope to make a post season run.
Alas after a promising drive that seemed destined to at the very least send the game to overtime. Cam Newton was stripped from behind ending the game. Pushing the Pats to 2-5 and into a place that is unknown to any Patriots fan created in the past twenty years.
So where do we go from here? What does the somewhat immediate future look like for the Patriots? Let’s talk it out.
Restless But Quiet Deadline
Honestly, as soon as Buffalo recovered Cam Newton’s fumble I assumed Stephon Gilmore was already traded. I figured that game in Buffalo was going to instruct Belichick the GM how to move forward with the deadline on Tuesday.
Rumor has it that the Patriots were looking for a first round draft pick, plus a notable player for the 2019 DPOY.
Multiple teams were told the Patriots want a first-round pick and a player for Stephon Gilmore, per @diannaESPN pic.twitter.com/6oKxJvpOZV
— B/R Gridiron (@brgridiron) November 3, 2020
Some Patriots fans went back and forth on whether this was enough, or asking too much compensation for Gilmore. Personally I think it was about right, mostly depending on who the notable player they were asking for in return.
The Patriots were in a win-win situation here with Gilmore at the deadline. Unlike where they were with Jimmy G a few years ago.
Gilmore is still an elite player, who is under contract for this season and next. He would not be a half season rental for a team. They would also have him for 2021.
If you’re the Patriots and don’t get a deal that slaps you in the face from another team. No big deal, hold onto Gilmore. You can either trade him near the draft to perhaps move up, we will talk about that later. Or keep him for another year and still have an elite secondary. Win-Win.
The Pats did not move Gilmore at the deadline. So for the time being, he is still a Patriot.
The Pats did make one move however, a 2-5 team that was a buyer at the deadline!
A rare intra-division trade: Dolphins are trading WR Isaiah Ford to the New England Patriots, per source.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) November 3, 2020
Pats basically replaced the 7th round pick the Dolphins used to draft Ford with back in 2017. He has appeared in 16 games for Miami, hauling in 41 catches for 428 yards and still looking for his first touchdown of his career.
This move is more than likely nothing more than receiver depth which we understand is a serious issue for this team right now.
Or perhaps Belichick views him as a special teams contributor. Although he has not returned a single punt in his career and just one single kick return.
The trade deadline was pretty quiet on all fronts around the league, not just New England. But for the rest of the 2020 season, this is the team we have, whether you like it or not.
Rest of The 2020 Season
The Patriots have always played a difficult schedule because of their success over the last 20 years. And it doesn’t get easier this year.
This upcoming week the Pats get the Jets on Monday Night Football. I would pray to God the Pats can beat a lifeless Jets team ran by the biggest joke in the sport known as Adam Gase.
I hate the Jets but yet I want Adam Gase out of the game of football. Not just as a head coach, but out of the NFL, not even at the college or high school ranks.
So let’s chalk up the two Jets games as wins because I mean seriously, I don’t want to “Tank for Trevor” that badly.
The Pats also have to play the Ravens. Who don’t look like the 14-2 world beaters that we saw last year but are still a very good team. The Cardinals, who look very dangerous this season. And the Rams, and while Belichick put the Rams historic offense in a shredder two years ago in the Super Bowl, he did that with some more notable names on the Pats defense that are no longer there.
So let’s for the sake of argument and mediocrity that is the Pats this season say those three are losses.
That leaves you with toss up games like the Chargers, Dolphins (In Miami), Texans and Bills.
I’m going to split the Bills and Dolphins games. Even at the height of the Patriots powers, Miami was always a horror chamber so let’s take an L there. Plus Brian Flores is a damn good coach, he got the tough task of trying to defend against a new look Patriots offense with Cam Newton in week one. He makes adjustments, they work, Dolphins win.
I say the Pats win against Buffalo, just because the Patriots played well against Buffalo despite the loss. Josh Allen is average at best in his career against New England. And my brain just won’t let me go to a dark enough place to where the Bills sweep the Patriots in a season. It just won’t.
And let’s split the Texans and Chargers games for fun. Pats beat Houston, because they always seem to. And let’s say LA comes away with a win at home because I really like Justin Herbert. The kid is special.
In the end, that gives the Patriots a final record of 6-10 for the 2020 season. Which is pretty much where most pundits had them finishing originally this year.
First losing season since 2000, the first year Belichick took over the team. So how does he fix it this off season?
Bill Belichick made a rare comment this past week. Opening up about the Patriots cap space situation.
Bill Belichick on @OMFonWEEI: "I mean, look, we paid Cam Newton $1 million. It’s obvious that we didn’t have any money. It’s nobody’s fault. That’s what we did the last five years. We sold out. We won three Super Bowls, played in a fourth and played in an AFC Championship Game." pic.twitter.com/5LGeUboNGA
— Zack Cox (@ZackCoxNESN) November 2, 2020
I agree but also disagree with this statement.
First off, Belichick is a master with the cap. He knows every loop hole there is to know. He knows how much to pay at each position. While teams spend loads of money on the running back position, Belichick pays his at a fraction of that and get just as much value from a committee of them.
He doesn’t pay top tier value for edge pass rushers. Instead he manufactures pass rush by developing that talent on their rookie deals and via scheme. While teams worry about sack numbers, he pays attention to pressure percentages.
So while he says the Patriots “sold out” for those three Super Bowls, he’s not wrong. But at the same time the Patriots are usually working against a small cap number year after year and are the masters at doing so.
Here is what I will say however to that and I feel as though this sometimes gets forgotten. Dont’a Hightower, Marcus Canon and Patrick Chung opted out for 2020 well after the draft and free agency. There was nothing the Pats could have done to replace those talents. The closest option was Belichick basically begging Aqib Talib to come out of retirement to try and somewhat replace Chung.
And god bless Ja’Whaun Bentley. He is trying, he really is, but he’s not Dont’a Hightower. The Pats have not won a Super Bowl without Hightower on the active roster. And he has made significant plays in those big games. He is the heart and soul of this Patriots defense and he is not there.
And Marcus Canon has left the right edge of the Patriots offensive line vulnerable. And the Pats O-line has struggled to find consistency whether it be injury or talent.
So I believe it’s more of a combination of opt outs and cap space as to why the Patriots are where they are. They had no space when free agency or potential trades were available to attempt and rebuild the roster.
However, come this off season, the Pats are 4th with $65 million in cap available. The first place one would look to, to fix this mediocre team is quarterback.
Right now in free agency the only real name that sticks out is Dak Prescott. But there are plenty of question marks there. First off obviously is his health and recovery from his gruesome ankle injury. Second, is what do the Cowboys do with Dad? Right now it seems as though they are learning the hard way to give him a big contract. So the chances of Prescott actually hitting the open market are slim.
However that issue doesn’t need to be fixed purely through free agency. Rumors are that some QB’s could be available through trade. Matt Ryan comes to mind if the Falcons decide to rebuild and take a QB with their projected high draft pick. Not sure however if the Pats want to move from an aging QB in Brady, to a veteran QB in Newton who isn’t quite working as everyone imagined, to another aging QB in Ryan.
Rumors are that Garoppolo could be available. A reunion in Foxboro? Doubt it. Garoppolo is what we are seeing, a game manager. A good, but not elite quarterback option. Who is now proven to be injury prone.
One name that could be interesting is Matt Stafford. Say Matt Patricia gets fired, the Lions end up with a high draft pick. Would their new coach want to invest that into a new QB and move on from Stafford? Stafford and New England could be an interesting combination.
Wide receiver is a position of dire need for the Pats. They are woefully inept at the position. Belichick has never been good at drafting receivers. But they have been good at signing or trading for receivers that other teams have been able to develop. Outside of Mohamed Sanu of course.
Receiving free agent targets this winter would include; Allen Robinson, AJ Green, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Will Fuller, Curtis Samuel, Keelan Cole, Chris Godwin, TY Hilton, Sammy Watkins and Kenny Golladay.
Not all of these names, or perhaps none of these names will make it to the open market. But there is an ability for a possible quick fix for the Patriots through free agency to add some pass catchers.
And there is always the possibility for trades to occur. Patriots fans have always been drawn to the rumors of an elite pass catcher coming to New England whenever one of them becomes disgruntled with their current team.
I’m not saying these names are likely but players like Julio Jones or Odell Beckham Jr. are always seemingly linked to the Patriots. It’s highly unlikely, I don’t expect it but the option is there.
Possibly Exciting Draft
Wait about two hours just to see your team trade their 28th overall pick for a second, and a fourth next season. Welcome to the existence of a Patriots fan on draft night.
However this year might not be that case. If my projections stand and the Pats finish at 6-10 that would put them right around the Pick #10 mark. And as of right now, sitting at 2-5, the Pats are currently drafting ninth.
For those of you wondering about the Patriots chances at a Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields I’m going to stop you right now. They are slim to none. You can try and play the Jim Carey “So you’re saying there’s a chance” card but it’s very highly unlikely the Pats land one of those two prizes.
First, there are just too many teams well worse, and well ahead of the Patriots who desperately need a quarterback and if in a position to draft one of those two guys would be doing their franchises a disservice to even entertain trade offers.
Teams like the Jets, Giants, Jaguars, Washington and Atlanta are all currently ahead of New England in the draft and could all easily draft a QB without anyone thinking twice about it.
What about the Patriots trading up? Again, that price would be understandably STEEP. I don’t see Belichick shifting course from the last 20 years and mortgaging the future to try and land a top three pick.
I would even say Trey Lance, the quarterback out of NDSU is even a stretch to imagine him falling to the Pats.
As far as quarterbacks go the Patriots will probably have to draft theirs later in the first round or in later rounds of the draft. Lawrence, Fields and Lance are as of today the three big quarterback prizes on draft night. But we have seen in recent drafts that sometimes it’s the later first round picks that can produce elite QB’s. Patrick Mahomes was the 10th overall pick, Lamar Jackson as we all know was 32nd.
And even just last year, and we haven’t seen the results yet, but Jordan Love was picked 23rd.
So who could be that guy? I would say currently blooming BYU signal caller Zach Wilson. He has been very impressive as the Cougars currently attempt to disrupt the College Football Playoff.
Outside of him, you have more conventional quarterbacks like Kyle Trask and Mac Jones. They just don’t move the needle for me personally, and don’t scream “Franchise Quarterback” at me.
But there is also a reason I am writing this blog rather than scouting college quarterbacks. But if you are a Patriots fan who currently has a #16, Lawrence customized Patriots jersey in their shopping cart. I’d suggest canceling that order.
So where does that leave them? It leaves the Pats, if they so choose, to probably have their pick of the litter in terms of a wide receiver. Devonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle, Ja’marr Chase, Rashod Bateman and Rondale Moore all or at least most of them available for New England.
But with Belichick’s drafting history and developing young receivers, I will take a pass on drafting a young receiver here.
What about tight end? A position also woefully inept of talent. The Pats spent two picks in last seasons draft on Dalton Keene and Devin Asiasi. Asiasi was just placed on IR without a target this year, and Keene has one meaningless catch.
Could the Pats use a pick of a Kyle Pitts from Florida or Pat Freiermuth from Penn State? Sure, but they could probably trade down to make those picks.
On the defensive side of the ball it all depends on what you want or are looking for. Micah Parsons is probably already gone. But players like corner Shaun Wade, edge rushers Kwity Paye and Gregory Rousseau are likely available. As well as linebackers, Wyatt Davis, Dylan Moses and Creed Humphrey. Which seeing how the linebacker depth was depleted with free agency and opt outs, that might not be a bad idea.
And don’t forget, the last time the Patriots had a pick this high was in 2008 and New England grabbed Jerod Mayo.
We truly are in some different times as Patriots fans. Tom Brady is gone and seemingly thriving in Tampa while the Pats slip into mediocrity. But there is a difference between once powerful teams that fall into this same pit. The Patriots have a ton of flexibility in which they can turn this around.
Projected $65 million in cap space to basically remake the roster over night if need be. And currently a position in the draft that would possibly give them enough ammo to move up if they so chose. They could also stay put and draft a high quality player. Or trade back, add draft capital and try and get tremendous value later in the first round and beyond.
While it might seem doom and gloom in Foxboro for 2020 the Patriots are in a fantastic position to not only rebound and reload, but to do it rather quickly.
Connor Ryan (@connoryan68/@PodVerbalCommit/@YourFantasy_CGS)