After an up-and-down but ultimately disappointing 8-9 seasons, the Patriots entered the offseason in need of improvements both on and off the field and proper judgment of which current members to invest in truly. Here’s why they’ve started well, as well as over the work to be done.
Phase One: The Patriots’ Sideline
The first big move of the offseason was an underrated and necessary one that showed the Patriots’ investment in the coaching staff’s future. When all signs pointed to him being hired elsewhere, the Patriots gave Jerod Mayo the extension and increased responsibilities he wanted and deserved. It is speculated that this comes with a title change to assistant head coach, but this has not been officially confirmed.
After Matt Patricia – and secondarily Joe Judge – struggled to breathe life into the Patriot’s offense with inconsistent and unharmonious playcalling, the Patriots needed a change at offensive coordinator. Furthermore, after a season in which Mac Jones was chased around by defensive linemen almost instantaneously after the snap, Patricia’s other role, offensive line coach, also needed a change.
The Patriots somehow toed a nice line between staying in the Belichick tree and getting coaches with plenty of outside experience. While Bill O’Brien has directly worked with Belichick as an offensive coordinator for the Patriots before, he has also had head coaching experience in college and the NFL, as well as several college-level offensive roles, including as offensive coordinator at Alabama. His understanding and experience with developing young talent fit perfectly in New England.
Former Patriot lineman Adrian Klemm adds a combined record of championship offensive line play and high-level offensive coaching (Oregon) and will be instrumental for an offensive line unit that needs tremendous improvement. The ideal sideline is almost complete for New England, but a change from Cameron Achord after an abysmal special team showing in 2022 is necessary. However, the perfect guy for the job is already in New England in Joe Judge, if he’s ok with what he may view as a demotion.
Phase Two: Retaining The Best Current Patriots
After a surprisingly solid defensive showing in 2022 across the board, the Patriots are tasked with keeping as many instrumental players from last year’s campaign as possible. They’ve gotten off to a great start there, holding a corner in Jonathan Jones, who evolved the previous season tremendously and could make big plays against some of the NFL’s best. He completes an excellent cornerback unit along the rookie Jones duo, even without the recently cut Jalen Mills. Cutting Shaun Wade – necessitated by the poor decision of tendering Myles Bryant – would create necessary roster space for the Patriots and eliminate a player who’s not correctly contributing.
On the safeties end, losing McCourty to retirement was a tough blow, and the Patriots accordingly made plans for their future by extending Jabrill Peppers. He should see his role expand next to a pair of excellent younger safeties, Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips. They did a similar thing on the linebacker’s end by extending Mack Wilson, whose athleticism and versatility showed up in flashes last season and could elevate that group even further this year.
To make room for the elite talent the Patriots need at wide receiver, Nelson Agholor can’t be part of their plans moving forward. The Patriots are, however, losing a significant contributor and their most reliable receiver of the last three years in Jakobi Meyers. Whether this was worth the benefit of this year’s transitions, including the recent Smith-Schuster acquisition, will remain to be seen. However, solid pieces are not enough to compete in today’s NFL.
At tight end, the Patriots did a bit of addition by subtraction. They orchestrated a tactful trade that got rid of the excessive cap hit of Jonnu Smith, who had two consecutive seasons of poor productivity and even netted them a seventh-round pick. More decisions will be made for the Pats, preferably including offloading Isaiah Wynn, among others, but this is a good start.
Phase Three: Picking Off Talent From The Rest
If this article had been written a couple of days ago, it would probably be to the tune of “why are the Patriots being dormant in such a pivotal offseason?”. However, lots can change in a short time. The Patriots strengthened their depth at tackle with two acquisitions, Riley Reiff from the Bears and Calvin Anderson from the Broncos. While neither is the star in the NFL, they are both experienced, solid players who provide depth in a weak offensive tackle group for the Pats. These moves free up the Patriots’ path in the NFL Draft, and while tackle should still be a priority, they can focus on getting an excellent player there rather than prioritizing depth.
Offensively, while they have a group of solid contributors at WR, in today’s NFL, teams need a true number-one receiver and, in general, require star power to add explosive power to the offense. By signing JuJu Smith-Schuster, the Patriots added some severe ability, and for the value – equivalent to what the Raiders signed Meyers for, three years, 33 million – Smith-Schuster provides a clear improvement with more explosiveness and a better ability to make big plays than anyone currently on the Patriots’ roster.
If he can get anywhere near his 2018 level, the Patriot’s offense will evolve by leaps and bounds. Furthermore, his presence will allow for the misdirection of top-corner attention away from playmakers like Devante Parker and Kendrick Bourne. That said, Schuster is on the borderline of being the number one-worthy and two-worthy receiver. However, he doesn’t have the profound threat ability of others out there, so the Patriots should continue to talk to Arizona and Denver about Hopkins and Jeudy and consider using their opening draft pick on a promising wideout like Jaxon Smith-Njigba or Zay Flowers.
By acquiring James Robinson, the Patriots add an experienced and talented running back to a personnel group who, other than Stevenson and Harris (who is having tensions with the team), is relatively unproven. In addition to his experience and veteran presence, he adds explosiveness to the run-and-pass game. If he can stay healthy, he, Stevenson, and Ty Montgomery can form a three-headed monster at the position.
The Patriots needed tight-end help, and they got it in Gesicki. The reliable, sure-handed former Miami TE will join Hunter Henry in what could be, if coached right, the dynamic duo that the Patriots badly need and have been missing since 2012.
Phase Four: Drafting Skilled Players At Positions Of Need
By doing well in the phases above, the Patriots have more freedom in the draft and can focus on positions of need rather than stock up on depth pieces. Their first pick is uncertain, but with the players, they’ve acquired, there’s no wrong answer between a star wideout and a good tackle. If they choose to go the Smith-Njigba route with that pick, talented kits like Dawand Jones should still be available in the second round, especially if the Patriots decide to trade up. Alternatively, if they draft a star tackle like Peter Skoronski or Anton Harrison, they get an automatic starter at tackle which they desperately need.
The rest of the draft can then focus on acquiring talented players at positions of want rather than need. They can get another young interior defensive lineman to improve their pass rush even more, an athletic, strong tight end to replace and upgrade on Jonnu Smith, or one of many other options. Late in the draft, punter is a tremendous need for them, with Bailey and Palardy having awful seasons and Bailey having been cut. Finally, someone like “hangtime” Michael Turk could provide underrated huge special teams boost for the team.
The Bottom Line
There is absolutely work to do, but so far, it does appear that the Patriots are recognizing their positions of need and acting on it this offseason. If they can continue on this path in trade/free agency season and follow it up with an excellent draft, the 2023 team could come much closer to the level fans are accustomed to seeing.
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