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#PostPulpit Mailbag: Should the Patriots be sellers at the trade deadline?

Related: Buyer beware: Six moves the Patriots should make at the trade deadline

San Francisco 49ers v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The New England Patriots 33-6 defeat on Sunday marked the worst home loss during Bill Belichick’s 21-year tenure as head coach. Before Sunday, New England lost by 20 or more points at home just three times under Belichick — two coming in 2008 when Tom Brady was out for the year with a torn ACL.

In quite the unfamiliar spot, the Patriots now sit at 2-4 on the season. In NFL history, no 2-4 teams has ever reached, let alone win, a Super Bowl. It will be an uphill battle for New England to even reach they playoffs, a battle that starts with a tremendously important divisional matchup this week against the Buffalo Bills.

New England has to get back on track this week to avoid falling to 2-5, more than likely ending any chance they had of making the playoffs. As the trade deadline looms on the calendar, could a loss turn the Patriots into ‘sellers’? We’ll answer all that and more in this week’s #PostPulpit mailbag, so let’s dive into it:

@bennihana24 What does our offense need to do to not be a pathetic mess?

The Patriots offense has averaged just 16 measly points over the last four games. In order to fix it, they need to throw the ball more. That might sound like a weird fix as they obviously need talent at the skill positions, but it needs to be done. New England ranks last in the league in pass rate (46 percent) on first and second downs this season, according to Sharp Football Stats. The Patriots refusal to throw the ball on early downs is leaving them with plenty of 3rd-and-long situations, which makes things much more difficult for a team converting just over 38 percent of their third downs. The NFL is a pass-first league in 2020 and the 161.5 passing yards per game over the last four weeks is not going to cut it.

And most importantly, they need to take care of the football. You cannot beat the opposition in this league if you are constantly beating yourself.

@Johartz Is Cam injured? If not, why dont they even try to throw the ball?

Cam Newton does not appear to be injured in my eyes. His arm strength still looks strong while they showed no hesitation calling his number in the run game Sunday. To me, Cam is lacking the confidence he showcased in the first few games. It’s been well documented lately that he has avoided throwing to the right side of the field the last two games, something that he commonly did in Carolina when dealing with a foot injury. Since his return from Covid-19, his mechanics have also slipped, as he’s often throwing the ball with his feet parallel to the line of scrimmage. Hopefully more time in practice can allow Newton to make some simple corrections and be more confident in his throwing ability against Buffalo.

@PatsNewEra Blow it up or let it be?

I have a hard time seeing Belichick “blow it up”, especially with a win against Buffalo on Sunday. However, a loss could be the final straw on trading a player like Stephon Gilmore to recoup some draft capital. Either way, I see New England leaning more towards the “let it be” side of things. They are a better team than what we have seen the last two weeks and better quarterback play can certainly help turn these losses into wins. Perhaps they decide to make a small move to infuse some life into the offense, while Josh Uche and Beau Allen’s return from the injured reserve should be beneficial to the defense.

@lucho__u The patriots not developing WR and TE’s is a result of bad drafting, poor coaching, the offensive scheme or something else?

Starting with tight end, I would argue the Patriots are able to develop that position, they just haven't had much talent since Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Before Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene were drafted in third round of this year’s draft, New England drafted just three other tight ends since they took Gronk in 2010: Lee Smith (5th round, 2011), A.J. Derby (6th round, 2015), and Ryan Izzo (7th round, 2018). They have not used high draft capital on the position before this year because they didn't have too. So as for Asiasi and Keene this season, blame it on the chaotic Covid-19 offseason and offensive scheme. Rookies immediately were several steps behind every else entering the year, which makes learning the most difficult position in the offense that much more challenging.

As for wide receivers, that is a whole different story. From Brandon Tate to Aaron Dobson to most recently N’Keal Harry, the Patriots have tried, and failed, to develop talent at the position. Part of this reason is how New England has evaluated receivers in the past. The Patriots have drafted 17 wide receivers in Bill Belichick’s tenure and the argument could be made that just a handful have made an impact at the position (Deion Branch, David Givens, Julian Edelman, Malcolm Mitchell (?)). There is certainly an issue of how they evaluate the position coming out of college. There draft history shows they pick players with faster 3-cone and 20-yard shuttles times than the league average, perhaps part of the problem.

When looking at Harry’s slow development, it has to do with a number of factors in my mind. While Tom Brady was heavily scrutinized for not involving young players at the position, they haven't made a consistent effort to get Harry the ball this season. The 22-year-old has averaged just over five targets a game this year while piling up a whopping four total the last two weeks. The coaching staff can do a better job of scheming things up to put Harry in positions to succeed and Newton should look to get him the ball more. It doesn't matter if he doesn't separate, that’s not what he does. Throw the ball up the him and let him go and get it.

@eghirarduzzi #PostPulpit Everything, 3 phases, about this team is out of sync. Root of the problems? Almost looks like coaching issue. We’ve had bouts where one part of the was off, but never the whole team. They look listless, disinterested & disengaged. Whats the fix, is there one ?

I don't think there is necessarily one fix, but a combination of a lot of things. We talked about taking care of the football and throwing the ball more which should help the offense. Other than that, New England just needs to overall execute better.

“You can talk about effort and all those things, but at the end of the day, this game is about execution. We’re just not doing that right now,” David Andrews said following Sunday’s loss.

@TuckerRossCon At some point, do think Isaiah Zuber may get some more playing time? From limited snaps he’s looked fast and we have a need for more at the position of WR. #PostPulpit.

Just when you thought you could figure out the Patriots wide receiver depth chart, they throw you a curveball. Zuber looked good in his limited action and gave them speed at the position. He appeared to have leapfrogged Jakobi Meyers on the depth chart as he saw more snaps than Meyers the last two weeks. Then comes Week 7. New England left Zuber on the practice squad as Meyers had his best game of the season. Perhaps Zuber was more of a matchup-based option off the practice squad, but he did look like an intriguing option. New England will look for any boost they can get at the position, except for Gunner Olszewski apparently.

@TomEffinBradyx6 Do you think we will be buyers or sellers or maybe even both at the deadline ?

Personally, this depends on the Buffalo game. If New England wins, they are 3-4 and have closed the division gap. It wouldn't surprise me to see them then add a player on offense, but as we asked earlier this week, how much of an impact can one player have on this team? And, would it be worth dealing significant draft capital to get them? Perhaps they find a cheap upgrade available to them at the deadline, like Cincinnati’s John Ross for a sixth-round draft pick.

Now, a loss to Buffalo puts New England at 2-5 and almost makes the division seem out of reach. It would not surprise me to see them then move cornerback Stephon Gilmore in a deal. Gilmore will more than likely want a new contract next offseason and a deal could net New England a first- or, more likely a, second-round draft pick in return. The Patriots could then move some of his cap savings into an extension for cornerback J.C. Jackson.

@lucky_betz I don’t want to see the Pats be sellers, we have all seen them go on huge win streaks before - do you think BB will add at WR/TE by deadline, or trade away Thuney/Gilmore?

We just talked about Gilmore, so let’s talk about potentially selling Thuney as well at the deadline. My bet is still on Thuney leaving in free agency next offseason and resetting the guard market on his way. This should end with New England receiving a third-round compensatory pick for the 2022 NFL Draft. If any team calls and offers a second-round pick in this year’s draft, I would make the move. If not, keep Thuney for the rest of the year and recoup your third-rounder if he leaves this offseason.

As for a WR/TE, the question still stands on how much can one acquisition actually help. Is dealing a third-round pick worth ten or eleven games of Will Fuller V? Perhaps the Patriots go the non-rental route and make a splash for a player like Adam Thielen, who is under contract through 2024. We’ll just have to wait and see.

@morganspriggs1 As much as it’s hard to stomach this loss, can the Pats get back on track next week vs Buffalo and how do you think they can do this?

Yes, they can. New England has shown us this year what they are capable of. To get back on track, it starts with the quarterback. Patriot quarterbacks lead the league with 11 interceptions this season, while seven of those belong to Newton himself. Besides taking care of the football, Newton has to fix his mechanical issues and make better decisions. He could certainly use more talent around him, but he also has receivers open and he needs to start hitting them.

@DianeMa99296699 Why not give Stid a week of practice, and start him next week?

Despite his struggles, Cam Newton is still the obvious choice to be under center for the Patriots going forward. His ceiling is much higher than Jarrett Stidham’s and is the most talented quarterback on the roster. If New England plans on turning their season around, it will be with Newton under center. For Stidham to become the full-time guy, it will take a few more games like last week for Newton which will end his, and the team’s, season.

As Belichick said earlier this week, Newton is their “best player [at quarterback]”.

@mxs3131 Is McDaniels flying below the radar as someone who deserves way more blame? Or is the offense as a whole just utterly bereft of talent?

The Patriots certainly are not an overly talented team, something Tom Brady was able to cover up last season. But, I do think it’s fair to shift some of the blame over to Josh McDaniels and the coaching staff. They obviously cannot fix the talent level, but he can always put player’s in better situations to succeed going forward. As we answered in our first question, they also need to stop running the ball over half the time on first and second down. The Patriots have too many drives that follow the run-run-pass script, a recipe for disaster.

Rapid fire time:

@PatriotGator Is Cam Newton in New England next season

After his strong start to the year, he was a favorite for the franchise tag in my book. After back-to-back clunkers, who knows? We’ll have to see how he rebounds and finished the year. My gut feeling is he’ll be back, but will have serious competition.

@JWarren86 Trade for Ryan Fitzpatrick? At least it would be an entertaining rest of the year. No one on the roster looks like a long-term solution anyways...

The Patriots could use some Fitzmagic currently, but it doesn't make sense. You mentioned long-term solutions and they need to see if that can be Newton, or even Stidham. Adding Fitzpatrick would be fun, but it would do nothing to help the Patriots’ future.

@SAshworthHayes Tom Brady may not have been a system QB.

He never was, Sam. He never was.

@masonFLD Who starts vs Bills

It will be Newton, as it should. You will not see Stidham unless Newton is injured/Covid or it becomes clear Newton is not the guy for the future.

@BigLarryBabyArm Um I had a 7 team $100 parlay and the only loss was patriots so this hurts a a lot!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This is the toughest loss from Sunday. I am truly sorry, Larry.

@Thunderelic Who do you think they’ll draft with their top 5 pick?

A defensive back?

Realistically, they won't finish top-five. BUT, if they did I will take one Ja’Marr Chase please and thank you.

@genenowak I see this as a team in total chaos. Granted they have had to overcome Covid and lack of practice but I see no bright spots. Wouldn’t surprise me if they don’t win another game this season.

Gene, please look at their schedule. They still play the Jets twice.

@papatimber99 Will sundays ever been fun again ?

As Harvey Dent says in The Dark Knight: “The night is darkest just before the dawn. And I promise you, the dawn is coming.” Now, the Patriots just need their Batman Superman.

That’s all for this week’s #PostPulpit mailbag. If you have questions you’d liked to be answered next week, submit them on Twitter using #PostPulpit! Make sure to be following @iambrianhinesand @PatsPulpit as well!