We are officially less than one month away from the start of the new NFL league year. Teams can officially sign free agents and complete trades, although they will be able to begin contacting free agents two days before that (March 15).
The closest notable date on the schedule is February 23rd, which marks the start of teams applying franchise or transition tags to their players. Teams have until March 9th to use either tag, as the New England Patriots will use that period to decide if they want to use the franchise tag for the second straight year on Joe Thuney.
Besides Thuney, New England will have a lot of other decisions to make within the next month — starting with the quarterback position. The Patriots need an influx of youth and talent all over the depth chart and with over $60 million in cap space, now is the perfect time to carry out that plan.
So, who will be under center next season, and what will New England do with their own list of potential free agents? Lets take a look:
@ISB_Jay I’m starting to like Cam back on the Pats, what do you think?
The possibility of Cam Newton back on the Patriots has gained steam in recent days. Appearing on WEEI’s Dale & Keefe on Tuesday, NFL Network’s Mike Giardi labeled the chances of Newton’s return at 35-40 percent. Now, many Patriot fans might be disgusted looking at that percentage, but a Newton reunion would not be the worst thing for the Patriots.
While Newton’s statistics didn't jump off the page last year, he didn't have much to work with. He was given an offense full of No. 2 and 3 wide receivers, the worst tight end grouping in the NFL, and an injury-plagued offense line. Despite that, Newton was given just two months to learn the offense after being signed in July, and had to work through Covid-19 protocols — and even tested positive for the virus himself — throughout the entire season.
The result wasn't always pretty, but Newton was fine for the Patriots. The offense was hindered throughout the season due to talent and play-calling. He was not good enough to carry them through their deficiencies, but he was not bad enough to be labeled the main issue either.
Trading for — and then paying — a player like Jimmy Garoppolo or Marcus Mariota, instead of Newton, will not make the Patriots a much better football team. If Newton is back under center next season and the supporting cast is improved as expected, he still has the ability to guide the Patriots back to the playoffs.
Also, shoutout to Pats Pulpit’s own Taylor Kyles for taking this fight onto WEEI:
Give @tkyles39 of @patspulpit credit, he had an unpopular take about a Cam Newton return to the #Patriots and called into the show to try and defend it.— Dale & Keefe (@DaleKeefeWEEI) February 17, 2021
Listen or Watch LIVE:
https://t.co/cNuxA9w2Je@DaleEArnold @Keefe21 @FitzyGFY https://t.co/HmqzAQpzPk pic.twitter.com/T8yeoDEGdt
@TeamCrazyMatt Which position is least likely for the Patriots to add in free agency? #PostPulpit
The Patriots have needs all over their roster (except punter: long live Jake Bailey!), so it’s tough to rule any position completely out of the equation. The two positions that jumped out to me were running back and cornerback, but the Patriots have question marks there with Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, and James White’s future with the team uncertain.
With that being said, cornerback still seems the least likely. At least one of Gilmore or Jackson should be back to pair with Jonathan Jones, Joejuan Williams, Myles Bryant and potentially Jason McCourty (free agent). As for finding their next receiving back, free agency could be the best place to resolve that issue (Jerrick McKinnon, Jamaal Williams, T.J. Yeldon being some potential targets). If New England is going to add to the cornerback position group, pick No. 15 is a prime position to add a talent like Caleb Farley, Patrick Surtain or Jaycee Horn through the draft.
@PatsFanBen Who are some mid to late round draft players who fit Patriots need and scheme?
As we just said the Patriots have needs all over their roster. It would be no surprise to see them go best player available at any or all selections in this year’s draft. But if we look at some projected mid-to-late round picks who could be potential Patriot choices, here are few to watch:
- Nico Collins - WR, Michigan: Measuring at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, Collins could be the prototypical X-receiver that New England once hoped N’Keal Harry could be. He’s a vertical threat with strong ball skills that should thrive when removed from Michigan’s offense. He should be a second- or third-round selection come April.
- Tyler Shelvin - IDL, LSU: The Patriots’ run defense certainly needs a reboot, especially on the defensive line. Shelvin brings virtually nothing in the passing game, but is a monster body up the middle that would immediately improve New England’s run defense. Shelvin also should be a day two selection.
The #Patriots struggled all year in the run game, largely due to failing to replace Danny Shelton. LSU’s Tyler Shelvin could be a solution.— Brian Hines (@iambrianhines) January 15, 2021
He’s a massive (6’3, 262), run defending defensive lineman that is extremely difficult to move. pic.twitter.com/akUGf63xhh
- Athletic Linebacker (Cameron McGrone, Chazz Surratt, Jabril Cox, Dylan Moses, Baron Browning): New England needs more speed and athleticism in its linebacking corps and any of those names provided would bring that element. Those five linebackers are currently expected to fall anywhere in the second or third round.
- Marquez Stevenson - WR, Houston: Stevenson is not a very developed route runner but has elite speed and field vision — something the Patriots also need on offense. He’s a threat every time he touches the ball and also would solve their kick returner needs. Stevenson should be able to be had late on Day Three.
@TuckerRossCon Any chance of Adam Gase on the patriots staff. Is there any good replacements for Joe thuney if he leaves in free agency in the draft or as a signing. Or will they do it in house? Do you think Nick Folk will be back?
The Patriots added a member on Adam Gase’s coaching tree to their own staff the other day with the hire of Bo Hardegree. Hardegree has been an offensive assistant for Gase with both the Chicago Bears and New York Jets, while also being the Miami Dolphins quarterback coach when Gase was head coach. Hardegree could help fill the void of Jedd Fisch, who left to be the head coach of the University of Arizona, but it would not be a surprise to see Gase join New England’s staff next.
Regarding Thuney, his replacement is already on the roster in Michael Onwenu. Onwenu impressed greatly his rookie year at right tackle, but a move to the inside would best suit his skillset. The Patriots should be players in the draft for a mid-round interior lineman, while an offensive tackle in the first or second round should come as no surprise.
As for Folk, his success last year should make him a candidate to return. Although, it is noteworthy that the Patriots now have two other, younger kickers signed (Justin Rohrwasser, Roberto Aguayo) to their roster. If Folk’s price tag gets too high, New England could turn to their younger options. It should be worth noting Folk’s success after the addition of Joe Houston — the “kicking whisperer” — to the Patriots’ coaching staff last season, who perhaps could help develop Rohrwasser or turn Aguayo into a legitimate NFL kicker.
@armchairgminNH How many players do you think the Patriots are likely to make available in trades? My count is 8. Gilmore, Thuney, Cannon, Chung, Vitale, Harry, Stidham, Allen and Hightower.
The Patriots probably will listen on any player in trade talks, but the two that hold the most value are Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson. Both corners are looking for new contracts and either should net New England a second-round selection, or they could be used to sweeten the pot in a potential deal to move up in the draft.
Trade interests for several of the names asked about would surprise me — disregarding Gilmore, of course. None of Cannon, Chung, Vitale, Allen, or Hightower played last season and carry notable cap hits, as New England most likely are not ready to move on from Stidham or Harry just yet. Thuney is also a free agent and cannot currently be traded.
@chasingballgame Who is the #1 RB for the Pats next year?
Damien Harris will be listed as the No. 1 running back on the depth chart next season, but Sony Michel will remain featured — especially if he continues to run like he did the last few weeks of the 2020 season. If the Patriots are able to resign or find a suitable replacement for James White, they will again have one of the more complete backfields in the NFL.
@RushTrinity3 Is Mac Jones a product of having 2 NFL WR1’s, an NFL RB1 and multiple NFL O-Lineman or does he have legitimate franchise QB talent?
Jones was definitely the beneficiary of being Alabama’s quarterback last season. The debate of performance versus physical ability will be one of the biggest questions NFL GMs will have to answer over the next two months. Jones has a very average arm but has impressed with his efficiency and accuracy. He does not have enough tools to be labeled a legitimate franchise quarterback, but perhaps could develop into a quality starter in the right system.
@RushTrinity3 What will be your response if the Pats bring back Newton?
As we stated on top, I would be fine with the return of Newton. However, I would prefer the return of Newton to not be the only move the Patriots make at the quarterback position. The addition of a rookie, like Trey Lance, to pair with the 31-year-old Newton would be a great duo in my eyes.
@jacquesgarcia26 Is the dynasty over?
The Patriots have two selections in the top 50 of this year’s draft and the fourth-most salary cap space in the NFL. This offseason will decide if the dynasty is officially over or not.
That’s all for this week’s #PostPulpit mailbag.If you have questions you’d liked to be answered in the next mailbag, submit them on Twitter using #PostPulpit! Make sure to be following @iambrianhines and @PatsPulpit as well!