It was a slow week for the New England Patriots, who are now preparing for the NFL’s Scouting Combine this coming week in Indianapolis. The Patriots will be a busy bunch over the next two months with free agency set to kick off in two weeks while also attending pro days in preparation of April’s draft.
With all that in mind, let’s dig into our Sunday Notes.
1. Why Brian Hoyer is an important player to re-sign for New England. The Patriots lost offensive coaches Josh McDaniels, Bo Hardegree. Mick Lombardi and Carmen Bricillo to Las Vegas and Ivan Fears is reportedly set to retire prior to the 2022 season. Given all of New England’s personnel turnover, the role of backup quarterback Brian Hoyer just got a lot more important. With quarterback Mac Jones likely working with a substantially different offensive staff in 2022, Hoyer’s role inside the QB room and within the offense as a whole will play a big part in Jones’ second-year leap.
Hoyer has been with the team in three different stints for a total of seven years. Despite starting just one game in those seven seasons, the 36-year-old was a valuable member for the team in 2021: he was serving as a mentor for Jones, something he should continue to do in 2022 to help the development of the Patriots’ young franchise quarterback.
That makes him a must-sign in free agency this year. With so much turnover on the offensive side of the ball, Hoyer’s veteran presence in a new-look quarterback room would help take the load off Jones working with an entirely different staff in his sophomore season.
2. Multiple roads lie ahead for J.C. Jackson and the Patriots. Jackson told NBC Sports Boston this week that the Patriots have yet to reach out to him regarding a new contract.
“I guess they feel like they don’t need me,” the Pro Bowl cornerback said. “I guess I can’t be that important to them. They’re not showing me.”
Patriots fans may have hit the panic button because of Jackson’s statements, but one has to keep in mind that this is business as usual for the team’s front office. Despite having a player of his caliber up for a new contract, they typically work on the slower side of things when it comes to this.
There are multiple roads ahead for the franchise, after all.
Certainly, the franchise tag is in play for the Patriots to ensure they control Jackson’s rights and don’t risk losing him on the open market. If Jackson were to play under the franchise tag in 2022, it would pay him roughly $17.3 million and he had no doubt that he’d be on the field if that was the case: “I love the game. If they tag me, I’m going to go out there and play.”
My feeling is the Patriots will ultimately place the franchise tag on Jackson prior to the March 8 deadline to ensure they control his rights for 2022 and don’t allow themselves to get into a bidding war with other teams on the open market. Jackson would likely get $19-$20 million on the open market given his age and quality.
If the Patriots can’t reach a deal with Jackson prior to the 2022 season, however, a tag-and-trade could come of this as well. Such a move would ensure New England will receive assets for Jackson’s services.
The worst-case scenario is allowing Jackson to go for nothing besides a third-round compensatory pick they would likely receive in the 2023 NFL Draft.
3. Nick Caley the next Josh McDaniels? There is a lot of uncertainty at the moment about what the Patriots will do at offensive coordinator with Josh McDaniels and several offensive coaches departing. Tight ends coach Nick Caley could be the internal favorite to ascend as the Patriots’ OC in 2022 and beyond.
Coming from his tight end background, Caley is heavily involved in both the run and pass game as far as game planning. Being involved in both from a game-plan perspective should give him a full perspective on what it takes to be successful as a coordinator: he has the ability to be hands-on in both the pass and the run game.
At the moment, however, it surely does not sound great for the Patriots simply because of the unknown with Caley when it comes to play-calling. However, all the assistant coaches that have gone through the system and on to have successful careers started out as positional coaches and worked their way up the chain internally.
Even if Caley does not get the official title offensive coordinator this season, I would expect him to be heavily involved with the game planning. He could very well become the team’s play caller as well when it’s all said and done.
4. Cancer does not define Brandon Bolden. The veteran running back made a surprise announcement during the 2021 regular season, namely that he was diagnosed with cancer back in 2018. Bolden recently spoke with Wellness Coach to talk about his experience.
Cancer does not define me and you don't have to let those things you go through challenge your mental health. Be stronger than the circumstance and find help through others. Come listen to the replay of my talk with @wellnesscoach.live now playing in the app! pic.twitter.com/Y6kerHSqfk— Brandon Bolden (@BB_HulkSmash) February 25, 2022
“I’ve done a lot of things in my life but that was by far one of the hardest things,” Bolden said. He mentioned that he could have done things differently but is glad he did approach everything the way he did.
“It proved to me what kind of person I am, what type of person I want to be: a resilient person and a person that doesn’t give up,” he said. The smallest thing is not going to bother me. I put that in the back of my mind, and I’m excited for the person this is turning me into. I love the fact that I went through that. I love that fact that I can inspire others to get through whatever they’re going through.”
5. Intriguing free agent wide receiver options for the Patriots. The Patriots are headed towards free agency with a little over $4.9 million in cap space, according to Miguel Benzan, but they have plenty of time to move some money around to allow them to be active in free agency. One position that might see some movement is wide receiver.
After signing both Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor in free agency last year, the Patriots should still look at the position to get as many weapons as possible to help their young quarterback going forward. A few names to keep an eye on that would make sense both schematically and financially for the Patriots include JuJu Smith-Schuster, Jameson Crowder, Christian Kirk, Cedrick Wilson and Byron Pringle.
6. Lawrence Guy was impressed with Mac Jones. Despite how it ended, Mac Jones had a successful rookie season. That included gaining the respect of his teammates and the Patriots’ veteran leaders. Among them is Lawrence Guy, who recently spoke with NBC Boston about this aspect of Jones’ first year in the NFL.
“He came in with that leadership,” Guy said. “You saw it during the season, you saw it in the locker room. He’s a great person. It starts there. He’s a great person outside of football and he’s building a brotherhood, and that’s what you want to see from a young player — someone who’s building that brotherhood and can take all the burdens on his back.
“That’s what he’s doing. When we’re up high, we’re good. When we’re down low, he’s still there. That’s what you want to see in a young player. He’s got a lot of years ahead of him, too. We’re going to continue to see him play and get better. I feel like he’s challenging himself to get better every single day. We’re excited to see him play next year.”
Sunday Patriots Mailbag
Thoughts on Kaiir Elam at 21? Seems like Sauce will be long gone by then.— J C (@Jimmer3223) February 23, 2022
It’s a very deep cornerback class coming out of college this year, and we could potentially see five or six players drafted at the position in the first round. Assuming Derek Stingley Jr, Ahmad Gardner and Trent McDuffie are all gone by the time the Patriots pick at No. 21, Kaiir Elam, Andrew Booth Jr. or Kyler Gordon may be in play for the Patriots in the first round.
As for Elam, he certainly fits the mold of Patriots corners at 6-foot-2, 195 pounds that excels in man coverage and plays a physical style on the outside. Elam is also a former wide receiver, which pops up all over his film due to his ability to mirror opposing wideouts while also displaying fluid hips in and out of his breaks.
If New England does choose to go cornerback at No. 21 — it all likely depends on what happens with J,C, Jackson — my pick would be Andrew Booth Jr. out of Clemson. I would certainly entertain Elam at the spot, too.
Booth, Olave, Lloyd, and Jameson Williams are on the board at 21…who you taking??— LD (@LarryReport1) February 23, 2022
This is a great question and certainly something that could happen in April. As much as I’d like a wide receiver early on in the draft, there are some Day 2 guys that would instantly improve their current position room such as Wan’Dale Robinson, Skyy Moore and John Metchie, to name a few. As noted above, though, I’d have to go with Booth.
The Patriots have a tough situation on their hands with J.C. Jackson headed for free agency, and possibly have a disconnect in terms of money with their star cornerback. Resetting the clock and drafting a legit CB1 may therefore be the Patriots’ top priority come April.
Booth is near the top of the class in a loaded cornerback group. Adding him to its secondary would instantly make New England a better team, which would allow the Patriots to start molding him into their future CB1 with or without JC Jackson in the fold for 2022 and beyond.
Trade for Ridley or hope that Jameson/Olave are on board at 21— Dieguiss (@diegoalmeid1) February 23, 2022
As much as I would like proven wide receiver talent to come in for 2022 to make Mac Jones’ life easie, I’d go with either Chris Olave or Jameson Williams in the draft.
From a schematic point of view, Williams would be the pick for me due to his ability to win at all three levels and finally provide the Patriots with a deep threat and elite straight-line speed. He is my clear-cut WR1 but after his ACL injury in the national championship game, you may be looking at a redshirt year for him as a rookie.
As for Olave, he’s probably the most proven talent at wide receiver coming out of college. Multiple years of starting experience and knowing how to win at the position, he’d be able to come in and adapt to the pro game due to his maturity and awareness.
As great of a talent as Calvin Ridley is, getting younger and having five years of team control at a position desperate for a playmaker in the future outweighs giving up real assets for a player with just two years left on his deal.
Most ideal day 3 WR and CB prospects?— Mike Abbott (@FFDynastyMikeA) February 23, 2022
Let’s just list them, shall we?
Wide Receivers: Kyle Phillips (UCLA), Jalen Tolbert (South Alabama), Christian Watson (North Dakota State), Tre’ Turner (Virginia Tech).
Cornerbacks: Mario Goodrich (Clemson), Cam Taylor-Britt (Nebraska), Josh Jobe (Alabama), Martin Emerson (Miss. State)
Will you be surprised when the Pats don’t take a WR in the first 4 rounds?— The Modern Leper (@_ScottishRain) February 23, 2022
Even though the Patriots have only drafted two receivers in the last four drafts, I would be surprised if they didn’t pick one in the first four rounds this year. I think they realize they need top talent at that position to be able to compete in today's game and to maximize the strengths of second-year QB Mac Jones.
New England certainly upgraded its wideout room last year with the addition of Kendrick Bourne and, to a lesser degree, Nelson Agholor. That said, getting additional talented, pro-ready wide receivers into the building to be able to utilize going forward is imperative this draft.