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Sunday Patriots Notes: Improving the wide receiver position is New England’s top priority this offseason

Related: Patriots reportedly meet with a pair of wide receiver prospects at the Senior Bowl

Atlanta Falcons v New York Giants Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

It has been an eventful week across the NFL. Tom Brady officially announced his retirement (with a whole lot of drama involved with it), the Senior Bowl took place, Josh McDaniels and Dave Ziegler were officially hired by the Las Vegas Raiders as head coach and general manager, respectively, and the Brian Flores lawsuit all dominated headlines at one point.

There is more to come still. In what feels like months ago since the New England Patriots’ wild card weekend loss in Buffalo, the offseason is just about to heat up — pro days, the scouting combine and free agency are all on the horizon. The Patriots rank towards the bottom of the league in cap space entering the offseason, so some tough roster decisions loom at One Patriot Place in the coming weeks as well.

Anyway, let’s get into our Sunday Patriots Notes:

1. Improving the wide receiver position is New England’s top priority this offseason. Despite investing in the position last offseason by signing both Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor in free agency, there’s no secret the Patriots still need to upgrade their wide receiver room. One player to keep an eye on is Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley.

With the Falcons reportedly expected to field offers on Calvin Ridley this offseason, expect the Patriots (and plenty of other teams) to have serious interest in acquiring the 25-year-old wideout. Ridley was reportedly on the team’s radar back in 2018 but ended up going a pick before the Patriots selected offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn.

In order to fully maximize quarterback Mac Jones on his rookie deal, the Patriots still need an improvement at the position, and Ridley would make this group a lot better than it was in 2021. Bourne and Jakobi Meyers would be perfect complimentary pieces for the Patriots offense while Ridley would provide that true No. 1 threat that can line up all over the place. It’s likely a first-round pick (and maybe more) to get this deal done, but given their history, the Patriots may feel better about acquiring a proven talent rather than drafting and developing one of these players in the draft.

No matter what New England decides to do, however, the goal is clear: getting better at wide receiver has to be a top priority this spring.

2. Patriots still search for their offensive coordinator. With Josh McDaniels officially announced as the head in Las Vegas earlier this week, the Patriots are going to need a new offensive coordinator for 2022. Despite Nick Saban’s recent statements on the matter, Bill O’Brien remains a favorite to come back to New England given his history as well as his desire to get another NFL job.

Even after Saban’s comments this week, Ian Rapaport of NFL Network told WEEI that he thinks there is mutual interest between the two sides but that “these things typically move slow.”

Other names to keep an eye on are former head coach Adam Gase and current tight ends coach Nick Caley. Gase has been out of the league since he was fired by the New York Jets following the 2020 season but has had a strong history as an offensive coordinator prior to that. Caley spoke earlier this year on his role being expanded in 2021, and he could certainly be a candidate to call plays without the title as offensive coordinator.

3. Bill Belichick’s previous comments about Adam Gase come to mind. Adam Gase being among the potential candidates to land in New England would not be a surprise given head coach Bill Belichick’s previous comments about him. Despite his lack of success as head coach with the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets, Belichick spoke highly about Gase — another former Nick Saban assistant — just last season.

“I have a lot of respect for Adam. I think he’s a very good coach,” Belichick said ahead of a regular season game versus the Jets last December. “He’s always been tough to coach against. He’s always made things difficult on our defense.

“It goes back to Josh in Denver. So, known each other for a while through a mutual connection there. But I think he’s done an excellent job. I thought he did a good job with Miami and I think he’s done a good job with the Jets. He’s, as I said, a coach I have a lot of respect for and he gives us a lot of problems. He’s a tough, tough coach to coach against, so that’s really the way I feel about him.”

Through five seasons with the Dolphins and Jets, Gase went only 32-49 as a head coach. He did have more success as an offensive coordinator in Chicago and especially Denver.

4. Mac at the Pro Bowl. With the AFC’s top quarterbacks opting out of the Pro Bowl — or, in Joe Burrow’s case, heading to the Super Bowl — the Patriots’ Mac Jones was officially named to the AFC’s roster last Sunday. Jones became just the fifth rookie in New England history and the first since Devin McCourty in 2010 to be name to the Pro Bowl.

Whether or not he was “meant” to be there, it is a valuable experience for Jones to go through as a rookie. He gets to be around some of the game’s biggest stars early on in his career and learn from some of the game’s greats. Don’t sleep on a little recruiting from Jones either.

5. Senior Bowl a good opportunity to scout some future Patriots. Every year, typically a week before the Super Bowl, the Patriots and their scouts are heavily invested in the Senior Bowl down in Mobile, Alabama. Jim Nagy, a former Patriots scout, does a fantastic job at putting some of the top talent in the class on the field for a full week prior to the game on Saturday.

Since 2008, the Patriots have drafted a total of 49 players that have attended the Senior Bowl and 14 in their last four drafts — including Mac Jones and Rhamondre Stevenson from last year’s event.

6. Bill Belichick’s hoodie record. Before joining the Patriots’ in-house media, our friend Mike Dussault established the Belichick hoodie database over at Pats Propaganda. In fact, the database is still being updated — here is the full version — so you can go through which attire brought New England the most success through the years.

As for 2021, Mike recently shared his results on Twitter:

7. Our very own Keagan Stiefel sits down with the producers of 30 for 30: The Tuck Rule. ESPN will air 30 for 30: The Tuck Rule on Sunday night, taking a deep dive into the game with its two pivotal characters: former Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and ex-Raiders safety Charles Woodson. Last week, Pats Pulpit’s own Keagan Stiefel sat down and interviewed the directors of the show, Ken Rodgers and Nick Mascolo.

You can listen to the full interview here.

Sunday Patriots Mailbag

This is a good question because it’s something that has popped up a lot over the last few years.

The only receiver they have drafted since N’Keal Harry was Tre Nixon in the seventh round in 2021. Certainly, the Patriots’ inability to consistently develop wide receivers goes back years and could be the reason they have shied away from the position early on in the last few drafts. However, the Patriots have some veteran talent at that position now with Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne and Jakobi Meyers as their top three.

Getting a younger, more explosive and faster wide receiver would be my play this offseason, though. Certainly, there’s some intriguing options out there — we already spoke about Calvin Ridley, with Allen Robinson or Chris Godwin intriguing free agency options — but the Patriots invested a lot of money in the position last year already and are tight against the cap.

It will be interesting to see how serious they go about acquiring a veteran this offseason; the circumstances do not favor such a move. Instead, I think it is time to get a young stud into the building early on to develop into a WR1.

It’s still too early to tell with free agency coming up before the draft, so we may not know until late March. However, at the moment, I’d say wide receiver or cornerback are the most likely.

The Patriots have had a history of hitting on offensive and defensive linemen and linebackers on Days 2 and 3 and typically found pro-ready guys that have had an impact early on in their careers at those positions. However, the spots they desperately need playmaking and guys that can play right away are, as mentioned, receiver and cornerback.

You saw it down the stretch last season: the lack of speed and depth at both those spots was a big reason the team fell apart in December and January. Getting Mac Jones a true WR1 and/or pairing an elite cornerback alongside J.C. Jackson — if he is retained in free agency — should be priority number one this offseason.

Both Davis and Jones certainly fit the Patriots’ scheme and the size requirements they typically have for their defensive tackles. Pairing either of them with Christian Barmore for the future would bring a lot of consistency and a strong mix of burst and power to their front.

Davis and Jones are elite run-stoppers and have good burst and acceleration for guys their size. Taking one of them would not be the “sexiest” pick in the first round, but both would be ready to play Day 1 and make life difficult for opposing offensive lines for a long time.

I agree with this entirely. Both Nakobe Dean and Devin Lloyd are great prospects, but it is hard to envision them in New England: Dean’s size does not necessarily fit what New England is looking for at the linebacker position, while Lloyd could very well come off the board in the top 10.

Brandon Smith, meanwhile, is a realistic Day 2 target that is my favorite linebacker prospect in the class — a 6-foot-3, 240-pound linebacker that is rangy, athletic and hasn’t scratched the surface of how good he can truly be. As I said above, the Patriots have a history of finding linebackers in the later rounds of the draft that eventually have a big impact. A potential third- or fourth-round pick, Smith would fit that mold.