It is April. It is NFL Draft month.
Let’s waste no time and just get right into this week’s #PostPulpit mailbag to celebrate.
@joelshapiro20 Do you anticipate the Pats will restructure more current deals to get themselves in better current cap space or do you see them cutting players?
The New England Patriots offseason so far has been rather disappointing for most, but it’s one we maybe should have seen coming. After dishing out a record amount of guaranteed money last year, New England certainly didn't have the same funds to throw around this offseason. So, while it appeared the team may have got creative to build off their successful season with rookie quarterback Mac Jones, perhaps the real process was to trust the talent they paid — and drafted — last offseason to improve in year two.
Speaking earlier this week for the first time since free agency began, Bill Belichick’s comments seemed to hint at a similar thought.
“Spent a lot of money last year. Those guys are all young, they’re under contract,” Belichick said. He went on to add: “I think some of the players that we have on the roster, hopefully, will take a step up. But we’ll see. We’ll have other players, there will be new players here. See what happens with them.”
And it wasn't just Belichick sharing that philosophy, as owner Robert Kraft echoed his head coaches’ thought process when speaking to The Athletic earlier this week.
“I hope that some of the free agents who we brought in who didn’t perform as high as we would have liked last year will (produce) this year because they’ve adjusted to the system,” Kraft told Jeff Howe of The Athletic. “And we’re making changes to take advantage of what they do best. We have a lot of talent that hasn’t been tapped into yet in my opinion.”
With just roughly $5 million in current cap space, according to cap guru Miguel Benzan, the team will need to create money somehow. Restructuring lead recruiter Matt Judon’s contract would likely be at the top of the list in order to do so. Converting his salary into a signing bonus would equal $6.64 million in cap space. Jake Bailey would also be another name to watch, as he currently is on the books for over $4 million this year. An extension could create $2.4 million.
Whether you agree with their current strategy or not, the Patriots have kept their future flexibility open by being reluctant to restructure current contracts to create cap space. If the team does not see a massive improvement next year from last year’s additions, OverTheCap projects the team to have roughly $100 million in cap space in 2023 available to them too again reshape their roster. Plus, as Robert Kraft also mentioned earlier this week, building long-term success comes through the draft. Another strong draft come April will go a long way to determining the Patriots success next season and beyond.
@ReadNFLtweets Which former patriot has the best and least chance of returning
A reunion with Trey Flowers still just makes too much sense in my opinion. Adding a veteran with Flowers’ skillset to the Patriots’ current EDGE group would be an ideal addition. After being released from the Lions with a failed physical designation, there has not been much news on the 28-year-old. Veterans with injuries as such often have a slower-moving free agent market, but I would expect the Patriots to have interest when the time comes.
As for least chance, that's easy. Rob Gronkowski. I’ll throw Stephon Gilmore in the list as well despite the fit still being there. I think both sides would retain the thought of a reunion, but the Patriots just don't seem to have the funds for the cornerback even while his market is moving slower than expected.
@Ben9684 Why can’t we trade for Brandin cooks
Speaking of former Patriots, the Patriots could trade for Brandin Cooks. Cooks seems like the exact type of receiver the New England offense is looking for with his elite speed and quickness lining up outside.
Cooks has been a trendy trade candidate over the past few seasons on a poor Texans team, but they have not moved the 28-year-old receiver. However, after trading Deshaun Watson and with just one-year remaining on Cooks’ current contract, the time screams now for a potential deal. He likely would have many suitors, however.
@rmassey34 What under the radar WR is out there that the Pats might give a look-see?
@mattfiniz If we trade for a wide receiver who is it most likely to be
Looking at some other potential receivers that may catch the Patriots’ eye on the trade market, there are several to potentially get excited about (Cooks, DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, A.J. Brown?). But, it just doesn't feel like the time is now for the Patriots to pony up draft capital and outbid other wide receiver-needy teams for top end receiver talent.
So, as we explored in last week’s mailbag at cornerback, a trade for a low-cost rental in the last year of his rookie deal at the receiver position could be the way to go. A name that jumps out is Giants receiver Darius Slayton, who appears to be on his way out in an extremely crowded Giants’ wide receiver room. Slayton (6-foot-1, 190 pounds) would give the Patriots some size and speed (4.39-second 40-yard dash in 2019) at the position - something they've been searching for at that spot.
Slayton would be a low-cost move and likely could be had for a minimal pick swap, as his current roster spot in New York is already in jeopardy.
@Pats_express Is DK a realistic trade target?
@ChrisFi07399361 Dk Metcalf
Speaking of DK Metcalf, he is exactly what the Patriots wanted in N’Keal Harry and what they continue to search for (size and speed). He also is exactly what they usually look for in trades, as he is still just 24 years old and in the last year of his rookie deal. However, with the importance of the upcoming draft — as Robert Kraft hounded on this week — it seems unlikely the Patriots would surrender high quality draft capital for a year of Metcalf.
@Bdollaz7 If pats take a receiver in 1st round, who are the best fits for the team?
Chris Olave and Jameson Williams are the two receivers worth taking at No. 21, in my opinion.
@Royalist_Cr With Bill signing more and more pieces to the secondary, does it look like there is a higher likelihood of drafting a wr in the first if they don’t trade back?
@Brandon47384968 What yall think the #Patriots will do in RD1 of the Draft? WR, S, or OL
Despite the additions in the secondary, I still see the Patriots adding a defender with their first pick of the upcoming draft — assuming no surprise offensive players see a last second fall. New England still has a J.C. Jackson sized hole in their secondary and it would not be a surprise to see them attempt to fill that with their first selection, whether it be a cornerback like Kaiir Elam or do-it-all safety in Dax Hill or Jalen Pitre.
As for receivers, there is a plethora of talent on day two, perhaps impacting their decision to go defense early. Players like Skyy Moore, John Metchie, Christian Watson, and George Pickens are all intriguing fits at receiver that will likely go in round two.
@Moxieinme In the draft who is the perfect fit? Also do you think they trade out of the number 21 pick? And do you think they will have aton of undrafted players?
As for perfect fit, Jordan Davis is still a dream at No. 21 overall. Davis at nose tackle would make everyone’s life on defense easier, while creating a ferocious duo with Christian Barmore.
Regarding a trade back, the Patriots are in a tough spot with the 21st overall pick. There is certainly a drop-off of talent around the 17 pick mark, meaning the New England board could be shaken up come their first selection. With that, I’ll predict they move back to pair with my suspicion they go defense first. Guys like Elam or Hill are currently projected to go early in the second-round or in the last few picks of the first, opening the door to acquire an extra draft selection or two and the player. If the Patriots feel extremely strongly about one specific player however, they may just feel it’s best to not risk it and select him at No. 21.
We’ll see how the Patriots roster count looks after the draft (they had just six open spots entering undrafted free agency last year), but they definitely will definitely add UDFA’s. One position to watch is running back, where it may be finally time to start searching for James White’s potential replacement. Notre Dame’s Kryen Williams could be a Day 3/UDFA name to watch at the position.
@TeamCrazyMatt After Zion Johnson and now Daxton Hill, who will be the next “flavor of the week” for the Pats in the first round?
Boye Mafe. It may not be the “sexy” pick some are hoping for, but the Patriots have yet to bring in someone to replace Kyle Van Noy on the EDGE. Mafe fits the mold of a Patriots’ hybrid EDGE defender who can rush the passer, drop into coverage, and set the edge. Unless the Patriots truly think Ronnie Perkins is the answer at that spot after a redshirt season, Mafe would be a day one contributor.
@Scottish__Rain On scale of 1-10, how large of meltdown will the fan base have when they don’t draft a WR in the first four rounds?
@Tallguyme Team Smith or Team Rock?
Team Rock, obviously. Are there actually people that are Team Smith? The only thing I will give Will Smith credit for is his form on that slap. Incredible open-hand technique.
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 @iambrianhines and @PatsPulpit as well!