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Sunday Patriots Notes: New England needs to get more out of its big contracts on offense

Notes and thoughts on the Patriots and the NFL.

NFL: DEC 01 Bills at Patriots Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The NFL season is officially over for all 32 teams, but there is still plenty going on around the league. The Scouting Combine is currently under way in Indianapolis; the start of free agency is only 10 days away; the draft will take place in late April.

We will keep an eye on all of the action through a New England Patriots lens throughout the offseason, and as always share our perspectives on it — either as standalone articles, or as part of our Sunday Patriots Notes. Welcome to the latter.

The Patriots need to get more out of their big contracts on offense. The Combine is more than just draft prospects going through various drills and measurements; it also is regarded as the unofficial start of free agency. It is not hard to see why, given that team executives and agents are all in Indianapolis at the same time. Communication will be had in an environment like this.

New England is headed toward free agency among the league leaders in salary cap space, and as such expected to be quite active. Will it reach 2021 levels? That remains to be seen, but regardless of how the money will be spent the team needs to show some improvements in one area: getting the best bang for its buck.

That is especially true on the offensive side of the ball, as a recent analysis by Sumer Sports shows:

Sumer Sports

The Patriots had the eighth-most offensive salary cap allocated on the offensive side of the ball, despite playing with a quarterback on a rookie contract. The results were certainly underwhelming.

Not all of the blame for New England’s offensive struggles in 2022 fell directly on the players — coaching was an issue — but several high-priced additions did not meet expectations either. Whether it was Jonnu Smith being a virtual non-factor again in several games, Hunter Henry struggling as a blocker, or Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne merely playing depth roles, the production did not meet the price tag on multiple occasions.

While Agholor appears headed out the door in free agency, the other three remain under contract with the Patriots for 2023. There is no sugar-coating it: the team needs them to perform better.

New England’s pass rushers exceeded statistical expectations in 2022. One position group that did look good last season was the pass rush led by productive duo Matthew Judon and Josh Uche. The pair was responsible for half of the Patriots’ sacks production in 2022 — 27 of 54 — and still managed to outperform its expectation.

According to an analysis by ESPN’s Seth Walder, Judon and Uche had 7.5 and 6.5 more sacks than expected, respectively. Those numbers rank them sixth and eight in a league-wide comparison among the NFL’s most productive pass rushers from a year ago.

Sack expectation is a breakdown of takedown opportunities based on several factors such as down and distance, alignment, double teams, and teammates. With those as the basis, Judon and Uche were expected to only achieve 8.0 and 5.0 sacks in 2022.

Top wide receiver prospect shares light on his Patriots meeting. New England appears to be in the market for some wide receiver help this draft. It was therefore no surprise that the team took a close look at one of the top options available, Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba.

Afterwards, he spoke about the meeting he had with the team, and his fondness for the organization.

“It went good, it went good,” he said, as transcribed by

“Coach [Bill] Belichick, he’s — you know what type of franchise program they have over there. So, it definitely would be awesome being in that system. Mac Jones, also a great arm talent. Great quarterback. Definitely would like playing there.”

Smith-Njigba is projected as a first-round draft pick, and his Combine performance only helped boost his stock.

Bryce Young talks about Bill O’Brien at the Scouting Combine. Alabama quarterback Bryce Young is the leading candidate to get selected No. 1 overall in this year’s draft, and he has a connection of sorts to New England: his offensive coordinator in his two years as a starter for the Crimson Tide left to join the Patriots this offseason.

Needless to say, Young had plenty of positive things to say about O’Brien at the Scouting Combine.

“I loved OB,” he said. “They’re getting a great play-caller, great football mind. He helped me a lot to develop and grow and really come into my own. He helped me in a lot more ways than people know. So, I love OB, definitely. I know he’s going to do great things up there.”

O’Brien arrived in Alabama in 2021 to work with Young. Now, he is joining a Patriots team led by Young’s predecessor with the Crimson Tide, Mac Jones.

David Andrews reacts to recent NFLPA player survey. One of the stories that got the most attention over the last week was the release of an NFLPA survey that asked players to rank their team’s facilities and working conditions. The Patriots finished as a disappointing 24th, but center David Andrews would not take that ranking at face value.

“Any survey can be skewed,” he told the Boston Herald. “There’s guys that may have only been in New England, guys that have maybe been with one other team, or 10 other teams who took the survey. There’s guys that have families, guys that don’t have families, whatever it may be. For me, I think … I’ve loved my time here. And I think everything in that building is designed to help us succeed, and to help us win.”

For Andrews, who joined the Patriots as a rookie free agent in 2015, the Patriots have the infrastructure in place to allow players to reach their potential — at least based on his own experience.

“I’m grateful to be in that building,” he said. “It’s got everything I need to be successful. The training staff, the equipment staff, every staff has always been great to me, and helped me out. I think there’s everything I need to succeed in there.”

‘Schematic simplicity’ was a major issue for the 2022 Patriots offense. A lot has been said and written about New England’s disappointing 2022 offense, and last week another statement was added to the mix. According to a series of tweets by NFL Network’s Mike Giardi, one opposing defensive coordinator talking to him did not necessarily fear the attack led by Mac Jones and assistant coaches Matt Patricia and Joe Judge.

The text of the tweets — slightly edited for easier readability — read as follows:

Talked to one DC who competed against the Pats this year. He told me there “wasn’t a matchup we feared.” Asked him what that allowed his defense to do. “Everything. There was nothing we had to take off the table. There was a simplicity to the scheme. And while there are plenty of good players there [he really likes Jakobi Meyers] we felt like we could solve any problems they presented quickly.”

The Patriots’ offensive issues were a key factor in the team going 8-9 and failing to reach the playoffs. The results directly led to the aforementioned Bill O’Brien being hired to replace Patricia and Judge in leading the unit.