Julian Edelman Needed Since Patriots Won’t Simplify Offense (Mailbag)

Julian Edelman, Shaun Phillips, Mike AdamsThe Wells Report showed it’s smart to wait to reach a conclusion on any subject until all the facts come out.

A lot of opinions have wavered since the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin bullying scandal started back in October. When the text conversations between Incognito and Martin were released, some on Team Incognito were quick to pat themselves on the back for believing the Miami Dolphins guard since the beginning.

Now that the Wells Report is out, however, those people are looking foolish. If the facts in the Wells Report are presented accurately, what Martin and other Dolphins teammates and staffers went through was awful. But there is some hope that this whole situation can change the “locker room mentality” for the better. Taunting and harassing teammates, regardless of their skin tone, sexual preference or sensitivities, doesn’t help team camaraderie. It doesn’t cause teams to win football games, and just because the locker room has been one way for years doesn’t mean it can’t or shouldn’t change.

The NFL has to get with the times. The Dolphins bullying scandal and some of the anonymous reports regarding Michael Sam have brought the league’s issues to the forefront.

With that out of the way, let’s talk Patriots in this week’s mailbag.

Do the Patriots really need Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman with Josh Boyce and maybe Austin Collie and T.J. Moe next in line for the slot?
–@comacamel

If Tom Brady’s chemistry with Julian Edelman wasn’t so important, this question would be easy — no. But the Patriots’ offense isn’t exactly “plug and play.”

If Danny Amendola was guaranteed to have better chemistry with Brady next season, and if his health was guaranteed, the Patriots wouldn’t need to bring back Edelman. But the Patriots need at least one sure thing for Brady to target. Tight end Rob Gronkowski has his injury concerns, wide receivers Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce and Kenbrell Thompkins must get on the same page with Brady, and Amendola still seemed a bit lost at times when the Patriots hit the playoffs.

Without Edelman, the Patriots’ offense will be boom or bust. The 2013 season showed how bad Brady can be when he doesn’t have enough trusted targets.

Really, the bigger issue here is the complexity of the offense. If Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels and Brady were willing to lessen the load for the wideouts, the Patriots could let Edelman walk and roll with Amendola, Dobson, Boyce, Thompkins and a free agent. But if the Patriots were unwilling to simplify the offense in 2013, there’s basically no chance it’s ever going to happen. (The offense is so difficult because on each play, the wide receivers have to read the defense to determine their route. Brady and each receiver have to make the exact same read for everything to click.)

So yes, the Patriots do need Edelman back. Boyce is no guarantee to come around next season. He obviously really struggled to pick up the offense in 2013 since the Patriots played Edelman, Amendola, Dobson, Thompkins and a just-signed Austin Collie before Boyce got significant snaps. And when Boyce did finally get to start (because everyone else was hurt), he had issues with drops.

Boyce could absolutely still come around, but to say “well, the Patriots have Boyce, so they don’t need Edelman” is misguided. Collie probably won’t be back — there’s a reason he didn’t have a job until October and the Patriots were willing to cut him twice during the season — and T.J. Moe is still a complete unknown.

Moe could be the next great slot receiver, but he wasn’t even spotted in the locker room this season. He’s going to be starting from scratch.

Edelman should still be considered the No. 1 priority in free agency, despite the Patriots already having so many similar players. Edelman can co-exist with Amendola, and if either player goes down, Boyce can serve as depth. The Patriots can’t go into 2014 with the same type of uncertainty at receiver as they did in 2013.

Of course, this all depends on how expensive Edelman is in free agency. The Patriots can’t throw throw the bank at Edelman, since they’re limited in cap room. But if Edelman is set to earn an Amendola- or Wes Welker-sized deal, that should fit in the Patriots’ plans for next season.

How worried should fans be about Tom Brady’s protection under a new offensive line coach?
–@ColeyMick

They should be worried. The Patriots’ offensive line already took a step back in 2013. It can’t take another step back with Dante Scarnecchia gone.

The Patriots need to upgrade their interior offensive line, and that includes the play of Logan Mankins, who struggled at times in 2013. Center Ryan Wendell is a free agent, and right guard Dan Connolly is on the books for $4 million in 2014, so neither player is a guarantee to return.

Some mock drafts floating around out there have the Patriots selecting a center or guard in the first round. A right guard or center isn’t worth a first-round pick, but the Patriots can’t rely on grooming undrafted offensive linemen anymore with Scarnecchia gone.

Marcus Cannon could fill in at guard, and the Patriots likely will assess what they have in Josh Kline at center or guard. But the Patriots also should look to select a center in the middle rounds of the draft.

Would you sign Jared Allen? I kinda want him but mostly on name recognition.
–@lobster_dog

If he comes at the right price, he’d be a great pickup. He might not start in the Patriots’ defense, with Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones already at defensive end, but he’d get plenty of snaps in a rotation with those players and on third down in the nickel defense. Jones would kick over to defensive tackle, and Allen would take his place at right defensive end.

It’s more up to Allen. If he wants a Super Bowl ring, is willing to take a pay cut and is OK with not being a starter, the Patriots definitely should be interested. That’s an ego hit for Allen, though.

Any chance the Pats try to sign Jairus Byrd? A playmaking safety has been a major need since Rodney Harrison retired.
–@coach_jmcgovern
If the elite defensive linemen are gone, is it worth taking a flyer on Calvin Pryor as strong safety? It’s not an urgent positional need, but he could make the secondary dynamic for years.
–@RolloTomasi3030

Since the Patriots already have a promising young safety in Duron Harmon, it would make more sense to upgrade at that position in free agency than in the draft. If the Patriots can’t re-sign cornerback Aqib Talib, acquiring Buffalo Bills safety Jairus Byrd or Cleveland Browns safety T.J. Ward to pair next to Devin McCourty would make a lot of sense.

Then the Patriots could go to more zone looks in pass coverage with McCourty and another elite safety guarding back deep.

Where do you see Dont’a Hightower long-term? At middle linebacker, strong-side linebacker or defensive end? Same question for the other two linebackers, Jamie Collins and Jerod Mayo. Where do each fit best?
–Peggy, Melrose, Mass.

It depends on whether the Patriots are running a 3-4 or 4-3.

Here’s how I see the Patriots’ linebackers aligning next season in a 4-3:

4-3Those linebackers could — and likely will — move around. Mayo likely will be back in his weak-side linebacker spot, but he also could play Brandon Spikes’ old middle linebacker spot. Dont’a Hightower has the size and skills to play middle linebacker, but he’s probably the most comfortable at strong-side linebacker. Collins has the most pass-rush potential as a strong-side linebacker, but if the Patriots go with zone pass coverage, Collins would be valuable as a middle linebacker, dropping back deep into coverage.

Here’s how I see the Patriots’ linebackers in the 3-4.

3-4Chandler Jones already played some five-technique 3-4 defensive end in 2013. If he bulks up a little bit more for 2014, he should shine in that role. That opens up a spot at outside linebacker for Collins, where he and Ninkovich can swap back and forth between rushing the passer and dropping into coverage.

If the Patriots don’t acquire another pass rusher (which they should), they could use Ninkovich and Collins at defensive end with Jones at defensive tackle in the nickel package.

Have a question for Doug Kyed? Send it to him via Twitter at @DougKyedNESN or send it here.

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