Patriots Mailbag: Who Are New England’s Seven Most Indispensable Players?


Is it crazy to believe Rob Gronkowski actually hasn’t lost a step?

The New England Patriots tight end’s statistics are down this season, which has led many, including Michael Lombardi, to conclude he’s not the same player he once was. We all watched the fourth quarter of Sunday night’s 43-40 win over the Kansas City Chiefs, right? Gronk still looks like Gronk.

Teams were keying in on Gronkowski early in the season because the Patriots lacked weapons. They’re still doing it, and the Patriots have scored 38-plus points in three consecutive weeks. If teams want to keep keying in on Gronkowski, then Patriots quarterback Tom Brady will just have to keep hitting his other receiving options on the way to highly productive offensive performances.

Something tells me teams will stray from this concept eventually, and Gronkowski will start putting up lofty numbers once again. Also, it’s worth noting Gronkowski is on pace for 69 catches for 1,080 yards this season. Last year? He had 69 catches for 1,084 yards.

If Gronkowski lost a step, then most tight ends didn’t have 100 yards to begin with.

Let’s get into this week’s mailbag.

Who aside from Brady and Gronk would you consider to fit the “we CANNOT afford an injury to this player and win the SB”? category?
— @WYTSports
Defensive end Trey Flowers comes to mind first. The Patriots’ defense was a disaster without Flowers in Weeks 2 and 3. He’s the Patriots’ best, most complete defender, and it shows when he’s not on the field.

Cornerback Stephon Gilmore and wide receiver Julian Edelman probably would round out the five most indispensable Patriots list. Safety Patrick Chung and running back James White might be sixth and seventh.

For all seven players, it’s a mix of talent and level of replacement. Some might say the Patriots’ defensive end depth is barren without Flowers.

Why did Dorsetts snaps go down while Hogans went up last game? When I think dorsett can do the same things as Hogan but faster, and hes younger. #MailDoug
— @Whyknow_413
Did you see what Chris Hogan did with attention taken off of him? He had four catches on four targets for 78 yards. I think the Patriots made the right decision.

I believe it comes down to the fact that the Patriots view Hogan as being more versatile, plus he’s had more time to build trust with quarterback Tom Brady.

Hogan and Edelman split the “Z” and slot roles with Josh Gordon manning the “X” role. Edelman likely would have been mostly stuck in the slot role in three-receiver sets if Dorsett had played instead of Hogan. Dorsett is more of an outside receiver.

#MailDoug as we get deeper into the season, what do you expect of josh gordon in the weeks to come?
— @swannyszn
As long as Gordon keeps clean off the field, I expect his role to keep growing and for him to increase his production.

It seems like the Patriots, across the board, are intent on making this work. Brady will sometimes lose faith and trust and grow impatient with a player if he’s not on the same page. There was miscommunication between Brady and Gordon twice on Sunday night, but Brady kept targeting him.

That’s a good sign. Gordon showed a glimpse of his upside when he caught a touchdown in double coverage in Week 5. That upside should start seeping through more and more.

The Patriots’ ultimate offensive potential is contingent on Gordon. If he can revert back to the 2013 version of himself, then this offense has 2007-like potential. Even if he can be the 2017 version of himself, then the Patriots’ offense should be one of the best in the NFL.

What contract do you think will be the Pats top priority this offseason on both offense and defense?
— @jonothorpejazz
It’s definitely Flowers on defense. And he could be mighty pricey. Pass rushers aren’t cheap. Well, NFL players in general make a lot of money. But pass rushers are especially pricey.

Right guard Shaq Mason already became their top offensive priority when he signed an extension before the season. The remaining options are Gordon, Hogan, Dorsett, wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, left tackle Trent Brown, running backs Jeremy Hill and Kenjon Barner and offensive linemen Ulrick John and Brian Schwenke.

So, basically what I’m saying is it’s obviously Ulrick John. Kidding.

It might be Gordon. Beyond Gordon, it would be Brown.

It wouldn’t be shocking to see the Patriots re-sign Brown, move either him or Isaiah Wynn to right tackle then move on from Marcus Cannon.

Doug do you think is time to move on from D-Mac? Has been torched in the las 2 games! Thanks man
— @PatPatriotMX
Like, right now? No. But I do think he might need to restructure his contract to stick around. He has a $13.4 million cap hit next season.

The key with Devin McCourty is putting him in positions to succeed. Having him cover Tyreek Hill 1-on-1 is not a great position for him to succeed.

I think McCourty is at his best as a deep free safety.

Let’s go rapid fire.

Is Burkhead going to be activated from IR?
— @tmoney7297
I believe that’s the plan. That also was the plan with Shea McClellin and Malcolm Mitchell in 2017, and neither came to pass. Bringing players off injured reserve is a fluid situation. Not to sound too much like Bill Belichick, but “we’ll see how it goes” with Burkhead.

Which parent do you get your sassy attitude from? Thank them. #MailDoug
— @RichieT_FTW
I guess my mom. Thanks, Donna, from Richie.

For years now, Pats fans have harassed you about the Patriots acquiring Gordon. Now that that has actually happened, who are you going to be harassed about this trade deadline?
— @quanneh
Other than the lunatic Patriots fans who still want to sign Dez Bryant?

Deone Bucannon, Larry Fitzgerald and Amari Cooper, none of whom the Patriots can afford.

What breed of bear is a Chicago Bear?

Polars, Kodiaks, and Grizzlies would be tougher to beat than smaller breeds like a Black Bear or a Sri Lankan Sloth Bear.
— @DeeepThreat
Based on the Bears’ bear logo, I’m going to say definitely a grizzly bear (I don’t know why that picture links to a fleece blanket nor who would order said fleece blanket) judging by the ears and fangs. Do bears have fangs? It looks like bears have fangs.

Chicago Bears logo

Dennis Wierzbicki/USA TODAY Sports Images

I’ve also done way more research on brown bears than I expected to on this fine Thursday.

I was under the impression brown bears, Kodiak bears and grizzly bears were all the same. I’m kind of right.

Brown bear apparently is the species, while grizzly and Kodiak are subspecies of brown bears. My friend Nora Princiotti of The Boston Globe told me there is a subspecies of brown bears that are also just called brown bears. I’ll choose to believe her, because who wants to do more research on actual bears when I should be studying the Chicago Bears?

Brown bears, Kodiak bears and grizzly bears all look the same to me. I hope I’m not a bear bigot.

we gonna wear Pat the Patriot uni this year?
— @MarkDoherty7
The Patriots haven’t worn the Pat Patriot uniforms since 2012 because of a rule implemented by the NFL that prevents teams from wearing different colored helmets.

Favorite all time Patriot not on the current roster?
— @pereira_report
Lawyer Milloy, because I was a fan of him from his days with the Washington Huskies. I liked Corey Dillon for the same reason.

How fast is the Earth moving through space?
— @BabaOTownshend
At least 25 mph.

If you were at a party, what would you say?
— @KidRob21
How loud is the music? If it’s loud, I’d probably say, “WHAT WAS THAT?!” If not, I’d just be like, “Got any chips and dip?”

You never answer my questions…. Are they that bad?
— @brettcwebb
They’re pretty bad.

Did you watch the Red Sox last night ? #MailDoug
— @brimecombe25
Yes. But I’m answering this on Thursday afternoon. This will be published Friday morning. I also plan to watch the Red Sox game Thursday night, but I can’t tell the future.

(UPDATE 12:29 a.m.): Future Doug watched the Red Sox win the pennant.

Rush the passer Doug. You can do it
— @michaelis4real
I’ve got a pretty good rip move. Sometimes I’ll rip past Mike Giardi when he’s in my way in the media workroom.

@DougKyed random thing people may not know about you? #MailDoug
— @SpookyChino
I’m 99 percent sure I’m the only Doug Kyed in the world.

Kyed is a Danish last name, and the only Kyeds in the United States are directly related to me, so I know who all of them are. Douglas is not a popular Danish first name.

Who?s the one player in your lifetime that you would turn the tv on to see every time they played? Doesn?t have to be a Patriot.
— @TheDTSB
All sports? Ken Griffey Jr. Just football? Randy Moss, especially when he was with the Minnesota Vikings.

@DougKyed @Patriots your favorite moment in covering the Patriots in recent years either from the sidelines or the press boxes? #Patriots #MailDoug
— @DeeRodgers1991
It might have been Edelman’s catch in Super Bowl LI. My mind was just absolutely blown by that play. I remember watching it through binoculars and being pretty sure that he actually made it. Then when replay confirmed the catch, I just swore in amazement for a minute or so.

Watch this week’s full mailbag video below:

Fenway Park
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