Patriots Mailbag: How Can New England Boost Receiving Corps Before Draft?

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It really didn’t seem possible, but since our last mailbag, the New England Patriots’ pass-catching depth became even shallower by tight end Rob Gronkowski’s retirement.

Here are the Patriots’ current projected starting skill-position players.

QB: Tom Brady

Decent start! That guy is pretty good.

RB: Sony Michel/James White

Hey, this doesn’t look so bad. That’s a nice 1-2 punch with a young ball-carrier and proven pass catcher.

WR: Julian Edelman, Phillip Dorsett, Bruce Ellington

Hmm. OK. At least they have Edelman. Ellington was cut by the Detriot Lions in February. That’s not ideal.

TE: Matt LaCosse

Oh, no. Uh-oh. Oh, no.

So, yeah. The Patriots need more weapons. But, “it’s March,” as head coach Bill Belichick pointed out this week.

Let’s get into the ol’ mailbag.

Was Schiano ever formally announced to be the DC? Or do we still expect him to come over, I haven’t heard a word about him lately.
— @atlblink182
So, this question was posed Wednesday, a day before Greg Schiano stepped down from a role for which he was never publicly hired. Weird.

I have no idea what happened. Schiano said he needed to spend more time on his faith and with his family. He certainly has that right. But strictly from a football perspective, this has been a very strange offseason for the Patriots. If they hadn’t won three Super Bowls in five years, they might be reaching “our pets’ heads are falling off” status.

Schiano wouldn’t stay, Adam Humphries, Jared Cook and a litany of other pass catchers didn’t want to come on board, and they lost half their position coaches, not to mention Trey Flowers, Trent Brown, Malcolm Brown and other free agents. It seems The Athletic’s Nick Underhill was the only person interested in coming to and staying in New England this offseason.

I don’t believe they all turned down or departed the Patriots for the same reason. But it does feel like the luster of the Patriots is wearing off the older Brady and Belichick get.

As long as Brady is good, the Patriots will be too. But given the state of New England’s coaching staff and offensive weapons, this is looking like Brady and Belichick’s biggest challenge to date.

It would surprise me if the Patriots hired a defensive coordinator to replace Schiano. The only real possibilities are in-house candidate Bret Bielema and Brendan Daly, who left this offseason for the Kansas City Chiefs but could potentially come back. It seems more likely Belichick takes on a greater role on defense this season, leaving the offense to coordinator Josh McDaniels.

Any truth to the Rosen rumor? Is a 2nd too high?
— @erjohnson1
I know the Patriots showed interest in Josh Rosen last offseason when he was coming out of UCLA. So, it makes sense to me that they’re interested in trading for the second-year quarterback now that the Arizona Cardinals might be willing to move him.

And no, I don’t think a second-round pick is too high for Rosen. He was the 10th overall pick a year ago. He had a rough rookie season, but he also was in a terrible situation with the Cardinals.

By the way, it’s kind of crazy Cardinals general manager Steve Keim still has a job, right? He hired Steve Wilks as head coach Jan. 22, 2018. He drafted Rosen 10th overall on April 26, 2018. Then, he was charged with a DUI on July 4, 2018. He fired Wilks after one season Dec. 31. He hired Kliff Kingsbury, who was fired after six seasons as Texas Tech’s head coach, to be the Cardinals’ head coach Jan. 8. Now he might draft quarterback Kyler Murray first overall and trade Rosen. If that does happen, Keim will have hit the reset button twice in two years.

I guess that’s kind of better than having to restart the franchise twice in five years with three years of ineptitude in between, but it all seems very rash.

Could Patriots swivel and spend Gronk $ on N.Suh and create a solid defence and reenforce the offence via the draft? Would that work?
— @qualitysmoke
I don’t hate the idea in theory, but, anecdotally, defensive rookies have a higher success rate with the Patriots than first-year pass catchers. I think the Patriots are better off using their cap room to boost the offense and try to improve the defense through the draft.

But talent is talent. And if there aren’t any solid veteran wide receivers or tight ends available, and they can add Ndamukong Suh, then it’s obviously worthwhile.

Any WR/TE that can still be reasonably traded for prior to the season? If so, Do you see them packaging picks you to acquire one?
— @THE_JON_JOHNSON
It’s really hard to know which wide receivers or tight ends could be available via trade. The Patriots might have better luck trading for a pass-catcher during the draft.

If another team drafts a wide receiver or tight end in the first round, then they might be willing to trade a veteran player at that position. That’s what happened last year when the San Francisco 49ers unloaded Trent Brown to the Patriots.

Just looking at rosters now, maybe the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would trade one of their tight ends, Cameron Brate or O.J. Howard? Maybe the Patriots could get wide receiver John Ross from the Cincinnati Bengals? Maybe the Minnesota Vikings would trade LaQuon Treadwell to the Patriots since they apparently just want to run the ball anyway?

I don’t know. There aren’t a ton of obvious answers.

Good. My husband and I were having a conversation last night and I said “We’ll have to #MailDoug this week ….” – Why do the Pats have such little cap space? Who are they paying so much money? It seems like every year they never have enough cap space.
— @jessgabe8
That’s because great, Super Bowl-winning teams cost a lot of money and cap space. The cap hits of quarterback Tom Brady, safety Devin McCourty, linebacker Dont’a Hightower, cornerback Stephen Gilmore, offensive tackle Marcus Cannon, guard Shaq Mason and defensive end Michael Bennett take up 42 percent of the salary cap.

The Patriots also always have a strong middle class of veteran players on their roster. That would be guys like linebacker Kyle Van Noy, wide receiver Julian Edelman, safeties Duron Harmon and Patrick Chung, running backs James White and Rex Burkhead, defensive tackle Lawrence Guy, cornerback Jason McCourty, center David Andrews, cornerback Jonathan Jones and quarterback Brian Hoyer, all of whom make between $3 million and $6.3 million.

Basically, it all adds up. The Patriots are extremely cap savvy. They usually don’t like pushing money down the road, and they usually don’t eat much dead cap with bad signings and early cuts. They make every dollar count. It might seem like the Patriots are in tough shape with the salary cap, but when you consider all of the talented players they have on their roster, it’s not so grim.

Who is the best overall fit as an available FA wide receiver?
— @RommelRoo
It was Jordy Nelson until he retired Wednesday. Now? Chris Hogan, Dontrelle Inman, Aldrick Robinson and Jermaine Kearse.

Patriots fans might not be too excited with the idea of Hogan returning, but he’s better than receivers like Maurice Harris and Bruce Ellington.

Who is on your Top 50 Board for the Patriots?
— @DANTEVD
Here’s a smattering of my favorite 2019 NFL Draft prospects for the Patriots:

TE T.J. Hockenson, Iowa
TE Noah Fant, Iowa
DT Jerry Tillery, Notre Dame
TE Irv Smith, Alabama
WR A.J. Brown, Ole Miss
S Taylor Rapp, Washington
S Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Florida
LB Mack Wilson, Alabama
WR Deebo Samuel, South Carolina
S Juan Thornhill, Virginia
WR Parris Campbell, Ohio State
DE Oshane Ximines, Old Dominion
DE Chase Winowich, Michigan
LB Germaine Pratt, N.C. State
OT Kaleb McGary, Washington
LB Tre Lamar, Clemson
WR Andy Isabella, UMass
TE Jace Sternberger, Texas A&M
S Amani Hooker, Iowa
QB Ryan Finley, N.C. State
DE Anthony Nelson, Iowa
QB Will Greir, West Virginia
DT Renell Wren, Arizona State
DE Christian Miller, Alabama
DL L.J. Collier, TCU
QB Tyree Jackson, Buffalo
OT Max Scharping, Northern Illinois
DT Greg Gaines, Washington
WR Miles Boykin, Notre Dame
WR David Sills, West Virginia
DE John Cominsky, Charleston
DE Maxx Crosby, Eastern Michigan
WR Hunter Renfrow, Clemson
QB Brett Rypien, Boise State
OL Tyler Jones, N.C. State
CB Ken Webster, Ole Miss
RB James Williams, Washington State
OT Tyler Roemer, San Diego State
TE C.J. Conrad, Kentucky
TE Keenen Brown, Texas State
RB Alex Barnes, Kansas State

That’s not 50, but it’s a lot.

Let’s go rapid fire.

#MailDoug Looking at the current additions via free agency by the Patriots – obviously incredibly far in advance, but out of those who do you think stands the best chance of making the final roster come September?
— @thegabed
Running back Brandon Bolden, defensive tackle Mike Pennel and safety Terrence Brooks.

is there really concern about dorsett not being good enough to be the second receiver? also what level of priority would you place OT at on the list of needs as Cannon ages and Wynn steps in to a spot
— @thisryanjackson
Yes, there really is concern. He couldn’t pass Hogan on the Patriots’ depth chart last season, and the Patriots were forced to trade for Josh Gordon, relegating Dorsett to No. 4/5 status.

And it’s pretty high.

I got a chest cold, do you have a remedy? #MailDoug
— @Kid_From_Quincy
Drink your weight in orange juice.

Waffles?
— @rankjas
I might prefer pancakes. Is that a bad take?

Question: Can you play wideout?
— @CBove1
I can. But not well.

In a drunken stupor, I purchased an @AB84 Steelers jersey, thinking it would be fun. Have a bit of buyer’s remorse b/c it can’t be canceled. Was I wrong to do this? #MailDoug
— @Griffin_1980
Yeah, that was probably not a great idea. Sort of a weird buy.

Do you plan on teaching your daughter how to make memes like a pro? #MailDoug
— @_PBrady24_
Of course. It will run in the family.

Which position is more urgent to draft at #32 overall: WR, TE, DE, or DL?
— @BriBriTheSlyGuy
Tight end is the most urgent need right now. Then I would go wide receiver, defensive end, defensive tackle/offensive tackle.

At this point Doug, what is your best guess on what the Patriots do at WR? #EmergencyWednesdayDougBag
— @TheDTSB
Trade for a veteran and draft. No idea who the vet will be.

Is it March?
— @jeff_yyz
“It’s March.” — Bill Belichick

Ask me again next week, though. The answer MIGHT SURPRISE YOU.

Am I the only one who thinks that we’re talking needs right now and Bill is going to draft someone out of these positions of need, as always? Like a guard or something
— @KubaKazula
I think that’s entirely possible.

do you see any chance bill surprises us taking an OT in the first or second round?
— @jerryn_97
Yes.

Hows life treating ya? #MailDoug
— @BigSnacker_
I’m currently writing this from a plane on my way to San Francisco for my sister’s wedding, which also is why there’s no video element this week. Things are great!

contract question: Browns WR RFA Rashard Higgins is under contract with an original round (5th round), can we offer him a contract or it’s impossibile because we don’t have a fifth round?
— @MatteDesmo
Yes, but the Patriots would have to give up a fourth-round pick. I don’t despise the idea.

Thumbnail photo via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports Images

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