Patriots Mailbag: How Pats Can Fill Glaring Remaining Offseason Need

New England Patriots free agents went flying off the shelf this offseason.

The NFL’s new year began just nine days ago, and just three Patriots free agents remain unsigned. Center James Ferentz, kicker Nick Folk and offensive tackle Marshall Newhouse are the only players still on the open market.

That seems to be a bit of a change from past offseasons. Out of that group, Ferentz is likely to return to the Patriots. Folk also could be back after the Patriots released longtime kicker Stephen Gostkowski.

@PatPatriotMX
With the tight cap space that the Patriots have, what do you think is the plan at TE? Double deep at draft? Wait a mid-class veteran is release? Thanks man #MailDoug
The easiest way to fill the Patriots’ tight end need would be to double-dip in the draft. I showed one way to do that in my latest mock draft by trading out of the first round and picking up two second-round picks. The Indianapolis Colts, Miami Dolphins, Houston Texans, Chicago Bears, Baltimore Ravens and Seattle Seahawks all have two second-round picks. The Patriots also could trade down with a team that owns a later first-round pick and a late second-round pick like the Green Bay Packers or Kansas City Chiefs.

Cole Kmet, Brycen Hopkins, Hunter Bryant, Adam Trautman, Albert Okwuegbunam, Harrison Bryant and Thaddeus Moss all could be fits in the second, third or fourth round of the 2020 NFL Draft.

The Patriots also could take a chance on a veteran tight end like Delanie Walker. I thought Tyler Eifert would be a low-cost option, then he signed a two-year, $15.5 million contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars. That salary seems excessive since Eifert hasn’t played 50 percent of offensive snaps since 2015. He played 15 games last season but only was on the field for 44.6 percent of offensive snaps and caught 43 passes for 436 yards with three touchdowns. That production and durability doesn’t seem worth over $7.75 million, but who am I to say?

It’s tough to tell how much Walker will cost, but he and Jordan Reed are the top tight ends available in free agency. Either one would be worthy of a flier with only Ryan Izzo and Matt LaCosse on the Patriots’ tight end depth chart. The Patriots currently have more fullbacks than tight ends on their roster. That’s slightly preposterous.

Finally, the Patriots could still trade for a tight end. I’d try to acquire Evan Engram from the New York Giants if he’s available in a trade.

@celtxss
Doug, who do the patriots pick in the draft at pick 23? Do they trade the pick to get a few 2nds or do they pick? #MailDoug
I think if someone like Wisconsin’s Zack Baun is available at No. 23, then maybe they pull the trigger and make the pick. But otherwise, I’d probably prefer to trade down into the second round. I don’t love a lot of the options who could be there at the end of the first round.

Some other players I would consider taking at No. 23 are linebacker Kenneth Murray, wide receivers Justin Jefferson and Tee Higgins and defensive end A.J. Epenesa.

@JustinEldridge5
Will the Pats draft a kicker? #Maildoug
The Patriots currently don’t have a kicker on their roster, so that’s their best bet at acquiring one with upside. I would not be surprised if the Patriots took a kicker with their fourth- or fifth-round picks. The top-ranked kickers in the 2020 NFL Draft are Georgia’s Rodrigo Blankenship, Utah State’s Dominik Eberle and Georgia Southern’s Tyler Bass.

The top free-agent kickers available are Greg Zuerlein, Ryan Succop, Folk and Adam Vinatieri. I wouldn’t be shocked if the Patriots signed and drafted kickers to create competition in training camp.

@MattJMurray84
What happened with Tom Brady?
Oh no, you didn’t hear? He moved to central Florida. I think he’s going to be working as a ride operator on Pirates of the Caribbean or something.

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@offroadtjnh
Between you and me, no one is listening – can Stidham be the Patriots game one starter and beyond? #MailDoug
(Yes.)

@thatoneindiekid
On a scale of 1-10, how confident are you in Jarrett Stidham? #MailDoug
Maybe like a 6.3? I’m more confident than not but certainly nowhere near a 10.

I was impressed by Stidham in training camp and preseason. But he’s still completely unproven as a starter. I think it’s a good sign that the Patriots are willing to head into a season with Stidham as the frontrunner for the starting job, I’ll say that. We’ll see if he can win it over Brian Hoyer and Cody Kessler. If he can’t, it could be a long season.

@mulosoraptor23
Hi Doug. Even after the recent moves the patriots have made, I’m still quite concerned with the linebacker position. They got big bodies there, but not a Collins or KVN type guy that can give you match up advantages. What’s the plan to replace that? #MailDoug
I believe the Patriots could start a season with some combination of Dont’a Hightower, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Brandon Copeland, Chase Winovich and John Simon as their starters without any major issues. But I also think the Patriots will try to draft an off-the-ball linebacker to fill out the depth.

Some players I like are Baun, Murray, Malik Harrison and Logan Wilson.

@pereira_report
Do you think the team as it’s currently constructed plus draft picks could somewhat compete? Defense took a step back but not drastically and they were a big reason for last seasons early success
I would project them to have a winning record. I also think they’d probably win the AFC East.

So, yes. As long as the Patriots add a couple more pass-catchers, I think they’ll be all right. It pretty much solely depends on Stidham’s performance, though. If he’s serviceable, then the Patriots can win. If he struggles, then the Patriots also might be in trouble if they need to rely on Hoyer or Kessler.

Let’s go rapid fire.

@MoeReese74
Do you have any favorite PJ to work in from home? #MailDoug
I have a couple of pairs of Adidas Tiro 19 pants that I like to lounge in. I mostly just wear jeans at home, though. I know that makes me a social pariah during this pandemic, but I also don’t find jeans to be uncomfortable. Leave me alone. I like wearing jeans.

@BarlesCharkly
#maildoug Jordan Love, Xavier McKinney, and the top TE on the board still at 23… who do you take?
I’m trading down. I don’t love any of those choices.

@GodfatherAlmada
What in the world do the Patriots have in Damien Harris?
I think Damien Harris is a pretty good running back. He played Pop Warner with Stidham. Maybe that connection will help them this season.

@georgismStan
Patriots and bucs on at same time. Who do you watch?
Well, my job is to cover the Patriots, so probably them.

@wbs12
Could the Patriots trade for Trent Williams?
Doubtful. Also not the biggest need.

@thisryanjackson
sup?
Doing my best to get as much work done as possible while my daughter, Olivia, is napping.

@Bigsdog_19
Do you think Jake Fromm is a big step up from Stidham? Seem like basically the same player.
I do not. I prefer Stidham.

@TeddyWettlaufer
Golden Grahams or Fruity Pebbles?
Golden Grahams.

@Mahhk_Paul
How you doing Doug? #maildoug
I miss seeing my friends, watching sports and working in peace, but all things considered, I’m good. I’m bummed I won’t be going on vacation next week, but my family is doing better than a lot of other people in the country right now, so I can’t complain.

@_wsak
What’s your stance on changing your shirt today
I don’t think it’s going to happen.

@offroadtjnh
When will we be able to go to Disney ? #MailDoug
I wish I knew. At least we know flights are cheap.

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Thumbnail photo via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports Images