Patriots Mailbag: Which Player Has Longest Future In New England?

Would you buy an offensive lineman's jersey?

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Thursday night’s game against the Los Angeles Rams is, sneakily, one of the New England Patriots’ most important regular-season games of the Bill Belichick era.

NESN.com’s own Zack Cox put together a list of important Patriots regular-season games three years ago. The Patriots have since had important matchups against the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2018 and the Kansas City Chiefs and Miami Dolphins last season.

The Patriots currently are 6-6 and basically have to win out to snag a playoff spot. And if they can beat the Rams, Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills (and New York Jets) in consecutive weeks, then they might be able to play with anyone in the postseason.

Thursday night’s Patriots-Rams Super Bowl LIII rematch will be a fun one. And the Patriots have to be at their best.

Watch above and read below for this week’s mailbag.

@gear_pj
What position do you think we should draft first round?

I’d say the Patriots’ biggest potential needs are at quarterback, wide receiver, tight end, defensive tackle and linebacker. They could need a cornerback depending on what happens with Stephon Gilmore and JC Jackson.

If a good enough quarterback is available, then I would take him in the first round.

If not, then I might go with another linebacker. The Patriots need to restock at the position.

@YoustonAwlers
Since it’s that time of year, give me your “Dear Santa” wish list of 2021 free agents you want to see the Patriots sign in the offseason. #maildoug

I mentioned these guys last week, but wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and tight end Hunter Henry are good fits. Bill Belichick seems to really like Henry, especially.

Tight end Jonnu Smith is an intriguing option, as well. He’s a special athlete, and I’d throw the bank at him.

Bill Belichick raved about Smith in January.

“He?s just a really good tight end,” Belichick said. “He can do a lot of things: blocks well, runs well, is a good receiver. I mean, hell, they played him at tailback. He looked pretty good back there. So, he?s a very athletic player, hard to tackle, catches the ball well. He?s great after the catch — probably the best in the league. I mean, I can?t imagine anybody better than him after the catch. No, he looks like a tight end to me. And a good one.”

On the defensive side of the ball, defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson could be a player to watch at the right price.

@Goodfellas_FF1
How do you see the Pats backfield playing out in 2021? Who will be there and what will their role be?

Damien Harris will be the lead back. Sony Michel will also be back for his fourth season because there’s no point in moving on from him yet. There’s basically no chance that the Patriots will pick up his fifth-year option, however.

James White is a free agent, but it seems pretty unlikely that the Patriots would let him walk. J.J. Taylor has potential for that third-down back role, but he also might not be ready yet.

Rex Burkhead also could return as a free agent, but he’d probably have to sign something close to a veteran minimum contract coming off of a serious knee injury.

@Pats62
-Do you believe the Versatility that Dugger,Wino and Uche have.
-Makes it Hard for offenses to identify, what the defense is doing?

To some degree, yes. Winovich and Uche both have the athleticism to pass rush or cover. Dugger also can play multiple positions while dropping into coverage or rushing the passer.

The Patriots’ defense will only get better as those players become more comfortable and therefore more versatile.

@riraho5
Doug – I hate buying jerseys for guys that end up leaving. For a long while I felt safe knowing I could get a Brady or Gronk. If I am XMas shopping for a jersey that gets maximum usage — what player on the roster now do you think has the longest future with the team??

That’s a great question. If you’re looking for a skill player, then Harris or Jakobi Meyers are fun options who could be around for a while. Neither player will be an unrestricted free agent until 2023.

Winovich, Uche and Dugger all could be future stars on defense. Winovich won’t be a UFA until 2023. Uche and Dugger are signed until 2024.

Michael Onwenu is another fun choice if you want to rock an offensive line jersey. He’ll have a role somewhere on the offensive line, whether that’s at guard or right tackle, until 2024. And quite frankly, offensive line jerseys should be more popular. Onwenu has played at a Pro Bowl level this season. He’s PFF’s fifth-rated offensive tackle and has been dominant as a run blocker.

Let’s go rapid fire.

@BostonDiGiorgio
What will Michel?s role be going forward assuming White and Harris stay healthy? #maildoug

The same it has been over the last couple of weeks. He can give Damien Harris a rest when the game is still competitive while playing on special teams and serving as a clock killer in blowouts.

@conscienstious
Do you think we still have a chance for the Playoffs #MailDoug

If the Patriots win out, which is entirely possible, then yes. But it all depends on which team shows up over the final quarter of the season. If it’s the Patriots team we saw Sunday blow out the Los Angeles Chargers, then they certainly have a shot for the postseason. If it’s the team we saw during the middle of the season struggle against the New York Jets, Denver Broncos and San Francisco 49ers, then any of these remaining games are possible losses.

@FleithCO
Is it pure coincidence and good fortune that the Pats two games in LA are back to back, or does the NFL try to make cross country trips more accommodating when making the schedule?

They purposely try to make them more accomodating.

@tayfieux
Why do basketball players love donuts?

Because they like dunking?

@Meghan_Ottolini
Is the OC the best teen show of all time?

Yes, but “Friday Night Lights” is a very close second. That was a hell of an era for teen dramas.

I tried about five minutes of “Outer Banks” this summer. Not for me.

This reminded me that I need to rewatch the Chrismukkah episodes of “The OC” this month.

@NuJeru4Life
#maildoug Hey Doug, What are your thoughts on Kristen Wilkerson and do you see the Pats plying him in the upcoming last 5 games?

Not without injuries, but I’m excited to see what he can do with a full offseason in the Patriots’ system.

@Phil_Me_Up_
Should Gunner have more snaps on Offence or would unleashing that require a permit?

Yeah, I think the Patriots would need to file for a permit before that happens.

But seriously, if Jarrett Stidham starts a game this season, then Gunner Olszewski needs to be out there on offense.

@macosan16
Non-football related, but how are you and the family doing? I know you?re dealing with some recent losses, hope you?re all doing as well as possible. #MailDoug

Thanks for asking. We’re all doing as well as possible. My 3-year-old daughter is certainly making everything happier around the holiday season.

@gcabreu87
Will there be the Ron Hobson Good Guy award this year, considering that you are not able to access the locker room? #MailDoug

Yes, there will be. We’re actually voting on it this week. There are a lot of good candidates this year. I’d say that quarterback Cam Newton, running backs Damien Harris and Rex Burkhead, wide receiver Jakobi Meyers, offensive linemen David Andrews and Joe Thuney, defensive tackle Lawrence Guy, linebacker Chase Winovich, cornerback Jason McCourty and safety Adrian Phillips are in the running.

Previous winners:

2016: Matthew Slater
2017: Devin McCourty
2018: James White
2019: Stephon Gilmore

I think Duron Harmon might have been robbed one or two of those years. Ted Karras was also a strong candidate before leaving.

Patriots rookie offensive tackle Justin Herron could be in the running if he earns a starting role in the future.

@andreatxx
I know its the same question every year ? but do u think Josh Mcdaniels will end up leaving after this season? Thanks for all your daily reports!

He hasn’t left yet, so I’d say “no” is the safest answer. But he’ll always be a candidate, and I know he’s earned some criticism this season, but I believe that what he’s done with the Patriots’ offense, changing quarterbacks with the shortened offseason, has been nothing short of impressive.

New England Patriots running back Damien Harris
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