Patriots Mailbag: How Wide Receiver Room Will Get Reshuffled In 2021

Will Julian Edelman and N'Keal Harry return in 2021?


Tom Brady certainly hasn’t lacked for praise in the New England region since he took over as the Patriots’ starting quarterback in 2001. But he could accomplish one more amazing feat in 2021.

Brady could outlast all other quarterbacks even close to being in his same era depending on what happens with Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers this offseason. Brady hasn’t given any hint about retirement, but there have been whispers about Brees, Roethlisberger and Rivers hanging it up after the 2020 postseason (of which Rivers and Roethlisberger already have been eliminated). Brees was drafted one year after Brady in 2001, while Roethlisberger and Rivers entered the NFL four years after Brady in the 2004 NFL Draft. There aren’t any quarterbacks left in the NFL from before Brady’s time or the 2002 or 2003 drafts. Byron Leftwich and Kliff Kingsbury were drafted in 2003. Leftwich is now Brady’s offensive coordinator while Kingsbury is the Arizona Cardinals’ head coach.

It’s just worth mentioning how remarkable Brady’s career remains to be from time to time.

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

What?s the WR corps look like next year?

The following wide receivers are under contract for 2021: Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, Marqise Lee, Jakobi Meyers, Gunner Olszewski, Devin Smith, Kristian Wilkerson and Isaiah Zuber. Damiere Byrd and Donte Moncrief are free agents.

Meyers and Olszewski are locks for the 2020 roster. Edelman is a bit of a question mark. I would bring him back as long as he wants to play and give him a reduced role on third down as a No. 3/4 wide receiver. Harry should be back unless the Patriots really spend and draft big to completely overhaul the position group. If the Patriots could get a good enough return, it’s also possible that Harry could be traded. Regardless, he’s not in Meyers’ or Olszewski’s category as a stone-cold lock because of the valid questions surrounding him two years into his NFL career.

If Byrd is willing to come back on another near-veteran-minimum contract, then the Patriots should look to re-sign him. Moncrief would be nothing more than roster competition.

So, my guess at how the Patriots’ wide receiver room could look in 2021:

Top free agent

I would consider the top free agents to be Allen Robinson, Chris Godwin, Kenny Golladay, Will Fuller and JuJu Smith Schuster. If the Patriots can acquire one of those players, or trade for a receiver like Odell Beckham Jr., then they can wait until the second day of the draft to take another wide receiver.

If the Patriots wind up with a receiver like Curtis Samuel, Corey Davis or Marvin Jones, then they should try to take a receiver in the first round, where they have the 15th overall pick.

If the Patriots do wind up parting with Harry, then another mid-tier veteran or rookie receiver would be thrown into the mix.

Robinson, Godwin, Golladay, Fuller or Smith-Schuster immediately would become the Patriots’ top wide receiver. Fuller’s injury and suspension history is slightly scary unless he comes at a deep discount.

If you were a GM who is you?re first pick?

That’s really tough to say because I don’t know who will be available. Before getting too deep into the draft, I’d say a quick Patriots big board would look something like this:

QB Trevor Lawrence
QB Zach Wilson
QB Justin Fields
WR DeVonta Smith
WR Ja’Marr Chase
OT Penei Sewell
LB Micah Parsons
WR Jaylen Waddle
QB Trey Lance
TE Kyle Pitts
DE Kwity Paye
DT Christian Barmore
CB Caleb Farley
WR Rashod Bateman
QB Mac Jones

In an ideal world, the Patriots would wind up with Lawrence, Wilson, Fields, Lance, Smith, Chase, Waddle or Barmore. Offensive tackle and cornerback are lesser needs. It’s sometimes tough to predict what the Patriots would look for in a linebacker or defensive end, though New England is collecting Michigan front-seven defenders. So, Paye could be a fit.

One Player we might get, and do we have color rush jerseys? #MailDoug

I’ll give you two more under-the-radar free-agent names that are possibilities this offseason: tight end Gerald Everett and wide receiver Josh Reynolds. Both players worked under former Patriots quarterback coach Jedd Fisch with the Los Angeles Rams. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick leans on coaches heavily when it comes time to evaluate potential players.

If the Patriots can’t sign free-agent tight ends Hunter Henry or Jonnu Smith, then Everett could be a solid third choice. Reynolds would slot into the Patriots’ wide receiver group below Meyers and possibly in competition with Edelman or Harry for a starting spot. He won’t wow you, but he could fill a role similar to Brandon LaFell or Chris Hogan as a veteran free-agent pickup.

What position should the Patriots be looking to draft in the first round? #MailDoug

I would rank the Patriots’ current needs:

1. Quarterback
2. Wide receiver
3. Defensive line
4. Linebacker
5. Tight end

So, I’d say any of those. Offensive tackle and cornerback are also potential needs.

We know N’Keal Harry and what he is as a WR. Any reason they wouldn’t want to ask him to gain 20lbs and switch to TE? He might be an above average pass catching TE if given the chance. #MailDoug

What would be the desired result of that move?

Harry is 6-foot-4, 225 pounds and should be able to overpower cornerbacks, and he’s already not an especially tough matchup for defensive backs. Add weight and slow him down, and he wouldn’t be any more difficult to cover. So, teams would probably just continue to match him up with defensive backs.

Perhaps you’d see Harry draw linebackers more if he moved to tight end, but that would only happen if he showed the ability to be a quality NFL blocker. And that would be a tough ask.

If Harry could produce as a tight end, then he’d probably be able to produce as a wide receiver. Perhaps another team would be willing to move him, but the Patriots might just be better off trading him rather than messing around with his position like it’s a game of Madden.

Let’s go rapid fire.

with Eagles seemingly choosing Wentz over Pederson do you think Hurts could be available? If so, where would you put him on list of potential Pats targets? #maildoug

I don’t think the Philadelphia Eagles will be willing to trade Jalen Hurts. If they were willing to move him, then the Patriots would probably also still need to add a veteran bridge option since Hurts is an unproven commodity.

are there any stats that you think people misuse too often to prove a player is good/bad? e.g. a linebacker with 100 tackles > a linebacker with 75

Tackles is definitely a good one. I pay basically zero attention to tackles as a stat. I think quarterback completion percentage has become overrated, as well, without more context.

With opt outs possibly returning next season, do you think Adrian Phillips will play a different role next year? Maybe shifting to mostly safety or linebacker?

I could see him playing more special teams if Patrick Chung and Dont’a Hightower return and Kyle Dugger earns more snaps.

Was the real reason Bill turned down the award to not ruin his friendship with JBJ?

I thought you meant Jackie Bradley Jr., at first and thought, “Belichick is friends with Jackie Bradley Jr.?”

Urban Meyer to jags. Thoughts?

I don’t necessarily have high hopes. Very curious to see how it goes since NFL head coaching is harder and is more time-consuming than the college game. Even if it goes well, I don’t know how long he’ll last.

If Hightower is back is he the biggest impact of players that may opt back in?


Would you trade up for DeVonta Smith if he’s still there at 10? Then draft Mac Jones in the second? #MailDoug

Yes and yes. Both are unlikely to happen in my view.

Mac Jones at #15 yay or nay?

I’d lean towards yay if the better options are all gone.

If the Patriots draft a QB, who is your ideal veteran ?bridge? QB for next season if said rookie isn?t ready to start week one?

I keep saying it, but Jimmy Garoppolo. It just makes the most sense. Add Garoppolo and draft a quarterback at No. 15 or the second round.

Thumbnail photo via Jay Biggerstaff/USA TODAY Sports Images

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