Patriots Mailbag: Could Position Switch Be Coming For Starting Defender?

The Patriots will need a free safety soon


The New England Patriots are back at practice Friday.

Well, some of them at least.

Patriots rookie minicamp starts Friday, but the practice sessions are closed to the public and to the media. Reporters should get their first glimpse of the 2021 Patriots at some point during organized team activities later this spring.

Watch above and read below to dig into this week’s mailbag.

What do you think will be the roles for Joejuan Williams and Jonathan Jones? Might they start really transitioning one or both to safety esp. as McCourty is getting older?

I would expect Joejuan Williams to continue his hybrid role from last season as a cornerback/safety who can cover big receivers and tight ends. Williams doesn’t really have the speed or range to eventually replace Devin McCourty at free safety. If he moves to safety, it would probably be in more of a box role as a strong safety, though he’s too lanky, at this point, to play the safety/linebacker role Patrick Chung passed on to Adrian Phillips and Kyle Dugger.

Williams is an interesting player because of his size at 6-foot-4, but his lack of speed limits his potential options. In an ideal world, he would start at cornerback in 2022. But the Patriots haven’t shown enough confidence in him through two seasons for that to be an expectation. He’s kind of a player without a position right now.

As for Jonathan Jones, I would expect him to continue manning the slot in 2021. I do think he could, and probably should be McCourty’s eventual replacement at free safety. It’s simply easier to find slot cornerbacks than free safeties. Need proof: Watch the Patriots’ defense before they moved Devin McCourty to free safety in 2012. It was horrendous.

The Patriots do have three potential slot options behind Jones in 2021 sixth-round pick Joshuah Bledsoe, 2020 undrafted free agent Myles Bryant and free-agent signing Jalen Mills. Bledsoe, Bryant and Mills also have the versatility to play safety. Jones is faster and rangier than those three players, however, which is why he should eventually be a better fit to cover the deep half of the field.

Is there any chance the Patriots trade for a veteran WR outside of the annual Julio Jones rumors?

It’s certainly possible, but I don’t think the Patriots would mortgage the future to pull off a deal.

It feels like Odell Beckham Jr. is always involved in trade rumors. Julio Jones has been a popular name in recent weeks. It might be worth checking in on one of the Denver Broncos’ wide receivers too. They’re a little top heavy there with Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, K.J. Hamler and Tim Patrick.

It feels like the New York Giants (Kenny Golladay, John Ross, Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton and Kadarius Toney), Arizona Cardinals (A.J. Green, DeAndre Hopkins, Andy Isabella, Christian Kirk and Rondale Moore) and Los Angeles Rams (Tutu Atwell, DeSean Jackson, Van Jefferson, Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods) each have one too many receivers, as well.

Do you feel, how I feel. that there?s a trade coming for a number 1 WR, or do they sign one, or do they wait for trade deadline see what we got? #MailDoug

P.S. thank you for giving us your time to ask questions. I?m so excited for this season to start. Wether it?s Cam or Big Mac
I don’t think it’s a certainty New England adds a No. 1 wide receiver. I gave some potential trade partners above, but I think the Patriots are more than willing to go into the 2021 season with some combination of Nelson Agholor, Jakobi Meyers, Nelson Agholor, N’Keal Harry, Gunner Olszewski, Tre Nixon, Kristian Wilkerson, Devin Smith and Isaiah Zuber at the position.

That being said, it’s an easily upgradeable position. So, New England should be looking for another option.

And no problem, Frogman! The mailbag is one of my favorite columns each week. There’s a lot to be excited about in 2021.

Going thru the schedule . Can you give prediction of games won loss? If cam starts I hit 10 wins. If Jones starts I got 12 ??

First, I wouldn’t say there’s a massive difference in win totals whether Cam Newton or Mac Jones starts. I certainly wouldn’t predict more games won with Jones under center.

I would predict 10 or 11 wins at this point. I look at the home games against the Dallas Cowboys, Cleveland Browns and Tennessee Titans as the make-or-break matchups that could be the difference between a nine- and 12-win season.

What week is the most financially advantageous situation for Mac to take over as the starter and still being competitive team? Most of Cams deal is incentive based so do you think that factors into the decision to switch if Bill believes that they can have relatively same record

I do not believe Newton’s incentives will factor in to Bill Belichick’s decision to turn to Jones. Newton’s incentives were not a factor last season. Belichick wants to win games, and he’ll play the QB who gives him the best chance to do that.

But it is an interesting question. Newton’s playing-time incentives kick in at 60 percent of snaps. In order to play 60 percent of snaps, Newton would have to start somewhere around 11 games. If Newton only starts 10 games, then he likely won’t pick up any of his playing time incentives.

Hi Doug, Is there one positional battle that you’re most interested in seeing during Training Camp?

The quarterback battle between Newton, Jones and — to a lesser degree — Jarrett Stidham will be No. 1 on my mind.

Beyond that, I’m interested to see who gets No. 2 wide receiver reps behind Agholor between Bourne and Meyers. With two tight ends (Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry) expected to be on the field for the majority of snaps, winning that No. 2 role is big.

I’m also interested to see who will be the most common 11th defender on the field. We have a pretty good idea that Lawrence Guy, Davon Godchaux, Kyle Van Noy, Matt Judon, Dont’a Hightower, Stephon Gilmore, JC Jackson, Jonathan Jones, Devin McCourty and Adrian Phillips will start. But who’s the 11th guy?

Some potential candidates: Henry Anderson, Christian Barmore, Ronnie Perkins, Chase Winovich, Deatrich Wise, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Anfernee Jennings, Josh Uche, Kyle Dugger and Jalen Mills.

That’s a lot of options. The Patriots’ defense is incredibly deep this season.

Let’s go rapid fire.

Hi Doug, I’m pretty excited to watch Mac play whenever that may be. However, I have do have one very deep concern about him on the field. Why does he look kinda goofy all padded up? Thanks keep up the good work. #MailDoug

This question just made me laugh, so I kept it in. Maybe Newton can help Jones with his style in pads.

Besides Brady’s return, what stands out to you most on our 2021 schedule?

The late bye. Playing 13 games without a bye is really tough.

Is there a possibility this season that Isaiah Wynn moves out to RT and Trent Brown takes over LT or do you think they stick with Wynn at LT where?s he?s been most comfortable?

It’s possible, but I don’t think it’s the best move. Keep Isaiah Wynn at left tackle, and put Trent Brown at right tackle where he has plenty of experience.

Should our new QB’s nick name be:

‘Maccuracy’ Jones? ??
That’s pretty terrible, so I love it.

Do you have any thoughts on potential surprise cuts? There are certain spots on the defense where I’m not sure how many players we’ll field.

I’m not sure if there’s a surprise cut, but I could see a trade in the front seven. There are a lot of linebackers and edge defenders worthy of roster spots on the Patriots.

Have you ever had a Fresca?

My wife loves Fresca. I think she’s single-handedly keeping the brand afloat.

Which day 2 or day 3 rookie will have the most impact on the 2021 season?

Barmore is the safe answer. Perkins is a dark-horse candidate, though. He looks like a first-round pick on tape.

Looking back at your May 8, 2020 mailbag it seems like some people were all in on the idea of Stidham. Cam was middling and Stidham never even got a shot even in meaningless games. What the heck happened? Can we get a postmortem?

No OTAs or minicamp, then Stidham had a bad start to training camp and got injured early in the summer with no preseason to make up ground. Then I don’t think Belichick ever wanted to get into a serious quarterback controversy, and the Patriots’ offensive weapons weren’t good enough to give a pocket passer a serious shot at success. So, Newton was the better option even though he certainly struggled at times.

I think that’s essentially what it boils down to. Belichick believed Newton gave the team a better chance to win, and Stidham never put up a serious fight.

Doug, what if anything are you hearing from within the pats org regarding Kristian wilkerson? Do they like him? Do they view him as an ascending player ?

I’d say it’s a good sign that the Patriots waited until the seventh round of the draft to pick a wide receiver and that they didn’t add any undrafted players at the position. Wilkerson has a serious shot at making the team with a good offseason. He got off to a promising start by showing up to Pats Camp West early.

Does Rashod Berry have a shot at making the 53 man roster?

He’s a long shot.

Hi Doug, from a journalistic point of view, what is your favourite kind of articles ?

This is kind of a cop-out, but I have fun with pretty much everything other than basic 100- or 200-word posts. I’ve been having a good time writing film reviews on the Patriots’ draft picks. I really like digging into spreadsheets with analytics. I like writing features. And breaking stories is always a thrill.

I probably have the most fun when I can combine analytics with on-field study while throwing in some original reporting.

Doug, in your opinion, do you think Brady signs one of those 1 day contracts to retire a patriot when he finally decides to hang up the cleats?

He should. I’m not sure if he will.

All things considered?was Sony Michel an okay draft pick or a bad draft pick?

An OK draft pick. The Patriots won a Super Bowl with/because of Sony Michel. But there was also a much better player available in Lamar Jackson, and picking a running back in the first round is typically a questionable decision.

What position grouping could be the toughest to make the team ?
Will the Pats give TB12 a video tribute when he stops by in October ?
the next time we go to Disney can Olivia come ?

— Edge defender

— I would bet Robert Kraft has something special planned.

— Only if I can sneak into a suitcase too.

Turkey or ham sandwich?


What are the odds of Dalton Keene taking the FB roster spot over Jakob Johnson and Danny Vitale?

I think it’s a fairly strong possibility. The Patriots historically have not kept a fullback when they use two tight ends.

#maildoug The people want to know Doug, before you became a reporter, which NFL team were you a fan of?

I was and still am a fan of the Washington Huskies.

What position do you think still needs an upgrade?

Wide receiver.

For people who cover and write about the pats, do you folks all get along? If not, who do you get along with the best, and conversely, who do you get along with the least? #MailDoug

We get along 99 percent of the time. I talk to a lot of my fellow beat reporters every day via text or DMs, and we hang out a lot during the week at the stadium and on the road. I don’t know if I get along with one reporter best, but I probably talk to Zack Cox, Mark Daniels, Henry McKenna and Andrew Callahan most frequently. Zack is my colleague at NESN, and I’m in a dynasty fantasy league with Mark, Henry and Andrew. (Former Patriots beat reporter Kevin Duffy is also in that league.)

I wouldn’t say there’s one specific beat writer I get along with the least. There’s some healthy competition at times, however.

What?s your cheat day meal? #maildoug

For a lot of the pandemic, every meal was a cheat meal. Now, I’m trying to get back into fighting shape before the season, so I’ll say pizza.

Hot fudge or hot caramel ? #MailDoug #Dougsbuds

Depends on what it’s on. Hot fudge on ice cream. I’ll take caramel on a bread pudding or something.


Now I’m just thinking about dessert.

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