Patriots Mailbag: Which Redshirt Player Will Have Greatest 2022 Impact?

Plus: What comes next for New England's O-line?

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The New England Patriots’ season is over. But Patriots mailbag season rolls on.

To your questions:

@aspo59
Of all the “redshirt ” players-Jennings, Perkins, Bledsoe, McGrone, McMillan, Uche, Wino- who contributes significantly next year?

I’m going to remove Josh Uche, Chase Winovich, Anfernee Jennings and Raekwon McMillan from this conversation, since their situations were a bit different.

Uche and Winovich did play this season, just not nearly as much as most of us were expecting, especially in Uche’s case. He was one of the stars of training camp but went on to play just 21.9% of defensive snaps and had zero sacks and one quarterback hit after Week 2. Winovich, who has pass-rushing talent, was almost exclusively a special teamer after the first month of the season and was a healthy scratch in last Saturday’s playoff loss to the Buffalo Bills. Both are worth discussing, yes, but not in this context.

McMillan is a veteran who suffered a season-ending knee injury during what had been an impressive training camp. Jennings, who also was placed on season-ending injured reserve before Week 1, played for New England in 2020, so I don’t think he satisfies “redshirt” criteria.

But the other three — edge rusher Ronnie Perkins, linebacker Cameron McGrone and safety Joshuah Bledsoe — do fit the classic redshirt mold as 2021 draft picks who, due to injury or coach’s decision, did not play a single snap this season.

Perkins, a third-round choice out of Oklahoma, showed flashes in the preseason and spent nearly the entire season on the 53-man roster, giving him four months’ worth of practice experience. Running back Damien Harris followed a similar rookie blueprint after he was taken in the third round in 2019. The Patriots eventually placed Perkins on IR during their mid-December bye week.

McGrone (fifth round) didn’t make his Patriots debut until late November, sitting out the spring, summer and early portion of the season as he recovered from the torn ACL that ended his Michigan career. He wound up reverting to the physically unable to perform list three weeks later and never appeared in a game, but given the current state of the Patriots’ defense, he’s the most intriguing prospect of the three.

As its season-ending dud in Buffalo showed, New England badly needs an influx of youth and speed at the second level, and McGrone could provide both in 2022. He showed great athleticism for the Wolverines (though his injury prevented him from testing pre-draft), and at 6-foot-1, 236 pounds, he’s more of a modern linebacker than what the Patriots typically roster. Dont’a Hightower, Ja’Whaun Bentley and Jamie Collins all are listed at 255 or 260. All three are impending free agents, so this position group could be in for an overhaul.

Bledsoe (sixth round) entered the NFL with concerns about his coverage ability and, like McGrone, began the season on PUP after undergoing multiple wrist surgeries. But he showed enough in his late-November return to earn a spot on the 53-man roster.

The Missouri product also did not see game action — and wound up landing on injured reserve Dec. 30 — but earned high praise from head coach Bill Belichick and veteran safety Devin McCourty, the latter of whom called him “super impressive.”

McCourty will be a free agent and has yet to decide whether he’ll play next season. If he retires or signs elsewhere, Bledsoe would be a candidate to fill his spot alongside Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips.

@werdnenats
Thoughts on oline for next season? I’m guessing brown leaves and we either trust Herron to take over or draft a guy. Also what to do with onwenu? Has to be more than a 6th lineman, right?
There definitely are some big O-line-related questions facing the Patriots this offseason with right tackle Trent Brown and left guard Ted Karras headed for free agency and left tackle Isaiah Wynn entering his fifth-year option.

If I’m New England, I try to see if Brown, who seems to love playing in Foxboro, will accept a team-friendly contract to stick around. He missed the first half of the season with a calf injury but was largely excellent after returning. Or, if Brown walks, make Mike Onwenu your permanent right tackle.

The Karras decision likely depends on how the Patriots view Onwenu. If they plan to try him again at left guard, then I’d expect Karras to take his talents elsewhere. The steady veteran proved this season that he is a starting-caliber guard, with his play there convincing the team to bump the promising Onwenu to the bench.

I do agree, though, that Onwenu should start somewhere in 2022. Which position Bill Belichick and his staff choose for him will dictate how they approach this group in the coming months.

Either way, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Patriots used a high draft pick on an offensive tackle this year. With the way Wynn performed this season, New England can’t be confident in him as their long-term left tackle. They could even trade him this offseason if a desirable deal arises. Dealing Wynn would remove all of his guaranteed $10.4 million salary from the Patriots’ salary cap.

@ElliotCohen2
What are the chances the Patriots sign JC to a long term deal or is a tag inevitable? No way they let him walk, right?

I don’t expect the Patriots to sign J.C. Jackson to a long-term deal before free agency, if only because it doesn’t make much sense for him from a financial perspective. If the Pro Bowler and second-team All-Pro hits the market, he’d be the No. 1 cornerback available and would command a highly lucrative contract — likely more lucrative than the Patriots would or could offer.

That’s why the franchise tag still seems like the most likely outcome to me. If the Patriots can’t stomach the $17 million price tag that would entail, maybe they let Jackson test free agency, but I think letting him walk just leaves too big a hole in their secondary with zero proven replacements in the pipeline.

Regardless of whether Jackson stays or goes, the Patriots need to make bolstering their cornerback room a priority this offseason. Their lack of depth there was exposed against Buffalo.

@KP_Booth
Has James White given any indication of plans to return next year, or if he’s thinking of retiring? What is his current contract status?

We haven’t heard anything from White or his camp about his plans for next season. He turns 30 next month, so he should have at least a few more years of good football left in him, assuming he recovers well from the hip injury that ended his season in Week 3.

White looked like the Patriots’ best offensive player before that injury, and since he missed most of the year, he shouldn’t cost much to re-sign. If he’s healthy, I think bringing the Super Bowl hero back on another one-year deal would be a sensible move.

@rhyno8812
Do you think @NkealHarry15 will be on the team next year

I do not. I think it’s clear by this point that Harry will never develop into a consistent, reliable offensive weapon in New England. His performance in the Week 16 loss to Buffalo (six targets, two catches, 15 yards despite playing 95% of snaps) was the last straw for me. We’ll see if he even makes it to training camp.

@SamuelB13989273
Is Shaun Wade a bust?

I wouldn’t say bust just yet, but this was an underwhelming debut season for Wade, whom the Patriots acquired for two Day 3 draft picks (2022 seventh, 2023 fifth) late in the preseason. He played a grand total of 11 defensive snaps, all of them in garbage time. He likely would have seen extended action in last week’s playoff loss with starting cornerback Jalen Mills on the reserve/COVID-19 list, but Wade was on the COVID list, too, and wasn’t available.

Joining a new team as late in the process as Wade did isn’t easy for any rookie, so perhaps he can earn himself a more substantial role as he heads into Year 2. If not, then yeah, you can consider that trade a flop.

@Patzfan5112
Why does it seem like many are talking about the patriots moving on from Mac Jones?

Because they’re trying to manufacture controversy and get you to watch/listen/click. Mac Jones isn’t going anywhere.

@patriotsbo
Hey Zach! I found something that?s a little cool from macs instagram post the other day. Could be a hint to the draft. This guy named Slade bolden who is a slot WR that played with mac in alabama. Mac gave him the (eyes) and I checked his insta and he still hangs with all them.
I don’t think you can glean much Patriots draft insight from Jones’ Instagram comments, but Bolden would be an intriguing later-round target for New England. He’s a versatile slot receiver (check) who was a quarterback in high school (check) and played under Nick Saban at Alabama (check). The prior connection with Jones, his former college teammate, also helps.

It is worth mentioning that Bolden wasn’t especially productive for the Crimson Tide, however. He totaled 68 catches for 712 yards and four touchdowns over his three seasons in Tuscaloosa, with career bests of 42-408-3 in 2021.

Plenty of players are more prolific in the pros than they were in college, and Bolden was sharing targets with some of the nation’s best wideouts throughout his Alabama tenure. But keep that in mind before you prematurely pencil him in as New England’s next great slot.

Two other Bama receivers — Jameson Williams and John Metchie — could be early-round Patriots targets if their medicals check out. Williams and Metchie combined for 175 catches for 2,714 yards and 23 touchdowns this season but suffered torn ACLs in the national championship and SEC Championship, respectively.

@DarweezySF
When are we getting your mock draft???

Not for another month or two. I never get too deep into draft prep during the season, so I’m just now familiarizing myself with this year’s crop of prospects. Keep an eye out for my first mock after the NFL Scouting Combine.

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