Patriots Mailbag: Why More Pats Free Agent Signings Could Be Coming

Plus: Jordan Davis or Jameson Williams?


April 22, 2022

It’s Friday morning in New England. You know what that means: time for another Patriots mailbag.

Questions submitted for this week’s edition involved a choice between two desirable first-round prospects, one Day 1 possibility the Patriots should avoid, predictions for Malcolm Butler’s second act, potential post-draft veteran pickups and more.

On the off chance that Davis and Williams are there at 21…who do you think the Pats would take? or would they take someone else? trade down? and why? tx

Bill Belichick’s drafting history suggests he’d be more likely to select Georgia defensive tackle Jordan Davis than Alabama wide receiver Jameson Williams in that scenario.

Since 2000, the Patriots have drafted eight front-seven defenders in the first round, including five defensive linemen (Richard Seymour, Ty Warren, Vince Wilfork, Dominique Easley and Malcom Brown). They’ve famously used just one first-round pick on a receiver: N’Keal Harry in 2019.

Could New England take Williams if he slides to the latter stages of Day 1? Sure. He’s coming off a torn ACL, but he’s wildly talented, and new director of player personnel Matt Groh recently spoke of the need to be “aggressive” in acquiring wideout talent in today’s NFL.

In a conference call with reporters Thursday, NFL Media’s Daniel Jeremiah said Williams would be a “home-run pick” for the Patriots, who have drafted four Alabama products in the last three years and six in the last seven.

But Davis more closely fits what the Patriots traditionally have targeted in the first round. He’s incredibly athletic for his size (6-foot-6, 341 pounds) and could team up with impressive 2021 second-rounder Christian Barmore to solidify New England’s D-line for years to come.

In reality, though, landing either player likely would require a trade-up from No. 21, as most draft analysts project Williams and Davis will come off the board in the teens.

Fill in the blank: Of all the players that media have mocked to NE at pick 21, _____ would be a mistake.

I haven’t seen him mocked to the Patriots in a while, but I don’t think Arkansas receiver Treylon Burks would be a great fit in New England. His lack of route-running prowess, need for schemed touches and reliance on outphysicaling opponents give me some Harry vibes.

There are NFL offenses in which Burks could excel, but I don’t believe his skill set would mesh well with what the Patriots expect from their wideouts.

On a scale of Super Bowl 52 to Super Bowl 49, how much do you see Malcolm Butler contributing to the team this year?

I could see Butler starting every game this season and being a solid cog in the Patriots’ secondary, though probably not the Pro Bowler he was early in his career. I could also see him struggling to reacclimate to the NFL game after a year of retirement and getting cut in training camp, his comeback bid ending within a matter of months.

Neither outcome would surprise me, which makes it difficult to predict how Butler will perform until we see him on the field next month in organized team activities. That’s why his two-year contract is heavy on incentives and per-game roster bonus, featuring just $750,000 in guaranteed money.

Boring answer, I know. But that uncertainty is part of what makes Butler’s return to New England such a fascinating storyline, along with the obvious Super Bowl LII angle.

Who do you the pats will play opening week ?

I don’t know about opening week, but I have a feeling Patriots-Raiders in Las Vegas will be an early-season meeting. No intel on that, just a hunch. I bet Josh McDaniels’ first game against his former team will be a primetime matchup sometime in September or October, when there’s no risk of one club potentially being out of the playoff picture.

The full regular-season schedule will be announced Thursday, May 12, with a handful of select games set to be revealed during the preceding weeks. Here are the Patriots’ 2022 opponents:

HOME: Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Detroit Lions, Indianapolis Colts, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets

AWAY: Arizona Cardinals, Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, Green Bay Packers, Las Vegas Raiders, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings, New York Jets, Pittsburgh Steelers

If the Pats draft Araiza, do you think there is any chance they try & develop his K ability so when Folks contract is up in 2 yrs he might take over? He was a pretty good K @ SDSU & Bill during the season said it would be invaluable having someone do both to free up roster spot
Really interesting question about San Diego State’s Matt Araiza. There aren’t any specialists in the NFL who handle both punting and field goal/extra point duties, outside of occasional emergency situations. If there was ever a coach who’d test out that setup — using a hybrid punter/place kicker to save a roster spot — it would be Belichick, but the requirements for each position are so specific and distinct that it simply might not be possible for one player to do both at an NFL-caliber level.

Here’s what Belichick had to say on the topic during his epic nine-minute monologue about long snappers last September:

“It’s so rare that you even see a combination punter and place kicker. Usually it’s one or the other, and I think part of that is at one level it’s, I’ll say, relatively easy to put your foot on the ball, but at this level, you know, the difference in kicking mechanics and punting mechanics are so different that it’s really hard to be good at both, but you know, if a guy’s got a good leg and he’s a good athlete and he can make good contact with a ball, there’s a point where, high school, college, that maybe it’s good enough. Maybe he’s the best guy on the team to do that, but I’d say at this level, that will be asking a lot. Now, like, Jake (Bailey) can punt. Jake can kick off. Jake can kick field goals. To be at the kind of level you want it to be at, to have the person split their time between the two of those, again, I think is a lot to ask. I’m not saying it’s impossible or unheard of, but it’s a lot to ask, and that’s why you don?t see it very much.”

So, no, I don’t think it’s likely that the Patriots would draft Araiza and have him pull double duty, even though he both boomed punts and kicked field goals in college. He’s still an intriguing potential target for New England, though, with Bailey set to carry a non-guaranteed $4 million salary this season.

I had the Patriots grabbing Araiza in the fourth round (No. 129 overall) in my latest mock draft.

What FA might the Patriots be interested in after the draft compensatory deadline has passed. Are Hightowers days with the Pats over?
There are a few notable ex-Patriots still lingering in free agency, like defensive end Trey Flowers and defensive tackle Akiem Hicks. I could see either potentially returning once the draft passes and external signings no longer impact the compensatory draft pick formula for 2023. (The official deadline for that is May 2.) A Flowers reunion, in particular, makes a lot of sense.

As for remaining free agents without New England ties, those names include:

WR Odell Beckham Jr.
WR Will Fuller
WR Cole Beasley
WR Emmanuel Sanders

OT Bryan Bulaga
OT Daryl Williams
OT Dennis Kelly
OT Duane Brown

G Ereck Flowers
G Trey Hopkins
G Billy Price

DT Ndamukong Suh
DT Star Lotulelei
DT Larry Ogunjobi
DT Sheldon Richardson

EDGE Melvin Ingram
EDGE Jason Pierre-Paul
EDGE Jerry Hughes
EDGE Jadeveon Clowney
EDGE Carl Nassib

LB Anthony Barr
LB Joe Schobert
LB Anthony Hitchens
LB Anthony Johnson
LB K.J. Wright

CB Joe Haden
CB Kevin King
CB Kyle Fuller
CB Bryce Callahan
CB Jackrabbit Jenkins
CB Chris Harris
CB Trae Waynes

2021 Patriots linebackers Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins also have yet to find new homes since hitting free agency in March, so any of them theoretically still could re-sign. Defensive tackle Carl Davis is in that camp, as well.

The Athletic’s Jeff Howe reported this week that Hightower, who’s 32 and showed signs of decline last season as he returned from his 2020 COVID-19 opt-out, is “still figuring out what he wants to do” and “could take a while longer” before making his final decision.

NE was one of the few teams in the League who often utilized the position of Fullback in their offense. With the departure of Johnson, do you think the Pats will acquire another FB or rely on the TE’s to fill in that gap? Also, could this signal a shift in their offensive plans?
According to Jakob Johnson, the Patriots are eliminating the traditional fullback from their offense, which, yes, would be a significant shift from the way they’ve operated in recent years. They’ve ranked in the top five in the NFL in 21 personnel usage (two backs, one tight end) in each of the last four seasons, including second in 2018 and 2021 and first in 2020.

But, as I wrote in the wake of Johnson’s parting comments, this is a change many expected to occur last offseason after the Patriots signed big-money tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith.

During the Rob Gronkowski-Aaron Hernandez years, New England didn’t use a fullback, instead heavily relying on two-tight end sets (12 personnel). Surprisingly, the Patriots hardly utilized any 12 personnel during Henry and Smith’s first season together, doing so on just 14% of their offensive snaps (sixth-lowest in the NFL), per Sharp Football Stats.

If Johnson’s preview proves accurate, I’d expect to see much more double-tight end usage this season, with Smith possibly lining up more in the backfield as a de facto fullback in certain packages. Third-year tight end Dalton Keene, a former college H-back, also could be in the mix for that role if he can stay healthy and lock down a roster spot.

Thumbnail photo via Junfu Han/USA TODAY Sports Images
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