Patriots Mailbag: Should New England Trade Receiver Before Season?

Plus: What you should watch for Thursday night


August 11

As we count down the hours until Thursday night’s preseason opener against the New York Giants, let’s take a dive into this week’s New England Patriots mailbag:

What’s the one thing you hope to learn the most about the team after the Giants game? (Narrowly or broadly lol)

In simplest terms, I just want to see how the offense looks.

Is it a functional operation, or does it resemble the disjointed mess we saw in far too many training camp practices, with breakdowns up front resulting in a parade of run stuffs and quarterback pressures?

Scheme-wise, do we see more traditional Patriots staples (gap blocking, pulling guards, dropback passing, traditional play-action) or the Shanahan/McVay-esque elements they’ve shown in camp (zone runs, tight receiver splits, play-action bootlegs)?

With no more fullback, what type of personnel packages do they favor? Three-receiver? Two-tight end? Double running back (aka Pony)?

Oh, and who’s calling the plays? Matt Patricia? Joe Judge? Bill Belichick? (Based on what we’ve seen in practice, Patricia looks like the favorite there.)

It’s unlikely we’ll see Mac Jones and New England’s offensive starters for more than a series or two, if they play at all. And Thursday night’s Patriots offensive approach could look substantially different from the one they roll out against the Miami Dolphins in Week 1, as Belichick won’t want to reveal too much of the playbook in a meaningless exhibition game.

But the Patriots’ offensive struggles have been the No. 1 storyline of training camp, and this is the first time we’ll see them face off against a different defense in a live-contact setting. Will fans come out of this game encouraged by their progress or sounding the alarm bells?

Is the hype on Ty Montgomery overblown or has he just been that good so far?
To me, the hype surrounding Montgomery has been more about usage than performance. He hasn’t been out here making highlight-reel plays every day in practice, but he’s seen consistent and extensive reps with Jones and the top offense since the start of training camp. He can play wide receiver, running back, play on special teams and return kicks.

The Patriots are a big “the more you can do” team, and no one in camp right now can do more than Montgomery.

It’s been years since the 29-year-old was a viable offensive contributor (less than 200 scrimmage yards in each of the last three seasons), so he’ll still need to prove himself in preseason games. But right now, I think he has a very good chance of landing a roster spot — and possibly even taking over for the injured James White as New England’s top third-down back, though Rhamondre Stevenson and rookie Pierre Strong should also be in the mix there.

It’s not a perfect comparison but think of Montgomery as a 2022 version of Brandon Bolden who can also play wideout.

How has jonnu smith looked all this training camp ?
Smith had a tough drop in the end zone Tuesday, but overall, this has been a good camp for the much-maligned tight end. He’s caught more passes from Jones in full-team drills than any player other than Jakobi Meyers — including some flashy grabs over Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips — and has been a full participant in every practice since the start of the spring.

Remember, Smith skipped voluntary OTAs last year, then dealt with injuries that sidelined him in minicamp and training camp. We’ll see whether the progress he’s shown translates once the regular season begins, but he’s certainly put himself in a stronger position to contribute in Year 2.

I’m also expecting to see much more two-tight end looks from the Patriots this season after they jettisoned the fullback position from their roster. New England ranked near the bottom of the NFL in 12 personnel (1RB, 2TE) usage in 2021, but we’ve seen Smith and Hunter Henry on the field together a lot this summer.

How much will Thornton play against the Giants this week?
I imagine most of the Patriots’ rookie class will get a fair bit of playing time Thursday night, Tyquan Thornton included.

This has been an encouraging camp for the second-round wideout, who’s split his time between the first and second offenses and stood out earlier this week with a couple of impressive reps in 1-on-1s. His 4.28 speed is his obvious No. 1 asset, but teammates have been impressed by his quickness, too, and say he’s shown clear improvement since his first practice.

One thing to look for against the Giants is how Thornton performs in run-after-catch situations, as Patriots camp thus far has featured almost no live tackling.

Hi Zack, great coverage of t/c!! What are your thoughts on the w/r position? Five are locks, but does Nixon end up making the team in your opinion? Do we trade somebody?
Thank you!! I appreciate everyone who’s been following along.

As for the wideout room, my latest roster projection had Meyers, DeVante Parker, Kendrick Bourne, Nelson Agholor and Thornton making the cut, plus Montgomery as a running back/receiver hybrid. Tre Nixon has a chance to stick with a strong preseason, but I have him below the cutline for now.

Could anyone from that group be traded? I think that’s possible. I don’t believe it will happen, but it’s possible.

One of last week’s mailbag submissions suggested dealing Agholor to the injury-depleted Dallas Cowboys if they’d have him, which would clear $9.9 million in salary cap space. The Chicago Bears also are dealing with injuries to their already talent-deficient receiving corps, including an ankle ailment that’s sidelining Patriots castoff N’Keal Harry, and could be in the market for reinforcements. Both of those teams have enough cap space to make that trade, too.

I think Agholor has provided some reasons for optimism this spring and summer, with Belichick saying he’s made a “big jump” from where he was during his underwhelming debut season. But if another team is willing to take on your fourth receiver’s $9 million salary, that’s something the Patriots should consider. (FOX Sports’ Henry McKenna wrote a deeper breakdown of the Agholor trade possibility that’s worth a read.)

That said, there are benefits of having this kind of depth at the receiver position, especially since only one of Parker’s seven pro seasons has been injury-free and Thornton, despite his promising camp, might not be ready for a huge role as a rookie.

Trading Meyers or Bourne is less likely, though the latter has had more negative moments in practice (multiple drops, questionable effort on an interception) than positive ones of late.

Pierre Strong update?

Strong has been full-go this week after an undisclosed injury limited him in the first seven training camp practices, and he seems to be climbing the depth chart. But he’s still clearly behind Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson and Montgomery.

For more on the rookie running back’s progress, check out this story from Wednesday.

What’s up with Perkins and McGrone? I was expecting them to be solid contributors. Now, will that even make the 53?
No doubt, edge rusher Ronnie Perkins (third round, 2021) and inside linebacker Cameron McGrone (fifth round, 2021) have been disappointing thus far.

Coming off rookie redshirts, both have been stuck on the scout team throughout training camp, rarely repping with the first-team defense despite the Patriots losing multiple players at their positions (Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, Chase Winovich).

I had Perkins and McGrone making the team in my latest projection, but it seems like both are closer to the bubble than most expected entering camp. I’ll be looking to see if either can impress in preseason games or joint practices.’s coverage of New England Patriots preseason is presented by Cross Insurance, protecting your team since 1954.

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