Mailbag time! Let’s dive right into your New England Patriots questions as Tom Brady adjusts to his new life as a retired NFL player.
How do you see the Patriots retiring Tom Brady and his number 12? Do you see a ring of honour or a banner?
It’ll be interesting to see how the team handles that. Brady’s number essentially is already retired — the Patriots haven’t issued it since he left three years ago, and I highly doubt they will in the future — and should become the first since Bruce Armstrong’s No. 78 in 2001 to officially be taken out of circulation.
Unlike many teams, the Patriots don’t publicly display their retired numbers anywhere inside Gillette Stadium. No ring of honor, no banners, no nothing. I believe they should buck that trend for a player of Brady’s stature. He deserves to have his No. 12 both retired and emblazoned on some sort of permanent in-stadium tribute.
In case you missed it, I laid out my full four-part plan for how the Patriots should honor Brady now that his career officially is over:
Is it really worth it to spend more time and opportunities on Mac? Have we not seen enough these 2 seasons?
I wouldn’t give up on Mac Jones just yet. Yes, he struggled this season — and isn’t completely blameless for those struggles — but he was placed in the worst possible situation from an offensive coaching standpoint. He was being coached by a guy who had never coached quarterbacks and running plays called by a guy who’d never called plays. We’ve discussed all of this ad nauseam.
The circumstances will be markedly different for Jones in 2023. Bill O’Brien was the perfect choice to take over as New England’s new offensive coordinator and QBs coach. His experience and temperament should allow him to morph Jones back into the promising passer everyone thought he was a year ago.
If he can’t? If Jones’ problems persist even with Matt Patricia and Joe Judge out of the picture? Then we can start talking about a quarterback change.
What’s the likelihood that one of Henry or Jonnu gets traded or cut this offseason
Jonnu Smith, practically zero. After the Patriots restructured his contract last year, they’d absorb prohibitive dead money charges of $19.1 million if they released him before June 1 and $12.7 million for a post-June 1 cut. Smith has been a major disappointment thus far, but that’s way too much money to pay to get rid of him. Barring injury, he’ll be on the roster next season.
Hunter Henry has been much better in his two Patriots seasons, but he has a higher chance of being a surprise cut than his underperforming position mate. Why? Money. Parting ways with Henry via release or trade would save the Patriots $10.5 million in salary cap space while leaving behind $5 million in dead money.
I still don’t think a Henry move is likely, though. My money would be on both high-priced tight ends playing for the Patriots in 2023, with the team surely hoping it can squeeze out more production than the duo provided.
There’s some reason for optimism there, too.
The last time O’Brien was the Patriots’ offensive coordinator, their tight ends were historically productive, with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez combining for 169 catches, 2,237 yards and 24 touchdowns during the 2011 season. Henry and Smith aren’t on that level, but O’Brien has proven he can operate a successful two-tight end offense. We’ll see if he can finally unlock Smith and get Henry back to the level he was at in 2021, when he was Mac Jones’ top red-zone weapon.
It’s also worth noting the Patriots might have found their new tight ends coach. ESPN’s Mike Reiss on Thursday reported they are hiring Will Lawing, a longtime O’Brien assistant who coached the Houston Texans’ tight ends in 2019 and 2020.
Do you think we see another Ja’Whaun Bentley extension before he hits free agency next year, or do you think guys like Dugger, Onwenu and Uche are ahead of him in line.
I could see the Patriots pursuing a Bentley extension, but it might make more sense for him to wait and tests free agency. The two-year, $6 million deal he signed last offseason proved to be a bargain as the fifth-year linebacker enjoyed a career year and was one of New England’s best defensive players.
I’m more interested in the second part of your question: Will the Patriots try to lock down Kyle Dugger, Mike Onwenu and/or Josh Uche as the 2019 draftees enter the final year of their respective rookie contracts? They’re now eligible for extensions since they’ve played three NFL seasons.
All three look like building-block players for New England, with Dugger and Onwenu both playing at a borderline Pro Bowl level this season and Uche finally realizing the pass-rush potential he’s flashed since his rookie year. The trio could be looking at big paydays if they keep this up though the 2023 season, so it would make sense for the Patriots to be proactive and try to extend them on team-friendlier deals.
The fact that they even have three rookie-contract players who are candidates for extentions is a nice change of pace. Since 2016, the only player the Patriots draft pick the team has extended with years still left on his rookie deal is punter Jake Bailey, which speaks to how poorly they drafted in the late 2010s.
What player’s jersey should I buy? In other words, who might actually still be on the team in 5 years?
Great question. If you’re looking for younger players with long-term star potential, you can’t go wrong with Rhamondre Stevenson or Marcus Jones. I expect to see a lot of their jerseys around Gillette next season. Dugger would be a good one, too.