The New England Patriots were supposed to practice in front of reporters for the first time Thursday, giving the media its first glimpse at the 2023 squad in action.
But that sneak peek now won’t come until next week.
The Patriots had two organized team activities practices — including the one originally scheduled for Thursday — taken away by the NFL as punishment for violating the league’s offseason training rules. The reported violation: listing a 15-minute special teams meeting on an internal schedule, a source told Pro FootballTalk’s Mike Florio. Seems like overkill, but here we are.
With next Tuesday’s practice also wiped out, the Patriots’ first open OTA session was rescheduled for next Wednesday. While we wait for that, let’s dive into some of your latest Patriots mailbag questions.
Who could be a surprised cut? And who could be a surprise Trade?
The two players I’m looking at as surprise cut candidates are offensive tackle Trent Brown and defensive tackle Lawrence Guy.
Brown projects as a starter at either left or right tackle (probably left), but the Patriots could clear $8 million in salary cap space by cutting him, with $4.25 million left behind in dead money. If they become convinced that someone like the cheaper Calvin Anderson can give them comparable play at that spot, and that some combination of Conor McDermott, Sidy Sow and Andrew Stueber can provide the reliable depth they need, then I could see them parting ways with Brown, whose play declined last season. Brown’s cap hit is the third-highest on the team behind Matthew Judon and Hunter Henry.
Guy still is a good player for New England’s defense and has been for years, but he’s 33 years old, posted the worst Pro Football Focus grade of his career last season (53.5; 89th out of 127 qualified interior defenders) and would leave a dead cap charge of just $250,000 if he’s cut after June 1, with $3.3 million in cap savings. If the Patriots want to give Christian Barmore a larger role in Year 3, Guy could be pushed out.
If I was projecting a 53-man roster today, Brown and Guy both would be on it. But it wouldn’t floor me if either was let go.
As for who could be traded, I think wide receiver Kendrick Bourne is a possibility, depending on how new offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien feels about him. I believe Bourne is worth keeping — he was the Patriots’ best playmaker in 2021 before falling out of favor with Matt Patricia last season — but if O’Brien isn’t a fan, I’m sure he’d generate interest from receiver-needy teams. Trading the 28-year-old would clear just under $5.5 million in cap space with a $1.4 million dead-money hit.
What are the chance you think both Boutte & Douglas make the 53? Do the both have to be best WRs on through TC for that to happen? If it does I feel like Bourne would be the odd man out. Any chance you think it would be Parker instead or of them keep 6 (not including Slater)?
I thought Kayshon Boutte and Demario Douglas were great picks in Round 6, and I think either has a chance of cracking the 53-man roster. Will both make the cut? I wouldn’t predict that at this stage, but it is possible, especially if the aforementioned theoretical Bourne trade becomes reality. In that scenario, the Patriots would carry JuJu Smith-Schuster, DeVante Parker, Tyquan Thornton, Boutte and Douglas into the regular season, plus special teamer Matthew Slater.
Could they keep Bourne and both rookies? Again, it’s not out of the question, but history suggests that’s unlikely. The Patriots included more than five non-Slater wideouts on their initial 53 just once in the past 10 seasons. That was in 2019, when they rostered Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, Josh Gordon, Phillip Dorsett and undrafted rookies Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski. Since 2013, they’ve kept five receivers six times, four receivers twice and three receivers once.
I also think it’s important to temper expectations for Douglas and especially Boutte. They’re both talented and exciting players, and Boutte looked like a potential first-round prospect before his final season at LSU, but we’re still talking about a pair of sixth-round draft picks here. Over the last 10 years, less than half of the Patriots’ sixth-round picks made the team out of training camp (8 of 19), and just four were active in Week 1: Mike Onwenu and Justin Herron in 2020, Ted Karras in 2016 and Zach Moore in 2014.
Again, I liked both picks, but I’m going to wait until I see them on the field before making any grand predictions.
On Parker, I expect him to make the team and be a starter, but it is worth noting that his entire $6.2 million salary for this season is nonguaranteed, meaning the Patriots could cut or trade him with no financial penalty if they don’t like what they see this summer.
What are the patriots looking to do at RT? Are they going to be starting McDermott/Anderson/Reiff, or move Onwenu back to RT and start one of the rooms at guard?
I think the most likely first-team tackle combo we see in OTAs is Brown on the left side and 34-year-old Riley Reiff on the right, but that’s not a guarantee. Both players have experience at both spots, and Reiff has played much more left tackle than right in his career (though he only played the latter for the last two seasons). Brown also performed better as a right tackle for the Patriots in 2021 than he did as their left tackle last season.
Anderson never has been a Week 1 starter, but he also has left-right versatility and received the same amount of guaranteed money ($4 million) as Reiff when he signed with the Patriots. So, don’t rule him out as a potential starting candidate. Eleven of his 12 career starts to date came at left tackle — his NFL debut the lone exception — but the former Denver Broncos did see work on the right side in each of the last two preseasons.
McDermott hasn’t been a first-choice NFL starter in his career, either, but he started the Patriots’ final six games at right tackle last season and was a pleasant surprise, holding up better than one would expect from a player signed off a practice squad in late November. He also played for Patriots O-line coach Adrian Klemm at UCLA, so there’s a prior relationship there.
Overall, the Patriots are in better shape at tackle than they were a year ago, but the ceiling for this group still seems relatively low. Brown, McDermott, Anderson and Reiff all ranked between 43rd and 51st among tackles in PFF grade in 2022. Fourth-round rookie Sow hasn’t played tackle since 2018 — the vast majority of his 55 starts at Eastern Michigan came at guard — and Stueber is a total wild card after an injury wiped out his entire rookie season.
And to answer the second part of your question, no, I don’t expect to see Onwenu back at tackle. I personally like him in that spot, and he’s played well there in the past, but Bill Belichick and Matt Groh both have said they prefer to keep him at right guard, where he played at a borderline Pro Bowl level last season. Onwenu also reportedly will miss at least part of OTAs following offseason ankle surgery.