As Jerry Garcia and the rest of the Grateful Dead would sing each night on their never-ending tours, “what a long, strange trip it’s been.” Buckle up, the hippie van is ready to go on the bad acid trip known as the recent New England Patriots decision-making.
For the New England Patriots, the 2022 offseason has continued to be a frustrating and confusing time for the fanbase on the outside looking in. Just consider the recent past.
The post-Super Bowl era began with the “retirement” of party boy Rob Gronkowski in 2019 right after all the quality free agent tight ends were off the market leaving Matt LaCosse and 39-year old Ben Watson at tight end for Tom Brady’s last season; Or the pandemic free agency of 2020 with Brady bailing on the only team to take a chance on the Michigan quarterback who had to retake his job from former New York Yankees washout third baseman Drew Henson.
Ahh, 2020, the pandemic season of Cam Newton in New England. Those were the days! Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels stubbornly called the same plays for Newton he called for Brady and wondered why the offense didn’t work.
Finally, 2021 arrived with Scrooge McDuck Kraft emptying his cash reserves to spend on free agents for the first time since…Roosevelt Colvin? Adalius Thomas? Hard to remember, but with the revenues of the NFL increasing with the new media and expanding television deals, there was suddenly the realization that the Patriots had made as much money as the other NFL franchises and could spend annually in free agency.
Then the 2021 NFL Draft, with New England drafting players that the media and fans have actually heard of! Quarterback Mac Jones and fellow Crimson Tide Christian Barmore headed the class. Another double-up on both sides of the ball with Ronnie and Rhamondre from Oklahoma.
For the Patriots, 2021 was rolling along with success, albeit some very odd frustrations. Quarterback Mac Jones and new wide receiver Kendrick Bourne had obvious chemistry, but fellow free agent Nelson Agholor must have felt he was back in Philadelphia. After the Raiders used him as a deep threat from the slot in 2020 where he put up Tyreek Hill numbers in the second half of the season.
Josh McDaniels, predictably, moved Agholor back outside the numbers where he struggled in Philadelphia. More egregious, however, was the scared-turtled offense as the Patriots dropped winnable games to Dallas and Tampa Bay by eschewing fourth-and-short opportunities. That “playing scared” mentality manifested in the cold and windy December night in Buffalo,.
McDaniels applied the manacles to Mac just a week after the rookie quarterback dismantled Tennessee’s defense to the tune of 300+ yards through the air and a pair of touchdowns to Bourne. Shattering the rookie’s confidence, McDaniels let him throw the ball just three times.
The New England offense never recovered and as the defense lost it’s early season mojo, the offense could not keep pace and cost the Patriots the AFC East, seeding and finally the Wild Card game versus the Buffalo Bills.
Coming off a return to the playoffs, the Patriots offseason was…puzzling. The linebacking group was blown up and All-Pro cornerback JC Jackson took the money and ran in free agency (Scrooge McDuck Kraft was too busy swimming in his new Amazon Prime Thursday night billions of dollars in revenue to surface and use some coins to keep Jackson, I guess).
New England again cried salary cap woes while the simple accounting tricks that would only require the outlay of cash (again, billions of dollars flowing into Foxboro and the other 31 markets) to make the Patriots major players in free agency. Alas, the dollars remained in the vault.
New England traded Super Bowl 52 goat Shaq Mason, who skated with no criticism after embarrassingly whiffing on the block of Brandon Graham leading to the game-winning strip-sack of Brady down five with just over two minutes to play. Mason was traded to free his bloated salary from the rolls, but New England’s spending spree left much to be desired.
Desperately trying to hold on to the expected projected 2023 third-and-sixth round compensatory draft picks, the Patriots shored up their defense with…fresh off retirement Malcolm Butler and discarded by the Texans Terrance Mitchell.
Folks, I can feel the excitement tingling still after those signings.
The offseason of crumbs and cast-offs continued with the unbridled excitement of offensive weapon Ty Montgomery (he plays wide receiver and running back, but neither of them well) as well as unwanted in Miami wide receiver DeVante Parker who was available to the division rival after the Dolphins doubled-down on the Cheetah, game-changing Tyreek Hill after his salary demands led the Chiefs to move him.
Premium wide receivers moved all over the NFL this offseason, Hill, Davante Adams, Robert Woods, Amari Cooper, Marquis Brown, A.J. Brown, and more. Forget them, DeVante Parker was the move for New England.
Free agent Odell Beckham remains unsigned--there’s a weapon for Mac. Former teammate Jarvis Landry and deep threat Will Fuller are out there as well. Many other free agents remain unsigned. How about slot cornerback/safety Tyrann Mathieu--wouldn’t the Honey Badger look good in the secondary? Need pass rushers? Akiem Hicks is still out there on the interior and edge rushers Melvin Ingram, Jerry Hughes and Jadeveon Clowney remain unsigned.
Not opening the wallets, the Patriots had the 2022 NFL draft to restock.
Now, quick disclaimer: I loved this draft by the Patriots. An old-school “I’m smarter than all of you” with both middle fingers extended while smoking a cigar wearing a “kiss my rings” t-shirt kind of Bill Belichick draft.
God, my knees are still weak from the three days of the NFL Draft.
Overdraft a punter? That’s so passe. Bill went back to the classics.
Trade down and flip the draft board over your knee and give it a proper spanking. Belichick set-off a national frenzy by drafting a guard with a second/third round grade by the NFL Draft “Experts”.
Is Cole Strange going to work out and be a star? No idea. But Logan Mankins was one of my favorite all-time Patriots and this guy could be the closest we’ve seen to him with great athleticism and a nasty streak a mile long. This offense needs to start with protection for Jones and a physical nature for the running game or it is not going anywhere.
The second round got even better. Remember Tony Simmons? How about Chad Jackson? Or Brandon Tate? Or Taylor Price? Aaron Dobson? Heck, we still have N’Keal Harry to kick around for flame-out wide receivers high on one particular talent but never could put everything together.
Meet Tyquan Thornton. Bill is that mad scientist in his lab who has blown the lab up six times perfecting his formula for a wide receiver. But, I guess Belichick is once again asking us to trust him, this time he has the right combination and it won’t explode in his face. Thornton, by the way, also had a late day two/early day three grade from the NFL Draft “Experts”.
That said, I can’t wait until training camp when the Bayor speedster makes a few plays in camp and the local media wonks start switching their stories to “I always loved this guy!”
Round three, things got boring. The Patriots drafted the consensus best player at a position of need. Yawn.
However, Marcus Jones is far from a boring player. He’s a plug-and-play replacement for Gunner Olszewski in the kick and punt returner role. In addition, he is the 2023 replacement for slot cornerback Jonathan Jones.
Jones was just about the only 2022 NFL Draft pick that the media and “experts” could muster up any enthusiasm for.
Day three was more of the same criticism of day one and two. Bill Belichick, acting like he didn’t care about Mel Kiper’s oracle-like player rankings, continued to befuddle the analysts with his picks .
Jack Jones, a talented but with off-field questions, was scooped up in the fourth round. The analysts and “experts” were again surprised.
Jones had a late round grade. I have a feeling it was more that New England had a “J.C. Jackson” feeling about him. Made some mistakes, older, but has all the tools to be a talented cornerback. Dane Brugler at the Athletic graded Jones as a seventh round pick, but after talking about his off-field issues stated that his “short-area agility, ball instincts and compete skills are NFL-worthy traits”.
Let’s go quick-hit on these remaining picks.
Remaining Fourth round:
Pierre Strong, pick 127, RB, South Dakota St.
A fast running back--oh, the horror! I see Strong in a Patriots uniform and I see the running back screen back as a weapon instead of watching Brandon Bolden come up short over and over again on third down.
Bailey Zappe, pick 137, QB, Western Kentucky
What, someone still believes in Jarret Stidham? Heck, I sure don’t. No idea if Zappe can play, but I’d rather see anyone else coming in a game than Stidham and Hoyer. Those two bozos proved their lack of worth in 2020 and neither should ever set foot on the field in the regular season ever again.
Kevin Harris, pick 183, RB, South Carolina
Now see, this is a pick I can get behind everyone complaining about. He had a great 2020 season, back surgery slowed him in 2021. This is a roll of the dice. I guess in the sixth round it’s tough to get worked up about taking chances on health.
Sam Roberts, pick 200, DE, NW Missouri St.
No one has anything bad to say about this pick. Physical freak from a small school. This is what late round picks are all about. Will he make the roster? Maybe. Is he a potential Pro Bowl player? No, but a penetrating interior pass rusher is a need on every roster.
Chasen Hines, pick 210, G, LSU
Andrew Stueber, pick 245, OL, Michigan
Hines is big and can pull in the running game. Sounds like he landed on the right team as a developmental prospect.
Stueber is a tackle likely moving inside to guard. Another developmental player.