More Questions than Answers for the Patriots after Eventful Day at League Meetings
The initial fireworks of the new NFL year have subsided, and the time has once again come for the annual Owners Meetings out in Arizona. Lots of things are expected to be dealt with in these couple of days. Including but not limited to the possibility of flexing games in and out of the Thursday Night Football slot, setting locations for future Super Bowls (that likely will end up being situated in May if not this week), and a bevy of possible rule and regulation changes.
These meetings also presented an opportunity for the media to chat up head coaches and front office personnel who are present out in the desert. This morning was the designated day for the AFC teams, and Bill Belichick's table was a hot ticket as you could probably imagine, as were those of Broncos head coach Sean Payton and Jets head coach Robert Salah for obvious reasons.
"We're not afraid to do whatever we can do to help the team, whatever that is." - Bill Belichick
The hoodie wasn't too keen on going into detail on his newest signings, or if they are done adding to the team, but made it clear that he's still operating on the basis of doing what's best for the Patriots. That especially rang true when Matt Patricia was brought up, with Belichick making it sound like he won't be back with the team in 2023. Not exactly a surprising development, but a necessary one if the Patriots want to get to where they ultimately want to be.
A part of that process was overhauling the offensive coaching staff with the additions of Bill O'Brien and Adrian Klemm. When pressed on the call to bring B.O'B back, Belichick mentioned that their relationship was one of the factors that led to him returning to 1 Patriot Place. And if you couldn't already tell, Bill was having a ton of fun here and was very open, no drinking orange juice memes unfortunately though.
Where things really got interesting was when the quarterback position was brought up as a topic. Over the last several months, rumors and innuendo of trouble in paradise with Belichick and Mac Jones haven't exactly quieted down, and the former did absolutely nothing to fan those flames on Monday. Belichick first danced around a question of there possibly being an open competition at quarterback between Jones and Bailey Zappe. This wouldn't be noteworthy had Belichick not remained steadfast with Cam Newton down the stretch in 2020 when his play started to dip. Secondly, and this was the spicy nugget, Belichick when asked about any issues he had with Jones in 2022 said this. "We're looking ahead."
Not exactly a yes but certainly not a firm no. I doubt this is the last time we will hear about this either. Not a particularly great sign of where things are at with Jones entering a pivotal year three. Belichick also unironically dropped a 'look at the last 25 years' line when asked by Mike Reiss if fans should be optimistic going into this season (The Patriots are 25-25 post-Tom Brady).
"We experimented with some things last year that didn’t work. We made changes to put him in position to excel.” - Robert Kraft
Seeing as this was a designated owners meeting, we also got a chance to hear from Bob Kraft. Another recent big move the Patriots made was re-upping Jerod Mayo on a "long-term extension", and Kraft gave him quite the vote of confidence when he held court on Monday.
“Jerod is an individual, I think there is no ceiling on his ability to grow and how competent he is. … I was happy we were able to sit with him and keep him long term. I’m going to do everything I can to make that happen.”
Kraft also made it a point to mention that he thinks Mayo is head coach material and went out of his way to say "I hope he's with us." Taking a step back, it's crazy to think about where Mayo is now in his coaching career. It wasn't too long ago he was on TV with NBC Sports Boston, and he now feels set as the heir apparent to Bill Belichick, and deservingly so mind you. Just simply having a guy who played the game at a First-Team All-Pro level in your building can only help you. When asked about the general state of the coaching staff, Kraft sounded very satisfied with where things are currently, while also lamenting the end result of the offensive staff from a year ago. Additionally, Kraft mentioned that this is a "transitional phase" with the team, but he still has confidence in Belichick running the ship.
Unlike Belichick, Kraft sounded a bit more optimistic about his franchise's offensive centerpiece. He directly came out saying that he's a fan of McCorkle and that the coaching moves made in recent weeks/months have put him in a great spot. Additionally, Kraft made it a point to mention that Jones has been down at Gillette "almost every day" this offseason working out as the offseason program draws close.
Another interesting topic Kraft addressed was spending, something that Bill Belichick took a subtle but deliberate shot at earlier in the offseason. As a refresher, this was about raw cash spending as opposed to the salary cap, and according to OverTheCap, the Patriots have the fifth lowest cash spent number in the NFL for 2023 (Also rank dead last in Cash to Cap Space ratio). Kraft scoffed at the notion that money spending is a problem for the Patriots and said if so he'll sell the team. Even if the Patriots extend some of their own guys in the near future (Kyle Dugger, Josh Uche, Michael Onwenu) they are going to have a boatload of cap space to play with, so that won't be an excuse if the Patriots need to spend to remedy any issues next year on the open market.
Finally, the biggest news of the day dropped hours before Kraft spoke to anyone publically. Right as Ravens head coach John Harbaugh got situated, Lamar Jackson went public with his trade request that he made at the beginning of the month. Coincidently enough, the Patriots have been one of the handful of teams near the top of the betting market to land him for some time now in some spots. With that said, Kraft mentioned that Meek Mill, yes Meek Mill, had told him several days ago that Jackson would be interested in playing for the Patriots. Furthermore, Kraft publically put the call to bring him in or not at the feet of Bill Belichick. Now more than ever, I think both Kraft and Belichick are very deliberate when they want to get something out there publically, and this is no exception.
Would Lamar Jackson Make Sense for the Patriots?
I feel like I've been fairly consistent with this over the last several months, but I would not want to move off of Mac Jones barring anything that would be a clear substantial upgrade. Lamar Jackson would be that substantial upgrade. He's only 26 years old, just years removed from unanimously winning league MVP, and is one of the most dynamic offensive players that the NFL has ever seen.
Injuries have been an issue for Jackson these last couple of seasons yes, but how much of that is on him vs. the Ravens' training/strength and conditioning staff? The latter of which was voted as the worst in the league by their own players in an anonymous NFLPA survey. Even current Patriots-former Ravens Matt Judon and Carl Davis went out of their way to voice their displeasure when that topic made the rounds on Twitter.
As far as a potential new contract, that shouldn't be an issue that dissuades the Patriots from making a move. As previously mentioned, cap space isn't an issue moving forward, and since the cap is ultimately a myth/plot device once you really get down to it, they could set it up to where Jackson could fit under the cap for this year. Jackson has come out publically stating that he is not asking for a fully guaranteed deal either, so cross that out as a barrier to entry as well. I don't think any sort of long-term extension with Lamar would scare me off of pulling the trigger. You can't have a quarterback on a rookie contract forever now.
In short, would I make the move to bring in Lamar should everything make sense? Yes. Seeing as he's technically tagged via the non-exclusive tender, the Patriots would have to part with two first-round picks, but that would be a gamble worth making. A certain Nasty Man fetched three first-round picks a year ago as well by the way, and would also be less than what the Broncos gave up for Russell Wilson. Will the Patriots and Bill Belichick make this move, in reality, is a whole new can of worms, but this would make sense for the Patriots in any event.
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