Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Closer look at 2019: One of the hot-button questions after quarterback Tom Brady’s free-agent departure to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is how much the Patriots’ offensive struggles last season were a result of subpar weapons around him — or more because of Brady himself.
Pro Football Reference’s approximate value (AV) metric, which puts a single number on the seasonal value of a player at any position from any year, supports those who lean toward a lack of talent around Brady.
The Patriots’ eligible skill-position players last season had the lowest average AV metric (3.2) of any in Brady’s years as a starter. For context, the highest mark was 2007 — at 7.5.
Looking ahead, the Buccaneers’ skill-position group last season had an average AV metric of 4.6. So put more weapons around Brady, as he now has with Tampa Bay, and there is potential for more explosive results.
Meanwhile, in New England, it is also fair to ask the question: How much was the low AV metric for skill-position players (only those who registered at least a 1 were included in the analysis) tied to Brady’s struggles to adapt with lesser-experienced players with whom he didn’t have already-established trust?
This will be among the most fascinating storylines in the Patriots’ 2020 season. The running backs are the same. The receivers are essentially the same. And two of the top three tight ends are rookies.
If the collective AV metric of the Patriots’ skill-position personnel spikes — especially if 2019 fourth-round pick Jarrett Stidham seizes the job as Brady’s replacement — it will be telling.
2. Thuney’s kind gesture: Lee Marquette is a master sergeant in the Ohio Air National Guard and a big-time Patriots fan who missed most of the 2019 season (and celebrating his 30th birthday) while serving overseas. His wife, Arin, who was looking for a way to uplift his spirits, reached out to a few Patriots players, and soon enough a pair of autographed cleats from left guard Joe Thuney landed at his doorstep. “Joe responding to my wife, and taking the time to do this, is something I will always appreciate,” Marquette said. “I can definitely see why Coach [Bill] Belichick wants to keep him around. He is as good of a person off the field as he is a player on the field.”
3. Dak and Thuney: Thuney, whom the team assigned the market-busting $14.78 million franchise tag to ensure it wouldn’t lose him in free agency, has given the team outstanding financial and on-field value in his first four NFL seasons. He joins Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (fourth round, No. 135) and Chicago Bears guard Cody Whitehair (second round, No. 56) as the only players from the 2016 draft who have started every game in their first four NFL seasons. Thuney was picked in the third round, No. 78 overall.
4. McCourty on Edelman’s leadership: In a Thursday appearance on ESPN’s Get Up! program, Patriots captain Devin McCourty highlighted how the team might fill the leadership void without Brady, saying everyone has to be themselves while noting one player not often discussed. “I think it will [now] be more veteran guys. Guys like Julian [Edelman], who hasn’t got a ton of credit for his leadership, he’s a guy who will step up.” Edelman, set to enter his 12th season in New England, has never been a captain. As the Patriots transition into the post-Brady era, that could be on the cusp of changing.
5. Out in front with rookie signings: With nine of their 10-member draft class signed to contracts, the Patriots have set the leaguewide pace. That represents roughly 25% of the signings across the NFL at this point. Rookie deals are slotted, and generally aren’t difficult to put together, so why wait? Defensive back Kyle Dugger (second round, No. 37) is the team’s lone unsigned pick.
6. Too early to say on Patriots-Lions joint practices: The Patriots and Lions got their wish with a Week 1 preseason game against each other, which sets things up nicely for the teams to get together for joint practices leading up to it. But while Belichick and Lions coach Matt Patricia would like that to be the end result, everything is essentially on hold as of now. Just too many unknowns with the coronavirus pandemic.
7. Wilfork joins Patriots Hall of Fame mix in 2021: This seemed like one of the best years for the Patriots Hall of Fame in terms of media-based interest leading up to last week’s announcement that fans voted for defensive lineman Richard Seymour over the two other finalists, Bill Parcells and Mike Vrabel. The polarizing candidacy of Parcells sparked some passionate discussion, and now, looking ahead to 2021, here comes defensive lineman Vince Wilfork as a first-time-eligible candidate (players or head coaches who have been retired for four years join the mix). That should shake things up even more. Parcells (four times) and Vrabel (five) figure to be finalists again, and then Wilfork, guard Logan Mankins and receiver Wes Welker are among several other deserving candidates for consideration.
8. Don’t pin Parcells’ exclusion solely on fans: Some who support Parcells’ candidacy for the Patriots Hall of Fame (hand raised) have expressed doubt that fans would ever vote him in, and there is probably some validity to that point. But it isn’t fair to simply pin Parcells’ exclusion from the Patriots Hall of Fame solely on fans. Since Parcells has been eligible in 2011, the committee (25 to 30 members) that meets each year to narrow the finalists to three has never made Parcells its top vote-getter. So even if fans weren’t involved in the voting process, and the one inductee each year was left up to the committee itself, Parcells would still be on the outside looking in.
9. Cajuste healthy and ready to roll: The Patriots had a run of injuries at offensive tackle last season, in addition to the retirement of veteran Jared Veldheer, and it was a struggle for them to account for the voids at times. They appear to be in better position this season, and one reason is 2019 third-round pick Yodny Cajuste is “healthy and good to go,” according to a source. A top candidate to be the game-day swing tackle, Cajuste spent his entire rookie season on injured reserve (quad). The Patriots also drafted Wake Forest’s Justin Herron in the sixth round this year, and while he could ultimately move inside to guard, the plan is to initially look at him at tackle. So with starters Isaiah Wynn and Marcus Cannon returning, and Cajuste, Herron and 2019 trade acquisition Korey Cunningham now in the mix, it’s a full depth chart for offensive line coaches Carmen Bricillo and Cole Popovich.
10. Mayo was big draw for top-earning Patriots undrafted rookie: When looking at the contracts of each member of the Patriots’ 16-player undrafted rookie class, former Arkansas linebacker De’Jon “Scoota” Harris is atop the list with $140,000 guaranteed. That reflects how the Patriots had competition from other teams to sign Harris, a three-year starter who led the SEC in tackles over the past three seasons (334). Here’s something I learned about why Harris chose the Patriots over other suitors and even richer offers: The connection made by linebackers coach Jerod Mayo, who enters his second year on the staff after playing in New England from 2008 through 2015, was a huge selling point. Harris measures about 6 feet and is 234 pounds, and his playing style is similar to former Patriots linebacker Elandon Roberts as a hard hitter who craves contact.