Facebook Pixel

    Patriots Notes: 7 Lingering Questions as Players, Coaches Begin Summer Break

    The next time we see the New England Patriots will be when training camp starts in July. Here are our lingering questions as summer break begins.

    Aside from a few extra meetings and trips to the weight room, the New England Patriots are done for the spring. With a slew of rookie minicamp, OTA, and mandatory minicamp practices in the books, players soon will go on summer break before reconvening in late July for training camp.

    A lot happened over the last few weeks — some good, some bad. It’s best not to read too much into what the Patriots did in the spring, as a re-tooled coaching staff and roster were focused on installing new playbooks and building a foundation, not intensely preparing for the 2024 season.

    However, we have some lingering questions as the Patriots head into their quiet period.

    7 Lingering Patriots Questions With Spring Practices Over

    Are People Overrating Drake Maye’s Spring?

    If you’re into hyperbole, then spring practices are for you.

    Drake Maye, the No. 3 pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, began the spring third on New England’s QB depth chart. When the final practice ended, he was repping second behind presumed starter Jacoby Brissett and winning over respected NFL insiders who watched every snap.

    “Once Maye gets up to speed with the play calls in the huddle, the checks at the line and the field vision to be confident in his reads, he should earn a genuine opportunity to start,” The Athletic’s Jeff Howe wrote Wednesday. “There was enough on display this week in minicamp to believe such a door could open at some point in August.”

    Howe’s not the only one who watched Maye during minicamp and left believing the UNC product has a real shot to start Week 1.

    But are he and similarly pro-Maye observers onto something? Does Maye really have a chance to supplant Brissett during training camp? What happened to Maye supposedly needing to redshirt his rookie season?

    I’m somewhere in the middle on this. Maye certainly showed flashes during practices open to reporters. His off-platform ability was as advertised, as was his athleticism and pure arm ability. But Maye also suffered from overthrows, bad interceptions, and poor reads against pressure — things that showed up on his UNC tape.

    Moreover, it’s important to note that pads and contact aren’t permitted during spring practices. And Maye’s best reps came in 7-on-7s when there wasn’t a pass rush to worry about. Once the Patriots ran 11-on-11 drills, and the defensive line was able to feast on a patchwork offensive line, it was a different story for each quarterback, including Maye.

    I remember watching Mac Jones and the Matt Patricia-led Patriots offense excel during spring 7-on-7s in 2022. But once the lines got involved in 11-on-11s, the offense couldn’t move the ball. I, and nearly everyone who watched those practices, ignored the warning signs and said some version of, “The offense was better than expected; maybe this won’t be so bad.”

    We all know what happened over the next eight months.

    So, let’s pump the brakes a bit. Maye looked good during the spring, and I think it’s fair to say he’s developing on schedule. The bigger story would be if he looked in over his head.

    Brissett will open camp as the No. 1 quarterback. It’s pointless to project anything beyond that.

    Are We Sure Matthew Judon Will Be on the Team?

    I’m keeping my eye on Matthew Judon — and Davon Godchaux, for that matter.

    Judon was a hold-in during minicamp last year, attending the mandatory sessions but not actively participating due to a contract dispute. The Patriots eventually reworked Judon’s contract and everything was fine until the star edge rusher tore his biceps in October.

    This time around, it was Judon fully participating in practices and Godchaux holding in — as confirmed by head coach Jerod Mayo. Both players are entering contract years (Judon’s contract voids in 2025) and neither player’s 2024 salary is guaranteed.

    In a radio interview this week, Judon said all the right things.

    “You kind of keep throwing tantrums, tantrums, tantrums, and then you don’t come out there and do what you’re supposed to do? It kind of gets old real fast, you know,” Judon said during a “Rich Shertenlieb Show” appearance. “I ain’t really trying to do that.

    “I’m just trying to come out here and play football, get ready for this upcoming season, and put our defense and ourself in a position to where we can win the most games or be the most effective. So that’s what I’m really on right now. I ain’t worried about holding out, sitting out … kind of protesting. … Because that, last year, that stuff was trash. I ain’t really like that. Like I’m a football player, I don’t want to get into the agency side. So I’m gonna come out here and play some football.”

    That’s all well and good, but let’s consider this recent report from Boston Sports Journal’s Greg Bedard:

    “He went on Rich’s show and basically said he wasn’t gonna do what he did last year,” Bedard said during the latest episode of his Patriots podcast. “I have reason to believe that will not be true. I will say there are rumblings that there are a couple of big contract issues with the Patriots — and they stem from Christian Barmore’s deal.”

    Bedard was referring to the four-year, $92 million deal the Patriots gave to Barmore in April.

    Ultimately, it would behoove the Patriots to figure something out with Judon and Godchaux. They need both players — one is their best pass rusher, the other their only true nose tackle — and they’ll count a combined $25.1 million against the cap in 2024. Give them more upfront money while lowering their cap numbers — easy enough.

    MORE: 3 Studs and 3 Duds From the Patriots’ Spring Practices

    But here’s the thing: The Patriots defense looked fine last season without Judon, who’s 32 years old and coming off an injury. They also have young pass-rushing talent behind him in Keion White and Josh Uche, both of whom are on team-friendly contracts. Godchaux, despite being the inferior player, arguably is more important as the only nose tackle and a key run-stuffer.

    Could this all lead to a Judon trade? I have a hard time seeing it, but I’m not ruling out it. Such a move would result in net cap savings of $6.7 million and surely a decent trade return.

    Just something to think about.

    How Concerned Should Fans Be About the Offensive Line?

    Very.

    The Patriots selected Caedan Wallace in Round 3 of the 2024 NFL Draft, and, despite most experts saying the Penn State product is a right tackle, de facto general manager Eliot Wolf said Wallace could play on the left side. After playing left tackle during OTAs, Wallace primarily played right tackle in minicamp. Is the experiment already over?

    Meanwhile, Mike Onwenu, seemingly re-signed to play right tackle, was playing right guard with the top offense by the end of spring practices.

    Sophomore Sidy Sow, who impressed as a rookie at right guard, seems entrenched at left guard with 2022 first-rounder Cole Strange still rehabbing from a serious knee injury. That’s fine, but then why did the Patriots use a fourth-round pick on guard Layden Robinson?

    As for left tackle, it remains a mystery. Chuks Okorafor is the projected starter, and he looked decent during minicamp, but let’s see what happens when the pads come on. There’s a reason he played right tackle for the last four seasons.

    Second-year interior linemen Atonio Mafi and Jake Andrews don’t appear to be factors. The former looked out of shape during the spring; the latter was dealing with an undisclosed injury.

    David Andrews is, well, David Andrews — one of the best centers in football. No concerns there.

    But the rest of the line was all over the place, both in terms of configurations and performance. Add in the fact that the group is being led by Scott Peters, who’s in his first year as a primary O-line coach, and you have many reasons to be worried about the O-line, which has been an issue since 2020.

    There’s plenty of time for the Patriots to figure things out, and they have plenty of talent on the depth chart. But I can’t help but wonder whether they’ll explore a move for an established left tackle.

    Is There Enough Receiver Depth?

    The Patriots’ receiver room has a higher ceiling than most give it credit for, but the floor is low.

    Here are the players competing for roster spots:

    • DeMario Douglas
    • K.J. Osborn
    • Kendrick Bourne
    • Ja’Lynn Polk
    • Javon Baker
    • JuJu Smith-Schuster
    • Tyquan Thornton
    • Kayshon Boutte
    • Jalen Reagor

    Douglas, Polk, and Baker are roster locks. So, too, is Bourne, but he didn’t participate in spring practices and continues to rehab from last season’s torn ACL. Osborn probably is safe, but he was inconsistent during the spring and the Patriots could move on with minimal financial ramifications.

    That leaves Smith-Schuster, Thornton, Boutte, and Reagor battling for a sixth spot that might not even exist. Perhaps they’ll battle for two spots if Bourne isn’t ready to start the season. You might find this hard to believe, but Reagor might have the early edge over the other three.

    Regardless, there are questions about all nine receivers. Douglas is a tantalizing talent, but his size is worrisome and he battled multiple concussions as a rookie. Bourne is as close to a proven commodity as the Patriots have, but how will he look after suffering a major knee injury?

    As for the rookies, Polk looked great during the spring while Baker was limited due to an injury. The Patriots need contributions from both — which is concerning.

    Receiver is a house of cards for New England. If Douglas gets hurt, Polk struggles to pick up the offense, and Bourne takes a while to shake off the rust (all realistic possibilities), it could get ugly in a hurry. And that’s no way to develop a young quarterback.

    Could They Still Trade For a Top Receiver?

    … Maybe?

    The Patriots reportedly pursued trades for Brandon Aiyuk and/or Deebo Samuel during the draft. Neither have received new contracts from the San Francisco 49ers, so perhaps they’re still on the trade block.

    Obviously, it would take a lot to land either player, especially Aiyuk. But who else could the Patriots trade for?

    Courtland Sutton also wants a new deal and could be available. Same for Amari Cooper, who held out of minicamp. CeeDee Lamb also wants a new contract, but the Dallas Cowboys aren’t trading him.

    MORE: Ex-Patriots RB Damien Harris Rips Bill Belichick for Mac Jones’ Downfall

    Beyond that, we’d be throwing speculative darts. Maybe the Seattle Seahawks dangle D.K. Metcalf or Tyler Lockett. Maybe the Las Vegas Raiders are looking to get out from under Davante Adams’ contract. Maybe the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are ready to trade Chris Godwin.

    The Patriots probably could get a deal done if they really wanted to. But time is running out, and the prices are going up.

    Will Patriots Really Carry Four QBs Into Training Camp?

    This is a weird one.

    New England currently has four quarterbacks on its roster: Brissett, Maye, Bailey Zappe, and Joe Milton III. Brissett and Maye are roster locks, but the futures of Zappe and Milton remain unclear.

    Last month, Mayo told Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer that he planned to reduce the QB room to three by the start of training camp, and he reiterated that point while meeting with reporters before an OTA practice.

    “Once we get to training camp, that’s real football,” Mayo said. “So out here in the spring, we’ll rock with four [QBs]. But, as soon as we get to training camp, you have to start paring down the roster.”

    Those remarks left a bit more wiggle room than his comments to Breer, but the sentiment was the same. As such, many assumed either Zappe or Milton — likely Zappe, given Milton’s status as a rookie sixth-round pick — would be cut or traded by the start of training camp.

    But Mayo sang a much different tune ahead of the Patriots’ final minicamp practice. Here’s the full exchange:

    Reporter: “You guys have four quarterbacks on the roster right now. That’s a lot of reps to kind of split up, and two of them are rookies, obviously. Do you envision going into camp with four quarterbacks?”

    Mayo: “Absolutely; absolutely. That’s how I see it right now. We’ll have these conversations as the week progresses, but that’s how I see it right now.”

    So, what changed?

    Perhaps Mayo got ahead of himself last month. Maybe the respective performances of Zappe and Milton have made it difficult to choose between the two. Or maybe the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

    Regardless, we probably shouldn’t expect a move involving Zappe or Milton anytime soon. At some point, however, a decision will need to be made.

    What’s Marcus Jones’ Role?

    Cornerback Marcus Jones, a fourth-round pick in 2022, looked like an emerging star as a rookie.

    He earned first-team All-Pro honors as a kick returner — his game-winning punt return TD against the New York Jets was an incredible play — and he showed real promise as a young slot cornerback. Jones, who played in all three phases in college, also flashed on offense, particularly when he took a screen pass to the house against the Buffalo Bills.

    Expectations were high for Jones in 2023. But the 5’8″ corner looked overmatched at times during his second training camp, a trend that continued early in the season. Then, in Week 2, Jones suffered a season-ending labrum tear. His ascension to Deion Sanders-like weapon for the Patriots was put on hold.

    Jones is healthy now, and he was a full participant during the spring. But he didn’t stand out one way or another on defense, and he didn’t take a single offensive snap during practices open to reporters.

    FREE: Subscribe to PFN’s NFL Newsletter

    Jones could be a major weapon on the new kickoffs, but will the Patriots risk subjecting one of their top young talents to injury? If you ask me, they should find a way to keep Reagor on the roster and make him the top returner; he looked excellent in the role last season.

    Ideally, Jones would seize control of the Patriots’ No. 1 slot cornerback job. He has the speed and ability required to play the position. But if the season started today, he probably would be a depth corner.

    So, if Jones isn’t seeing snaps in Alex Van Pelt’s West Coast offense and is a diminutive role player on defense, then what is he? A versatile return specialist? There’s no shame in that, but there must be better ways to use one of the most talented players on the roster.

    With all that said, Jones will get every opportunity to earn a major role during training camp, and he remains a prime candidate for a Year 3 jump. But expectations should be tempered.

    Listen to the PFN Inside Access Podcast!

    Listen to the PFN Inside Access Podcast! Click the embedded player below to listen, or you can find the PFN Fantasy Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, and all major podcast platforms.  Be sure to subscribe and leave us a five-star review!

    Related Articles