FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. More WR picks: Coach Bill Belichick’s history of selecting wide receivers in the draft — with the misfire on 2019 first-round pick N’Keal Harry the most recent log on the fire — is annually a hot-button topic at this time on the NFL calendar.
It isn’t all bad. But it could be a lot better.
And a case could be made that the reason it isn’t better is right before Belichick’s eyes, with the upcoming NFL draft (April 28-30, ESPN) — along with the dramatic, shifting financial landscape among top veteran receivers — making the timing right to prioritize drafting more receivers.
Consider that since Belichick arrived in New England in 2000, he’s selected just 18 receivers in the draft. That is tied for the fifth-lowest total over that span and doesn’t take into account that six of those receivers were picked in the seventh/final round, and one is a special-teams-only option (Matthew Slater).
The Ravens (30), Bengals (30) and Packers (29) have drafted the most receivers since 2000, with Green Bay viewed by many as one of the most impressive teams when it comes to developing prospects at the position. The Steelers (23), just above the league average of 22.5, are also widely regarded as excellent.
The Patriots’ acquisition of DeVante Parker in a trade last week might lessen the immediate need for a receiver, but there is still a future void to consider with Jakobi Meyers and Nelson Agholor scheduled for unrestricted free agency, and Kendrick Bourne another solid season away from possibly being in position to request a pay raise himself.
Then consider the recent run of big-money extensions for receivers creating sticker shock for some around the NFL — Davante Adams (five years, $141.25 million, $65 million guaranteed), Tyreek Hill (four years, $120 million, $75 million guaranteed), Stefon Diggs (four years, $104 million, $70 million guaranteed) — and teams might now prioritize drafting receivers more than they have in the past.
“When you start throwing that money around, if it’s a quarterback, I get it. If it’s a pass-rusher, I get it. Guys that are impacting games all the time. With a receiver — they’re important don’t get me wrong, but a good defensive coordinator can take them out of the game plan,” said Scot McCloughan, the former Washington and San Francisco general manager who now works as an independent scouting consultant for NFL teams.
“So now you’re lucky if he touches the ball 6-8 times a game … it’s just who’s going to impact the game the most.”
McCloughan added that the price can always be justified if a team feels it’s close to a championship, but he views the draft — and getting quality production on players on cheaper rookie contracts — as becoming even more critical.
This echoes something ESPN draft analyst Jordan Reid pointed out: “With wide receivers projected to make so much money after their rookie deals, we could see teams elect to simply turn to the draft to restock the talent of that player instead of paying him.”
This is one reason Belichick and the less-than-average investment at receiver could be costly (financially and otherwise) for the Patriots if it continues.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be at pick No. 21, although it’s always good to be aware of receiver-needy teams like Green Bay (No. 22) and Kansas City (Nos. 29 and 30) lurking behind them. Prospects such as Ohio State’s Chris Olave, Alabama’s Jameson Williams, Penn State’s Jahan Dotson and Arkansas’ Treylon Burks would be among those to consider in the first round.
In a draft considered deep at receiver, there should be plenty of options through the middle rounds to consider as well (ESPN’s Matt Bowen identified Boise State’s Khalil Shakir as a fit for New England in the middle rounds).
McCloughan, who got his start in the NFL as a regional scout with the Packers and remembers current Patriots director of scouting Eliot Wolf attending meetings as a youngster to see his father (GM Ron Wolf), said one of the biggest challenges of being a GM was adjusting to the market when salaries spiked.
“I think that’s kind of what’s going on now [at receiver],” he said.
2. Mac’s mission: Some who have spent time around quarterback Mac Jones this offseason describe him as being on a mission — from following a disciplined diet to focusing on full-body fundamentals that will help him get more pace on his throws when needed, arm-care maintenance, as well as strengthening bonds with teammates on and off the field. While Bourne’s Instagram photos from Tampa last week put a spotlight on Jones’ work with receivers, I’m told it wasn’t the first time Jones gathered with teammates this offseason, with a handful of sessions in Massachusetts a couple of weeks ago that included Agholor, tight end Jonnu Smith, practice-squad receiver Tre Nixon and running back Damien Harris, among others.
3. Brown’s target — 365 pounds: Patriots offensive tackle Trent Brown‘s two-year contract includes a $750,000 weight bonus in 2022 and 2023, and here are the specifics:
385 pounds or less on first day of offseason program — $150,000
375 pounds or less on June 1 — $75,000
365 pounds or less on July 15 — $75,000
365 pounds or less each Thursday during the season — $25,000 per week
The 6-foot-8 Brown is one of the NFL’s largest players and one of the main things to deduce from the contract is that the team views him at his best at 365 pounds. He is listed at 380 pounds on the official roster.
Brown also has significant playing-time incentives. He can earn $500,000 if he participates in 65% of the offensive snaps, and an additional $500,000 at 70%. He can also earn $750,000 at each of the following playing-time markers — 75%, 80%, 85%, and 90%. A final incentive is $500,000 for 95% of the snaps or being selected to the Pro Bowl on the original ballot.
4. Penning a story: Northern Iowa offensive tackle Trevor Penning, a projected first-round pick, was reportedly among a group of prospects visiting New England last week. Teams can host up to 30 prospects at their facility, and the visits are often used to clean up any final details (e.g. medical, interview, etc.). Offensive tackle wouldn’t be a headline-grabbing pick, but with starting left tackle Isaiah Wynn scheduled for unrestricted free agency after the 2022 season, and Brown on a heavily incentivized deal, it would also make some sense. ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay on Penning: “Big, strong, physical, nasty dude. He’s probably the nastiest offensive lineman in this class. He’s a finisher.” Sounds a lot like former Patriot Logan Mankins.
5. Wise guy: Sixth-year defensive lineman Deatrich Wise Jr., who received an unexpected $2.85 million signing bonus as part of a restructured deal to help the Patriots create cap space last week, has had a daily presence at Gillette Stadium in recent weeks. That continued on Saturday when he held a Q&A for season-ticket members at the Patriots’ annual Draft Preview event.
6. Middle class: When Patriots salary cap guru Miguel Benzan tweeted that each Patriot in the top 51 has a cap charge of $1 million or more — a rarity in the NFL in terms of spreading out the wealth across the roster — the first thought that came to mind was this comment from owner Robert Kraft at the NFL’s annual meeting. “I think people who don’t understand our sport also don’t understand the opportunity cost of not having players on the field. If you saw our nutrition staff, our rehab staff, and our weight-room people, there is a composite picture of trying to give us a chance to have as many of the guys out there on Sunday as possible. That makes a big difference.” The Patriots, true to form, are betting that paying more for depth will be an advantage.
7. Parker’s number: Parker wore No. 11 in his seven seasons with the Dolphins, which the Patriots haven’t issued to a player on the 53-man active roster since Julian Edelman retired last season. Practice-squad kicker Riley Patterson was given 11 at one point last year, sparking a humorous reaction from Edelman on Twitter. On the humor front, Parker wore No. 9 at Louisville and had a light-hearted back-and-forth with linebacker Matthew Judon on possibly prying that away from him.
8. Patriots Hall: The Patriots Hall of Fame committee gathered on Wednesday to discuss nominations for this year’s inductee, and as usual, there was passionate discussion, with Bill Parcells’ candidacy the most polarizing. Nine players/coaches were nominated, and then each member of the committee voted to narrow the list to three — a first-place vote gets five points, second place is three points, third place is one point on each ballot (my ballot: Mike Vrabel, Parcells, Vince Wilfork … with Wes Welker/Mankins on deck and Julius Adams my top Seniors candidate in 2023). The finalists are expected to be announced later this week, and then a fan vote will decide the inductee. One reason I enjoy taking part in the process is that there are no right or wrong answers when it comes to a team Hall of Fame. It’s what strikes you personally.
Patriots Hall of Fame Committee concludes its annual meeting. Those nominated in 2022: Julius Adams, Chuck Fairbanks, Logan Mankins, Lawyer Milloy, Bill Parcells, John Smith, Mike Vrabel, Wes Welker, Vince Wilfork.
3 finalists to come from this group. Then fan vote for inductee.
— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) April 6, 2022
9. Eyes on staff: Ross Douglas’ official title on Belichick’s staff last year was NFL coaching fellowship/defense, and this offseason, he’s flipped to the offense. So that leaves an opening on defense and a familiar name is a good fit to fill it — V’Angelo Bentley. Die-hard Patriots fans remember that Bentley had signed with New England as an undrafted free agent in 2016 out of Illinois. Bentley spent last season as a graduate assistant at Penn State, working mostly with defensive backs, which is similar to the void that Douglas’ move to offense has created.
10. Did you know: Patriots wide receivers combined for 103 receiving first downs last season, ranking 28th in the NFL. In addition, the Patriots were the first team since the 2009 Rams to go an entire season without a player having a 100-yard receiving game.