1. On the move: One of the fascinating aspects of the Patriots’ unstable quarterback position is how a team’s movement can create an unexpected opportunity for them. Call them Darnold’s dominoes.
Adam Schefter of ESPN reported Sunday that the New York Jets have received numerous calls from teams showing interest in Sam Darnold. The Jets haven’t denied the appeals, according to Schefter, but they also haven’t made a final decision on their future as quarterbacks (they have the second pick of the 2021 NFL draft).
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Even though the Jets have grown, they should still have some impact on the Patriots.
For example, could it be that Darnold is interested in the San Francisco 49ers, making Jimmy Garoppolo an option for a return to New England? Or the Jets stick with Darnold, which could lead to other teams needing a QB to change reps and end up being available for the Patriots (#15) to pick #2.
These are the scenarios that Coach Bill Belichick and his team have probably already begun to dissect.
A longtime NFL executive told ESPN’s Rich Cimini that he might consider sending a low pick in the first round or a high pick in the second round for Darnold, who enters the final year of his rookie contract with a decision on his huge five-year option (2022) fully guaranteed by the third round. May is supposed to fall.
All this raises another question: Will the Patriots consider a race to Darnold and break from their 2002 subdivision trade?
That seems highly unlikely, as Jets general manager Joe Douglas needs the AFC East load to consider it, but scenarios like this fuel what could be an irresistible QB move in the offseason.
In 38 games over three seasons, Sam Darnold threw for 45 TD with 39 steals and made 59.8% of his passes. Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire
2. Mariota Flexibility : Marcus Mariota was spotted as a Patriot last week, and here are a few more: Since his expected acquisition cost (a later election) and salary ($10.6 million) are reasonable, this would mean New England has the ability to add another BQ if the opportunity arises later in the offseason (like Garoppolo or the draft). But initially, Mariota will offer a combination of NFL experience (61 starts), a functional passing game, and top-notch potential as the Patriots begin to use their abundant cap space to put a few key pieces around the QB position. I’m starting to see Mariota as a strong Plan B if Garoppolo doesn’t get the start.
3. Landscape QB : Todd McShay, ESPN draft analyst, predicted that five quarterbacks would be selected from the top 12 picks in his final draft, creating a scenario in which the Patriots, in need of a QB, would have to keep the top seven defenders on the hook until No. 1. 15. In the podcast of the first draft, McShay and his colleague Mel Kiper Jr. said there were six people who could be future starters – with Florida’s Kyle Trask sixth and Wake Forest’s Jamie Newman a possible wild card – and then there was a significant drop in reserve numbers.
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4. The drive shaft of Gaza: Adam Gase, former coach of the Dolphins and Jets, has developed a rapport with Belichick in recent years, and the result could be the addition of Bo Hardegree to Belichick’s coaching staff this year. Hardegree, 36, was an offensive assistant to Gase in his previous four NFL coaching positions. He was a quarterback at the University of Tennessee and recently met with the Patriots staff to discuss his arrival in 2021.
5. The game of tag: The 23rd. February marks the beginning of the 15-day period in which teams can assign players a franchise tag. After surprising more than one last year by doing it with guard Joe Tooney (probably including Tooney himself), it’s assumed the Patriots won’t use it. So for New England, which has big holes to fill at wide receiver with a tight end and a seven on defense, it will be more interesting to see how many players are scored on in the high division and thus not rushed.
6. Watt woke up: J.J. Watt and the Houston Texans parted ways Friday, and ESPN NFL reporter Jeremy Fowler called in league experts to examine the most likely landing spots for Watt, with the Patriots in the top five. The Patriots have a great need on defense, and Watt has a lot to play for because of his performance against them last November, but you have to wonder if Belichick’s team won’t prevent one of the most important things for Watt – the chance to play for a championship.
7. Slater’s gesture: When the Patriots chartered the 76 vaccinated doctors on the team’s plane Sunday for the Super Bowl, longtime captain Matthew Slater was there early Sunday morning to thank the players and the organization, as well as President Jonathan Kraft and Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker. A classy gesture from one of the world’s greatest patriots.
Steve Young and Booger McFarland point to the number of quarterbacks on the verge of winning the league.
8. The design: Remember when the Patriots selected Richard Seymour as their 6th defensive tackle in 2001 and his production (1.5 sacks in his final season at Georgia) caused concern? It worked well, and there’s a potentially similar example this year, though a little deeper into the project. Georgia’s Tre’ McKitty has received six receptions since transferring from Florida in 2020, but he has won a lot of money at the Senior Bowl because of his athletic ability and physical attributes, according to McShay and Kiper. The 6-foot-2 McKitty weighs 245 pounds.
9. Drew’s birthday: Happy 49th! Birthday, Drew Bledsoe. It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years since Bledsoe was inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame. One of the positive aspects of the last decade was Bledsoe’s return to the Patriots scene and the warm reception he received.
10. They knew: The Patriots will play the Texans in 2021, which will be the seventh consecutive year they have met. Since 2002, this is the third-longest series in the NFL in which non-divisional teams have played each other. The longest period is 10 years for the Patriots and Colts, from 2003 to 2012. They are followed by the Bills Chiefs (eight years, 2008-15) and the Patriots Broncos (2011-17).