You’ve got to know when to hold em’ and know when to fold em.’ Know when to walk away and when it comes to some players like N’Keal Harry, you need to know when to run.
Old friends of mine that I spent many a Sunday tailgating with for roughly 20 years in Foxboro are well known for their full-bellied parking lot poker games before and after the game. I lost a good chunk of change in those tailgates over the years, won a little here and there too but regardless, this one’s dedicated to you guys. A poker player’s view of the Patriots' current hand.
Here are the rules for the purposes of this game. First, a lot will change between now, NFL free agency and the upcoming NFL Draft this spring. This is a look at the roster as it stands right now, just days after the Patriots' heinously ugly end to an otherwise promising season. Three choices; bet, check or fold.
Bet – means the Patriots roll with the player in their position for 2022. It’s a vote of confidence now and for the future in some cases.
Check – means I’d keep this player for now, but I’m open to an upgrade or another option.
Fold – means bye-bye.
Mac Jones – Bet. I’m not ready to go ‘all in’ but I really like my hand and chances to cash in here.
Brian Hoyer – Check. I’m holding a pair of deuces and everyone at the table is still in. There’s no better than single-digit odds of success here but enough to stick if I’m bored. I’ll fold if something better comes along with equal security and minimal financial commitment.
Jarrett Stidham – Fold. I don’t want to play anymore.
Damien Harris – Bet. All in.
Rhamondre Stevenson – Bet. All in.
James White – Check. Love James White but the injury, age and investment potentially needed to keep him is making me consider my options. I want to bet but I need to hold here.
Brandon Bolden – Special Teams? Bet. Running Back? Check. I did a little on-air work with my pal Nick ‘Fitzy’ Stevens over Christmastime and I like how he labeled Bolden as “the Flex Seal of the Patriots.” Fine with me. The thing is in terms of next season, Flex Seal types can be had on many shelves. I’m keeping my options open here.
J.J. Taylor – Check. I see the explosiveness but not much else. Worth another look but zero commitment here.
Jakob Johnson – Check. Love the attitude and the power and happy to keep him but he’s no James Develin.
Kendrick Bourne – Bet. He’s the best you have in a position of need and the only one I’m betting on.
Jakobi Meyers – Check, with optimism. I like him and he belongs but could easily be improved.
Nelson Agholor – Check, with pessimism. I don’t like the money in comparison to the production. Willing to stick, would prefer an improvement though.
N’Keal Harry – Fold. Leave game broke. Hitchhike home or find a shelter to stay warm.
Gunner Olszewski – Check with pessimism. The kid’s got heart but if you were hoping for an Edelman or Amendola-type clone you’re not getting it here. Nor are you getting much production in the return game. He’s fine but I’d like to improve here.
Kristian Wilkerson – Check. See J.J. Taylor.
Matthew Slater – Check. He can stay as long as he wants. My guess is he retires. A truly great Patriot. I’ll just say “Check.” Then thank you.
Hunter Henry – Bet. Nine touchdowns and along with Bourne is Mac’s most reliable option.
Jonnu Smith – Check. I know you want to fold. However, there’s another year on his deal and Tight End is a thin position across the league. If you can get out of the money and improve do it but I doubt they can.
Devin Asiasi – Check with very little optimism. I’m holding only with the tiniest hope he could usurp Jonnu but I don’t think he can. Likely an eventual fold.
Dalton Keene – Fold. No idea what they have here after two years and frankly no longer care.
Bet – David Andrews, Trent Brown, Shaq Mason, Ted Karras, and Michael Onwenu.
Check – Isaiah Wynn. I want to like him unfortunately more than I do. Mostly related to health. I’m open minded to hold or fold if a worthy competitor beats him out.
Fold – Justin Herron, Yodny Cajuste
Nick Folk (Kicker) – Bet. He’s old but he’s earned this and I trust him. So should you.
Jake Bailey (Punter) – Check. I’m less enthused. We’ve seen better in New England.
Christian Barmore – Bet. A young man the defense can build around.
Deatrich Wise – Bet. I like stability in the trenches and there’s still some upside here.
Lawrence Guy – Bet. See Deatrich Wise, minus the upside. I’ll still bet on the stability he brings.
Davon Godchaux – Check with optimism. Their run defense is better with him in it but run stoppers can be found when needed.
Chase Winovich – Check. He’s not dead yet. I’ve seen enough to be intrigued and equally concerned. I’m not betting but I’m sticking largely due to curiosity. This defense needs speed and minimally he has that.
Carl Davis – Check. Not sure what they have here yet. Steady not spectacular, worth another look.
Henry Anderson – Check. I’m interested in another look if healthy.
Matthew Judon – Bet. This is the only Linebacker with the requisite speed needed to evolve this defense and the only one I’m willing to bet on.
Ja’Whaun Bentley – Check. Two years ago I was feeling a bet. Now? I’m unsure. I like Bentley and maybe if the Pats can get some more speed on the outside at the position I’d bet on him in the middle. Of late though he’s looking like someone who can be improved. I want to be wrong.
Don’t’a Hightower - This one hurts but it’s a fold for me. Hightower is a sure-fire Patriots Hall of Famer. They don’t win Super Bowl LI or LIII without him. From my heart, I appreciate him but he’s not looking anywhere near the same player. He’s got mad strength but the Pats defense right now needs speed and they can’t find it here anymore. Thank you for your service to a grateful Patriots Nation.
Kyle Van Noy – Check. I like Hightower as a player and Patriot better but Van Noy’s strength is his speed and he may have a little left to tap. I’d seek to improve him but he still has utility.
Josh Uche – Check with optimism. They need him and if this draft pick ends up being a miss it’s a big one. This linebacking crew needs Uche’s speed. He needs to get healthy, stay healthy and be the player they drafted. I can’t bet on it though. Hopeful? Yes. Confident? Different story.
Jamie Collins – Fold. In episode one he was a game wrecker. In episode two he was helpful to a defense in need. The third sequel didn’t land. Collins was a heck of a player and is in the exact mold of what this defense now needs. Was… Now you need Uche to supplant Collins.
Brandon King – Check. If Matthew Slater retires the Pats will need a guy like King on Special Teams. As a linebacker, he’s a depth guy worth a continued look at a position that needs more speed, youth and energy.
Ronnie Perkins – Bet. I’m betting with my heart here. I want this draft pick to land. Perkins was amongst the best players on the board when selected. This should be a check but if he hits it’ll be a huge boon to this defense in deep need.
Harvey Langi – Check. Talk about heart, this is where anyone with a soul should make a bet with the heart but this is football and souls get in the way of good decisions. He’s earned another look to add depth and special teams value but it probably ends there.
Raekwon McMillan – Check. Who knows? He played at Ohio State so there’s hope. Worth a look.
Anfernee Jennings – Check with pessimism. As close to it gets to a fold. I’d like to see McMillan, Perkins, King or a rookie take his spot. At some point you need to get on the field.
J.C. Jackson – Bet. All in. He’s the best player on the team.
Kyle Dugger – Bet. All in. As veterans like Hightower, McCourty and Slater near the end, Dugger is a critical leadership successor.
Jonathan Jones – Remember him? I’m betting on him. Always liked Jones and his growth trajectory. The injury lost 2021 season makes it a cautious bet but this is a tough position to groom and grow. I’m betting on Jones.
Devin McCourty – Check. I’d be a career long bet on McCourty. Like Slater, he can stay as long as he wants but does he want to anymore? It’s been a brilliant career. A sure fire Patriots Hall of Famer and a consideration for the Pro Football Hall as well. McCourty gets to tell us. I just wouldn’t bet that his return is guaranteed. A bright and talented person with more to do after the NFL.
Adrian Phillips – Bet. He’s in his prime and I’m in. Should McCourty retire the safety position is in good shape with Dugger and Phillips.
Jalen Mills – Check. A dead even check. He’s in his prime and it could go either way. Definitely worth another look but the curious and inconsistent case of Jalen Mills gets curiouser and curiouser…
Joejuan Williams – Fold. In fairness, it can take a long time for defensive backs to come up to speed and I’d like to be patient. Then again I think I have been. Pretty good depth chart here, I’m saying goodbye.
Justin Bethel, Shaun Wade & Miles Bryant – Check with optimism.
Cody Davis, D’Angelo Ross, DeVante Bausby – Check with low probability.
For the rest that live on the practice Squad, non-football reserve list, PUP list or the reserved injury list most are long shot bets that hopefully get a shot to show what they can do next summer. I hope they all get that shot, provided they are not named N’Keal Harry.