Sunday 7: Patriots need some second helpings


1 – Plenty of Patriots fans will enjoy some second helpings this week as families across New England enjoy the bounty of Thanksgiving dinner.

Bill Belichick’s football team, though, has struggled in terms of seconds…as in second contracts for former draft picks, especially on the offensive side of the ball. That’s one of the many issues facing the Patriots roster-building/rebuilding/re-booting in New England this offseason as the 2020 draft class – Kyle Dugger, Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings and Mike Onwenu – prepares to hit free agency this offseason.

The most recent draft pick to earn a second contract in New England was punter Jake Bailey, a fifth-round selection in 2019 and we all know that didn’t end well for the former All-Pro.

The last defensive player to earn a second contract with the Patriots was linebacker Ja’Whuan Bentley, a fifth-round pick in 2018.

The last offensive player to earn a second contract in New England before or when his rookie deal concluded? That would be guard Shaq Mason, a fourth-round pick back in 2015.

Very few second contracts. Mostly on defense when they do come. And none with guys taken in the first two days of the draft in more than a decade.

Obviously the Patriots haven’t drafted very well over the last decade or so. That’s a big reason the team hasn’t done deals with young players after their rookie contracts.

Could and should that change this winter with the likes of Dugger, Uche and Onwenu?

Sooner or later if the Patriots are going to build a culture and foundation of successful roster, drafting and keeping talent will have to be a part of the puzzle.

2 – Speaking of Thanksgiving, this used to be the time of year that the Tom Brady-led Patriots began a run to the postseason, the quarterback annually describing it as the most important time of the season. Obviously those days are, like Brady, long gone. New England will hit post-Thanksgiving play with a 2-8 record, coming out of the bye still very much entrenched in the basement of the AFC East. Really, the idea that New England played its best football after Thanksgiving fell apart in Brady’s final two seasons in Foxborough. The Patriots have not had a winning record in games played in December and January since 2017. New England’s combined record from 2018-22 in regular season games after December 1st is 9-15. Over the last two seasons it is 3-7 in those games. Given the Patriots’ early season struggles this fall and the quality of competition on the late-season schedule, there’s little reason to believe New England’s recent post-Thanksgiving struggles will turn around in 2023.

3 – Of course if you are looking to celebrate Tank-sgiving as much as Thanksgiving in the coming weeks, hoping that New England can secure one of the top two or three picks in next April’s NFL Draft, things are going to be really interesting in the post-bye trip to New York next Sunday to take on the Giants. Brian Daboll’s team is a mess, sitting at 2-8 a year after he led the squad to a playoff win in his first season at the helm. Now, Daboll and his former boss, Bill Belichick, will battle in a game that will have major ramifications in terms of draft slotting next spring. Given the current projections in terms of prospective quarterback options and franchise-caliber players, the loser next Sunday might just be seen as a winner when it comes to the draft. Happy Tank-sgiving week! (If you choose to celebrate.)

4 – Clearly Mac Jones has an ally in ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky during the young quarterback’s time of need at this point in his career. Orlovsky told WEEI that he texts Jones on a regular basis and certainly presents himself as a defender of the struggling third-year QB. Orlovsky has put much of the blame for Jones’ poor play and the misfortunes of the New England offense on the talent, coaching and scheme around the quarterback for the last year-plus. As many question whether Jones will start post-bye in New York or even another game for New England this season, Orlovsky made a telling assertion about his passing pal. Talking about the Browns losing Deshaun Watson for the season to injury, Orlovsky said, “I think Cleveland would be a playoff team with Mac Jones. Unquestionably in their situation right now. Two things can be true at the same time. New England has absolutely failed Mac Jones, unquestionably. And Mac Jones hasn’t taken care of his own business when it comes to fixing some of his mechanics. Two of those things can be true at the same time.”

5 – Jones’ future as the starting quarterback is far from the only or even biggest question facing the Patriots these days. Sorry Bill Burr, but Belichick’s future is also very much in doubt, another topic Orlovsky created some furor about this week. If New England is indeed ready to move on from the man who’s led the football operation since 2000, it means the team will need not only a new head coach but also a new GM. And the latter part of that is probably the biggest question the Kraft family will have to answer if they do move on from Belichick after the season. It’s easy to find names to throw around when speculating about head coach options, guys like Jerod Mayo or Mike Vrabel. It’s not so easy to spitball GM options. But we’ll try one here – current 49ers assistant general manager Adam Peters. Peters has spent the last six seasons as John Lynch’s right-hand man building one of the best rosters in the NFL in San Francisco. He also has a history with the Patriots, having worked in the New England scouting department from 2003-08. Peters might be able to blend some old school Patriot Way with newer success from San Francisco. If you’re going to pull a personnel man from another NFL team these days, the 49ers and the Eagles would probably be the first places to look.

6 – While not a lot of things were trending in the right direction heading into the bye for New England, Rhamondre Stevenson ran the ball as well as he has all season over the last two weeks. Stevenson topped 87 yards against both the Commanders and the Colts. He averaged better than 4.4 yards per carry in each game, a mark he topped just once in the first eight games. Stevenson has also recorded a run of at least 10 yards in five straight games, something he failed to achieve in three of the first five games of the year. Stevenson is supposed to be the centerpiece of the Patriots offense and he looked very much like it over the last couple weeks when he ran as productively, decisively and violently as he has at any time since last season.

7 – If Stevenson is trending in the right direction as the foundation of the late-season running game for the Patriots, then the same can be said of rookie receiver Demario Douglas in the passing game. The sixth-round pick has been targeted at least seven times in each of the last three weeks, resulting in five or more catches each game. Douglas had a career-best 84 yards receiving in the pre-bye loss to Indy. Douglas is now tied for third on the team with 30 receptions on the season. With Kendrick Bourne lost for the year to a torn ACL, Douglas certainly will have a shot to take over the leading receiver role over the final seven games as the likely first option regardless of who is throwing the football in New England.

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