Friday, January 15, 2021

Point After: 10 random thoughts on the Patriots


Friday, January 15    |    Follow Globe Sports Twitter

By Christopher Price, Globe Staff

Ten random Patriots’ thoughts to occupy you during divisional playoff weekend:

With the benefit of a week or so to review, we'll kick things off with three year-end awards:

1. MVP had three possibilities: Rex BurkheadJoe Thuney, and Jakobi Meyers, but I have to go with Thuney. Playing multiple spots along the offensive line, leading the offense in total snaps, all while continuing to execute at an incredibly high level means he gets the award by the slimmest of margins over Burkhead and Meyers. The offense slowed to a crawl after Burkhead went down in the loss to Houston, and while his absence wasn’t the only reason for the struggles down the stretch, it wasn’t coincidental. And Meyers was the most dependable receiver on the team, and also provided the best highlight of the year with his touchdown pass to Cam Newton . (At the very least, Meyers should be the default winner of Most Improved.)

2. Rookie of the Year goes to defensive back Kyle Dugger, just barely ahead of Michael Onwenu. The defensive back out of Lenoir-Rhyne had an excellent first season, handling many of the same responsibilities Patrick Chung did the last few years, and managing to surpass most expectations. It’ll be interesting to see what happens in 2021, given that there’s some positional redundancy there with Dugger and Chung. (Not to mention veteran Adrian Phillips.) But it’s a good problem to have if you're New England.

3. Dugger just edged Onwenu for team ROY honors, but Onwenu was so good, we need to acknowledge his first year in the NFL, so I’ll say he was the Surprise of the Year. Onwenu went from sixth-round pick to starting left guard in the first month of his professional career — without benefit of a regular offseason. There were some rough patches, but he certainly didn’t look overwhelmed as he was shuffled from left guard to right guard to right tackle and jumbo tight end. The versatility and durability (he played 92 percent of the offensive snaps this year, second-most on the team) he displayed as a rookie will certainly enter into the conversation when the Patriots discuss the value of re-signing Thuney and/or Shaq Mason.

4. Newton-to-Washington makes sense on a few levels: WFT needs some stability at quarterback, Newton knows Ron Rivera, and Washington has the financial flexibility needed to offer him an incentive-laden deal, the sort of contract that makes the most sense for Newton at this stage of his career. It’s a win for all sides, including the Patriots, who will likely part ways with the signal-caller after one relatively underwhelming year.

5. As for the Patriots, the best course of action is to draft a quarterback and add a veteran, either in trade or as a free agent. One way or another, you’ve got to go big; either take a quarterback in the first 30 overall picks, or make a splash with either a trade or in free agency. One of the things that was reinforced this year was that an elite quarterback can paper over a lot of deficiencies. It’s different teams and different circumstances, but it’s not a coincidence that six of the eight quarterbacks who are still playing this postseason were taken in the first round, and four of them were drafted in the top 10. Bottom line? They’ve got to take a big swing this offseason. 

6. Matthew Slater’s future remains in doubt, as the veteran sounded like he might leave the door open to retirement this offseason. The departure of Slater would not only leave a serious void on special teams, but New England would also have to find a way out of a leadership void it hasn’t seen since Tedy Bruschi retired following the 2008 season. Slater is not only one of the best in the recent history of the game at what he does — he’s tied with John Hannah for the second most Pro Bowl berths in franchise history — but he’s become the moral compass of the locker room. The 35-year-old is not only respected across Gillette Stadium, but one of the most respected individuals in the league. A longtime voice in the NFLPA, Slater could continue to serve in a similar role moving forward, as well as (potentially) becoming a coach. If he chooses to retire as a player, he’ll go out as someone who has a gold jacket in his future. 

7. For what it’s worth, if Slater does retire, it would leave Julian Edelman and Chung as the two senior members of the roster. Slater is the last player left on the roster from the 2008 season, while Chung and Edelman are the last two players remaining on the roster from the 2009 draft. (The oldest player on the roster is 36-year-old kicker Nick Folk.) One of the great stories in recent Patriots’ history was the fact that Edelman and Slater were housemates for a stretch shortly after Edelman was drafted.  

8. I know there’s all sorts of retirement paperwork to consider, but given the state of linebacking play in New England this past season, do you think that Belichick even thought about the prospect — for a fleeting second — of asking 34-year-old Jerod Mayo if he could still give him a few snaps? I know that the possibility is remote at best, but Belichick has always been one to look for talent in the unlikeliest of places, and the Patriots could have used some help at the position. I’m not suggesting Mayo would have been capable of jumping right in and going wire-to-wire every week, but him moving from the sidelines to shoulder pads would have made an interesting year all the more remarkable. 

9. Speaking of Mayo, I think he has the potential to make a very good head coach down the line. I always saw him as the sort to rescue football at his alma mater, Tennessee, but 
an interview with the Eagles is an excellent place to start. And if he leaves, and the Patriots need someone to step in, I wonder if they’d entertain the idea of bringing back Matt Patricia to fill his role. After all, Josh McDaniels did it.

10. After the Jets announced Thursday they had hired Robert Saleh to become their new head coach, it was time to update the list of AFC East head coaches since 2000:

Bills: Wade Phillip, Gregg Williams, Mike Mularkey, Dick Jauron, Perry Fewell (interim), Chan Gailey, Doug Marrone, Rex Ryan, Anthony Lynn (interim), Sean McDermott.

Jets: Al Groh, Herm Edwards, Eric Mangini, Rex Ryan, Todd Bowles, Adam Gase, Robert Saleh.

Dolphins: Dave Wannstedt, Jim Bates (interim), Nick Saban, Cam Cameron, Tony Sparano, Todd Bowles (interim), Joe Philbin, Dan Campbell (interim), Adam Gase, Brian Flores.

Patriots: Belichick.

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